From Cargo To Passenger Giant: The History Of Jet2

Jet2 is one of the United Kingdom’s largest airlines. The company focuses on low-cost scheduled and charter short and medium-haul trips with a focus on leisure travel. Tracing its history back to the early 1970s, the carrier has grown from a humble flower distributor to an international airline serving up to over 14 million passengers a year.

Jet2 737
Jet2 is a familiar name to the UK public, but for most of its history, its operations were behind the scenes. Photo: Getty Images

Tracing its story back to the early 1970s, when entrepreneur Art Carpenter launched a pair of flower distributing companies, the business grew into a cargo powerhouse in the form of Channel Express. Jet2 then launched passenger services at the turn of the millennium, going on to earn a yearly revenue of up to over $3 billion.

50 years in the making

In 1971, Art Carpenter formed Carpenter’s Air Services and Carpenter’s Transport Ltd. The former was created to carry flowers to the UK mainland from the island of Guernsey, while the latter was used to send the flowers across the country to wholesalers.

Four years later, Carpenter collaborated with exporters in Guernsey to launch Express Air Freight. The Douglas DC-3, an industry favorite, helped the company transport fresh vegetation, flowers, and other cargo between the Channel Islands and the UK mainland.

It didn’t take long for the business to once again show its knack for choosing handy aircraft. In 1978, the firm took on its first Handley Page Dart Herald to hop between the Channel Islands and Bournemouth. The following year, Carpenter showed his confidence to keep growing by creating Express Air Services to handle the cargo plane services of Express Air Freight.

50 units of this Handley Page Dart Herald turboprop were produced between 1959 and 1968. Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons

Domestic triumphs

The new outfit landed a notable contract pretty swiftly, with Royal Mail trusting its services to deliver first class post between the airports of Bournemouth, Bristol, and Liverpool. In 1983, pilot Phillip Meeson took over the Express firms, giving birth to a new brand, Channel Express. Meeson would remain part of the operation’s leadership till today.

Channel Express continued its development with the help of new aircraft arriving, such as the trusted Lockheed Electra in 1989. In 1991, the business was listed on the London Stock Exchange in the form of Dart Group plc. The cargo rise continued throughout the decade, especially with the delivery of the Airbus A300-B4 in 1996, which was converted into a freighter.

Channel Express Lockheed Electra
The Lockheed Electra was appreciated across the globe, with 170 units produced. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Wikimedia Commons

A new market

The new century marked a considerable shift for the company. Passenger services were now part of the picture amid the official launch of Jet2.

“Dart Group plc purchases two Boeing 737-300QC ‘Quick Change’ aircraft in May 2001. This new aircraft would go on to inspire the launch of as its ‘Quick Change’ (QC) system can transform from a 148-passenger to a 16 tonne payload freighter aircraft in 30 minutes. We also add new ACAS avionics to our Fokker F27 aircraft and introduce a tracking IT system for Fowler Welch,” Jet2 states.

“, the leading low cost leisure airline, is launched (in 2002)! After the success of our chartered service, we announce that the first flight will take off in February 2003. Dart Group plc purchases a further eight Boeing 737-300QCs. We also purchase a fourth Airbus A300-B4 for cargo. opens for business on 11th December 2002. It sells 12,000 seats online within the first 24 hours!”

Taking advantage of the home internet boom, Jet2’s first flight left for Amsterdam from Leeds Bradford in February 2003. Expansion was soon on the cards, with seven destinations added before the end of the year. In the years that followed, Manchester, Belfast, and Newcastle all saw Jet2’s presence at their airports.

A Jet2 Boeing 737-300 sitting at Edinburgh Airport in May 2007. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Further transitions

There were significant changes in the middle of the noughties. For instance, Channel Express relocated its head offices from Bournemouth to Leeds in 2006. This move was followed by the launch of the inclusive vacation package provider, Jet2Holidays, in 2007.

Despite the office relocation to Yorkshire, Jet2 dropped its “The north’s low-cost airline” tag in favor of “Friendly low fares” in 2008. This was the same year that the airline’s first flights to New York were launched, which became a seasonal tradition.

The growth continued into the 2010s, leading to Jet2 placing a sizable order for 30 new Boeing 737-800 jets. Today, the company holds over 80 737s and eight 757s.

Package holiday company Jet2 Holidays Boeing 737 readied for
Jet2 flies to over 130 destinations in regular times. Photo: Getty Images.

Like the rest of the aviation industry, the global health crisis took its toll on operations. Nonetheless, the company has shown its determination to bounce back, ordering 36 Airbus A321neos in September 2021, an order that has since been increased by 15 units.

What are your thoughts about Jet2’s history? What do you make of the airline’s journey over the decades? Let us know what you think of the carrier and its operations in the comment section.