What Happened To British Airways’ Low-Cost Subsidiary Go Fly?

UK flag carrier British Airways has a long and fascinating history behind it. The airline’s name often conjures up images of iconic aircraft like Concorde and the Boeing 747. However, did you know that, around the turn of the century, BA also had a low-cost subsidiary? This carrier went by the name of Go Fly, and flew 737s out of Bristol and London Stansted.

Go Fly Boeing 737
Go Fly primarily based its 737s at London Stansted Airport. Photo: Dean Morley via Flickr

How it all began

In the late 1990s, British Airways’ CEO at the time, Bob Ayling, recognized a change in travel trends among the European airline industry. The low-cost boom, fueled by the growth of carriers like easyJet and Ryanair, prompted him to consider the prospect of British Airways launching its own budget airline to enter this competitive market.

Ayling reportedly took a very direct approach to his research, directly contacting easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou about his project’s prospects. A meeting between the two is said to have even led to Haji-Ioannou showing Ayling his business plan. This gave him confidence in his plan, known as Project Blue Sky, with the BBC reporting Ayling as saying:

By offering competitive fares and flying to Europe’s most popular cities, this new airline will quickly become a favourite with the budget traveller. We expect hundreds of thousands of people who have never taken to the air before to travel with the new company.”

Go Fly Boeing 737
Go Fly commenced operations in 1998. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

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Fleet and destinations

BA eventually named its new carrier as Go Fly in February, although this was frequently stylized as simply ‘Go.’ The airline commenced operations with flights from London Stansted to Rome Ciampino and Milan Malpensa on May 22nd, 1998. Interestingly, Haji-Ioannou and other easyJet employees were among the first passengers, dressed conspicuously in orange.

According to data from ch-aviation.com, Go Fly operated a total of 27 Boeing 737-300s during its period of operation. Planespotters.net adds that these planes had all-economy configurations of either 148 or 149 seats. Go Fly leased the first two from Philippine Airlines.

In terms of where Go Flew, most of its routes originated at London Stansted. However, in March 2001, the carrier did also open a second base in Bristol. Go served popular European tourist destinations, catering for both summer (such as Italy, Spain, and Portugal) and winter (France and Switzerland) holidays. It also flew domestically to cities like Glasgow.

easyJet Boeing 737-300
Although Haji-Ioannou initially helped Ayling, easyJet soon showed strong opposition to Go Fly, before eventually buying it out. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

The end of the line

2000 saw BA replace Bob Ayling as CEO after prolonged hostility towards him from trade unions. In the same year, the UK flag carrier announced that it would be selling its low-cost arm, just two years after it commenced operations. One of BA’s concerns was that Go’s low fares were drawing its own passengers away from its mainline services.

Private equity firm 3i eventually purchased Go for £100 million in March 2001. After strong growth under the new ownership, rival LCC easyJet then bought Go itself for £374 million in May 2002. By April 2003, the orange-clad airline had entirely absorbed Go and its fleet of 737s into its own operations, closing the book on five years of low-cost history.

Had you heard of Go Fly? Maybe you even flew with the airline on one of its Boeing 737-300s? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.