Monarch’s Shadow Airline Grows

Lots of denials about the impending shutdown, but no explanations make any sense.
Lots of denials about the impending shutdown, but no explanations make any sense.

UPDATE (9:42a EDT 26 SEPT 2016): 

Monarch flights are operating normally on Monday after meetings with the CAA ran late into Sunday evening. The “shadow” fleet remains in position as Monarch works to shore up its books by the end of the week/month when its license is due for renewal. Still plenty of time for things to go very well or terribly badly.


Monarch Airlines has a shadow. The English leisure operator has been on shaky ground for some time now. On 27 June 2016 CEO Andrew Swaffield stated that the company had returned to profits but that it was still seeking a cash infusion to steady the operation. Some three months later it appears that whatever support the company did receive was insufficient to keep the planes flying. A number of wide-body aircraft have positioned to Monarch destinations in Southern Europe in what appears to be the beginnings of a massive airlift to return displaced holiday-makers in the coming week. The “shadow” airline of charters is now beginning to file flight numbers and routes which match those of scheduled Monarch flights beginning on Monday.

United Airlines' 747 is set to operate as a "shadow" of Monarch's scheduled service from Mallorca on Monday
United Airlines’ 747 is set to operate as a “shadow” of Monarch’s scheduled service from Mallorca on Monday

United Airlines is among the carriers participating in the airlift, with two 747-400s operating. The first (N116UA) flew to Palma de Mallorca over the weekend, arriving on Sunday morning. The second (N120UA) is expected to fly from Chicago to Tenerife tonight.

United's second 747-400 set to join the Monarch "shadow" operations later toinght
United’s second 747-400 set to join the Monarch “shadow” operations later toinght

Air Transat is expected to contribute an A330 and A310 to the operation (moving to Manchester, England Sunday night) and Omni has two 767s and an 777 positioning to Naples, London-Gatwick and Barcelona. Miami Air International also appears set to participate in the effort with a 737-800 positioned to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

Not surprisingly, the company’s Twitter account is denying the suspension of operations.

Lots of denials about the impending shutdown, but no explanations make any sense.
Lots of denials about the impending shutdown, but no alternate explanations make any sense.

But the positioning of so many large planes to so many destinations served by Monarch undoubtedly raises questions about the operations. And seeing the “shadow” flight numbers loading into systems with matching routes and times adds more weight to the rumors than the furious tweeting coming from headquarters seems to be able to stop. To be fair, not all flights have shadows from the charter companies. But in some cases that might not be necessary. The first flight out of Mallorca on Monday is a London flight set for 10:20, followed by Manchester at 11 and then Birmingham at 11:20a. If the “shadow” flight operates in place of the Birmingham flight the 747-400 should deliver the capacity to handle the loads from the three scheduled flights, with passengers then delivered to their final destination once in England. Far from ideal, but also much better than being stranded in Mallorca.

A second shadow flight appears in the Canary Islands
A second Monarch shadow flight appears in the Canary Islands

On the plus side, it appears that the company had enough foresight to get the appropriate resources in position in advance, minimizing inconvenience for travelers. A small win, I suppose.

Thanks to Steve and Stephan for helping track down some of the details on the shadow fleet.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. So what this means is an airline is planning to stop operations and appears to developed a plan to make sure that passengers who have already started travel are delivered to their final destinations? Does this imply at some point soon they will also void existing ticketed reservations to prevent passengers from beginning their travel? What are previous examples of this type of end of operations?

    1. Monarch doesn’t necessarily arrange the recovery flights. They are run by the ATOL insurance scheme in the UK. It is very different in the UK versus in the US.

    1. Were I United, Everton, I’d stick with the “we do not comment on our customers’ needs or operations.” But I also would certainly not announce another carrier going under before they do so themselves.

    2. Assuming the UA aircraft are indeed being chartered for the recovery operation, the economics are fascinating. Is there such a shortage of B747s in Europe that they’d have to be dead-headed from the US? And does UA have so many spares? (Besides the one permanent charter config)

    3. Yes, UA has the spares. It is drawing down the fleet with ~5 set to go by EoY and we’ve finished the busy summer season. Given that they’d just be spares on the ground in the US it makes sense for UA to get some cash operating them, low-bidding the contract for a week or two.

      HiFly is the other big “hot” lease operator with 4x A330s and 4x A340s but it has a lot of planes allocated right now, including to El Al and others IIRC.

    4. UAL would be shot for treason if they used milops as a cover for Monarch; if they said these planes are fulfilling military charters then that’s probably exactly what they’re doing

    5. More reliable sources than a random comment on my FB page suggest UA is declining to name the customer for the charters. And the plane in PMI is set to move to LPA tonight, though unclear if that will happen or not.

    6. The CAA has hired these aircraft as a safety measure if and only if Monarch goes pop.
      Friday is ‘D’ day for Monarch.

  2. I’ve never seen this being done before, but kudos to the brits if this really is real. Two Monarech planes in the air now – one inbound to UK and one outbound to LPA. A Miami Air aircraft is ready to operate the return, according to the airport website ….


    1. The company may yet survive, but it still is unlikely to me. Latest official statement is that everything is fine, but also that the company still expects a significant cash infusion from its investors to keep it that way. Unofficially the story is that the carrier and the UK CAA were in talks well into the night and it is not out of the woods on this yet.

  3. What a load of BS this is. You do know that UA operate Military Charters and Cruise charters. More importantly the CAA is a government organisation that can not waste money on a “shadow fleet” just in case?

    1. I am quite aware of the military charters. I also know that they rarely are from those airports and certainly do not involve the aircraft sitting idle for days nor having specific flight numbers published that match commercial airline schedules.

      The fact that Monarch and the CAA were in negotiations late into Sunday evening and that Monarch is still dependent on additional financing suggests that the company was on the brink of collapse. And that it is not 100% stable yet.

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