outsourcing only where it makes sense

posted on 5th June 2018


Ashley Cowen (AC), Operations Director at – the UK-based low fares airline – responds to Airline Ground Services’ (AGS) questions about outsourcing, IT enablement, customer needs and flexibility 

AGS       Does operate a typical low fares airline model with outsourcing a key plank of its strategy, especially in relation to ground handling? What is the general attitude towards outsourcing at

AC is all about offering our customers friendly low fares which means giving customers great choice, along with fantastic benefits such as allocated seating, 22kg of baggage allowance and convenient flight times. This is all part of our strategy of delivering excellent customer service.

To achieve this we must remain extremely cost conscious and flexible, while still delivering the fantastic service our customers expect. This means we rely on outsourcing extensively, but only when it makes sense for our business objectives and when we can rely on third parties to uphold the same excellent quality we pride ourselves on internally.

AGS       At your eight UK bases, do you have any in-house passenger, baggage and ramp handling teams? Or do you have supervisors to monitor outsourced teams? Or do you outsource totally?

AC          At’s Leeds Bradford, Manchester, East Midlands, Blackpool, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle bases we have a mixture of in-house and outsourced activities. We make our decision based on the need to maintain a high quality of service, along with excellent levels of productivity, control, cost effectiveness and flexibility. Where it makes sense from a customer service and cost base perspective we in-source and where it makes sense to outsource, we make that decision.

AGS       Is the situation any different at non-UK destination airports?

AC          No, the principals are still the same. We have a wide range of services that are contracted to ground service providers, but we also take on many activities ourselves. Indeed at some of our airports, such as Malaga, we undertake all activities ourselves.

AGS       What is the airline’s approach to IT enabling processes? How have you invested in IT in terms of departure control, flight management and baggage tracing, and how has this impacted on the ground handling function?

AC          IT and investment in IT at is absolutely core to our strategy. We have developed, and will continue to develop, our own bespoke reservation system to ensure it is right for the customer and speeds up airport processes. Our customers really value online check-in – over 80% now use it.

AGS       What is the airline’s attitude to passenger and baggage check-in? Do you encourage web, SMS and kiosk check-in? Do you have baggage drops? Where are you headed with this?

AC          Internet check-in is a real strength of the service which means that baggage drop at the airport can be quick and effective. With upwards of 80% of passengers checking in online, we don’t really have a need for kiosks, but we are always reviewing technology to see how we can reduce queues and enhance the customer experience.

AGS       Given that you have a large number of leisure destinations, do you have to approach leisure flights differently from perhaps traditional business traveller routes and supply check-in staff as well as PRM assistance for holiday-makers? Are there issues with handling a flood of leisure passengers and handling excess baggage that require specialist attention from a leisure airline like

AC          The key for us at is to ensure that we focus on our customers’ needs. We don’t supply PRM assistance directly but use the services provided by all the airports we fly to, although in some cases we supply our own check-in.

Fundamentally, our customers want speed on the ground and the security of knowing we will handle their baggage with respect and that it will arrive at their destination safely. We spend a lot of time anticipating check-in peaks so we can ensure that we always provide this level of service.

AGS       Do you carry belly freight and what arrangements have you made for handling cargo?

AC          Our history is in the cargo business, and we are very proud of our roots. We do carry belly cargo and use a network of agents to enable us to do so. We also provide overnight freight services from some of our UK bases for the Royal Mail.

AGS       When you procure ground handling services, do you build relationships with network ground handlers and work with them at numerous stations for long periods of time or do you prefer to be more flexible than this?

AC          We are always keen to ensure our suppliers work flexibly with us. It really varies depending on our relationships – we take everything on a case-by-case basis.

AGS       What are the key credentials you look for in a passenger, baggage and ramp handling company?

AC          Cost, quality and a desire to ensure the customer always comes first.