Someone first mentioned the Italian airline Ernest to me many months ago, and my initial response was… say what? I sat on this, expecting the airline to just quietly disappear. But nay. It has grown, and it’s a fascinating little operator. That is why this is a welcome addition to my ongoing series. Who the f*&@ is Ernest?
The Ernest brand may (really, not quite sure) have started flying as early as 2016, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the airline had its own operating certificate. Today it leases in four airplanes for its low-cost operation. (I just said it was growing, not growing fast.) The three A320s have 180 seats while the lone A319 has 141 onboard. These airplanes came from all over the place. The A319 was operated by Iberia in the Caribbean. The first A320 flew for TAME and LATAM. The second A320 looks like it was leased directly upon delivery while the third came from Scoot.
The name apparently comes from “a forefather of one of the shareholders,” and it is also meant to be a pun on the word “earnest.” Why that pun makes sense for an airline that doesn’t fly to an English-speaking country is entirely unclear.
Despite being Milan-based, Ernest strangely seems to have Swedish ties. It was started by David Girhammar who went to college in Stockholm. His background is most definitely not airlines. In fact, he came out of the fashion world. The airline’s most prominent financial backer is Jakob Porsér, one of the creators of Minecraft. I don’t know his nationality, but I assume he’s Swedish. At least, the company he built that developed Minecraft is Swedish. And as you can imagine, he has plenty of money to spend.
So, does the airline just shuttle people between Italy and Sweden? No, no it does not.
Ernest has found itself a niche in the world of ethnic travel. It serves several cities in Italy. With only four airplanes, it obviously does not fly on a business schedule. Those cities are linked, often less than daily, with cities in Ukraine and Albania.
Albania was the airline’s first focus. Today Ernest serves Albania’s capital, Tirana, from eight cities in Italy. It turns out that there is a huge ethnic Albanian population primarily in southern Italy. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people, and they all presumably want to see their families back in their ancestral homeland. So, cheap fares + short flight times means the airline can cheaply cater to a market that may not be on the radar for other airlines.
While Albania may have worked for a couple of airplanes, Ernest was already looking elsewhere. It quickly moved into the Ukrainian market. It now serves Kiev/Zhulyany from six cities, Lviv from four, Kharkiv from two, and Odessa just from Rome.
It looks like Ernest hasn’t been shy about going in and out of markets that don’t work. Even within the Italy to Albania/Ukraine markets, it has left individual routes. For example, I’ve seen mention of flights from Tirana to Florence, Ancona, Cuneo, and Rimini, but if those cities were served, they aren’t any longer. At least, they aren’t for sale on the airline’s website currently.
On the airline’s “About us” page, it notes that it also operates in the Italy- Romania and Italy-Spain markets. The latter says it is served “with flights from Milan to Ibiza during Summer Season.” Presumably that was last summer, because there is nothing showing for this summer.
Seeing a growing market in Ukraine, you might wonder… what’s next? Well you probably wouldn’t have guessed something involving Russia. But sure enough, there appears to be some sort of commercial cooperation between Ernest and Aeroflot’s low-cost carrier Pobeda.
This doesn’t even appear to be about feeding each other. Ernest is just selling a codeshare on Pobeda flights between Moscow/Vnukovo and Italian destinations directly on its website. For example:
According to an Italian filing, it looks like Ernest had plans to codeshare on routes to other Russian cities, but that’s not showing up on the airline’s website currently.
Is Ernest successful? I have no idea. It’s private, and it could be losing money like crazy or it could be wildly profitable. Only the creator of Minecraft knows for sure. Growth has been less than what I saw mentioned in some articles from earlier days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t doing well with what it has. If nothing else, it has found a fascinating little niche that others have yet to serve.
Flew with them in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and also on two aircraft they chartered in from Lumiwings and Tayaran (it’s a cheap way of collecting obscure airlines). Competent and efficient but most definitely LCC service. The flights between Italy and Albania were packed full of Albanians with a high load factor – tourists visiting Albania are definitely in the minority. They don’t have the Italy-Albania market to themselves by any means – Blue Panorama and Albawings are heavily involved as well. I imagine that Wizzair will be looking at this market with interest
Worth mentioning that there is a sizeable number of Ukrainians who have decided the economy back home is lousy and have moved to Italy. Not sure how many Russians have moved to Italy though
Having lived in Italy for several years, I will confirm that Italy is full of Albanians. Several years ago, according to the Albanians I met there, Albania didn’t have any (or any good) television channels, so many Albanians watched Italian television with subtitles. Due to this, many Albanians speak at least some Italian, and many speak it fluently. So, when the economy isn’t great at home and they need to move abroad for work, it makes sense to head to Italy, both because it’s close and because they already speak the language. With the large diaspora there I think Ernest’s business plan makes a lot of sense. Of course, VFR traffic is notoriously low-yielding, but if they can keep the flights full and the costs down, there’s at least enough VFR traffic to keep them afloat.
I’d love to be able to comment on Ernest from a first-hand perspective, as I am intrigued by this little airline and the markets it serves. I’d never heard of it. Alas, travel to/from anywhere isn’t in my immediate future, but your post made me want to go to some of those destinations, even though none of them had been on my bucket list before. Odd. I wonder if they’re really safe, as I do have close friends who travel in and out of Italy fairly frequently. Thanks for a bit of NEW info.
CF – For somebody who lives in California and thus several thousand miles away from Italy or Albani, you deserve some congratulations on being able to put together a coherent post on this topic.
It’s probably a bit like your post a few years back on Tarom – a technical challenge like ‘write an article on Ernest’ shows breadth of knowledge
Love the livery…
With that tail logo, it suggests Hemingway to me. It would make some sense in the Caribbean or South Florida (or Idaho), but, well, the Italians did revere him once for A Farewell to Arms. I guess it’s “cute,” like all the names of the dockless scooter/bike companies.
Don’t forget that in the late 80’s early 90’s they also went to Camp, Jail, School and Africa.
I didn’t see that coming. Thank you for the chuckle.
Funny – I’ve been traveling in Italy for the last month and have seen Ernest a few times at the various airports I’ve passed through. I was wondering who the hell they were.
Albania’s ties with Italy go way, way back. Modern-day Italy even made some claims to Albania around the time of World War I (the same time it also claimed Istria and Dalmatia, in what is now Croatia). Not surprised the links are still strong. I’ve been listening for Albanian as I’ve been walking around the last four weeks, but have to confess I don’t have the faintest idea what it sounds like. :)
Livery is cool…are they going to do a Minecraft one ?
Article about Italian airline without Alitalia mention, oh my!!!
Ernest is notoriously unreliable. It is the worst (non-charter) airline flying in Ukraine as far as punctuality goes
ENAC (Italian national aviation regulator) seems to have concerns about Ernest’s financial viability. Operating licence is being pulled after 13-Jan-2020 and tickets are no longer on sale beyond this date