The news that a new air carrier called Varsity Express is due to launch scheduled air services from Oxford to Edinburgh in March will evoke memories of ill-fated Alpha One which five years ago promised to launch another Varsity link - from Oxford to Cambridge. Martin Halstead, who was only nineteen years old at the time, created Alpha One and secured massive publicity for his proposed venture. No matter that he didn't have a plane, but he promised he would rent a Jetstream 31 for the flights. It turned out to be a pipe dream and Alpha One never flew a single flight from Oxford Airport.
Today Varsity Express announced their debut flights from Oxford. And guess what? They don't own a plane, but they say they’ll rent a Jetstream 31 for their flights. Emerald Media, a PR company specialising in aviation matters, has the task of drumming up a bit of publicity for the new venture. Curiously, their first move on that front promoted Varsity Express as being much cheaper than the train. Emerald suggested that the cheapest unrestricted return rail fare from Oxford to Edinburgh via the most direct route is over 300 pounds. The truth is rather different. The return fare is 110.80 pounds and offers great flexibility – out and back on any train within a month. Those wanting to fly with Varsity Express can enjoy the same flexibility for 298 pounds return.
hidden europe contacted Emerald Media. They have promised to change their misleading publicity on behalf of Varsity Airlines. We are still waiting. Meanwhile, we are wondering if one Mr Halstead might just possibly be lurking in the background behind the new venture.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
NB. Since the piece above was published on 20 January 2010, this story took a number of quite remarkable turns. We published two more articles on Varsity Express - on 1 March 2010 and 15 March 2010 respectively. The 1 March story records the first flight of Varsity Express and the 15 March story gives an update on the curious sequence of events that unfolded after Varsity Express suspended operations.