Budget airline bosses ordered an empty plane to be flown to pick up the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children to take them on holiday to Scotland, it was claimed last night.

In a week that has seen the Duke and Duchess of Sussex criticised for taking four private jet jaunts in 11 days, William and Kate were praised for taking their family to holiday with the Queen at Balmoral on a standard £73-a-head ($139) scheduled flight.

But industry sources told the Mail yesterday that, unbeknown to the royals, their flight might not have been as environmentally friendly as they had hoped, reports Daily Mail.

The 8.40am flight the royal party took from Norwich to Aberdeen on Thursday is normally operated by Scottish company Loganair on behalf of Eastern Airways, Flybe's franchise partner.

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It is known as a "wet lease", which means the aircraft used by passengers is branded with the Loganair logo and flown using their own pilots and cabin crew.

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Sources said Flybe was apparently so keen for the royal party to travel in one of their own liveried planes that it ordered an Embraer 145 jet be flown from Eastern's Humberside HQ especially for the trip. This was disputed last night by Flybe.

Flight logs show the plane number EZE041P – 'P' on the end of the flight number denotes it was an empty positioning flight – travelling 123 miles down to Norfolk at 7.10am on Thursday.

Kate and Will were initially praised for taking a standard $139-a-head flight. Photo / Supplied
Kate and Will were initially praised for taking a standard $139-a-head flight. Photo / Supplied

According to their fellow travellers, the Cambridges slipped on to the plane discreetly shortly before take-off, and sat in the front few rows, exiting first in the hope they would not be recognised.

The Loganair aircraft which should have taken them to Scotland, and had brought an earlier load of passengers from Aberdeen to Norwich as part of its regular shuttle service, took off from Norfolk empty around 45 minutes later, according to official flight records.

It is understood that the two empty flights would be responsible for an extra 4.5 tons of carbon emissions.

The source said: "It's utterly extraordinary and makes a mockery of their family's very laudable attempts to travel more economically and in a more environmentally friendly manner.

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"An additional 4.5 tons of carbon emissions were created simply to ensure that an aircraft with Flybe written on the side operated the flight with the Royal party aboard, instead of the usual aircraft which flies the route. It's obviously not their fault but is utterly ridiculous."

William and Kate were completely unaware of the switch and had not asked for special treatment, aside from slipping in at the last minute. A Kensington Palace spokesman declined to comment but it is likely the couple will be mortified.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, with their children, Princess Charlotte and Prince George, enjoy a short private skiing break in 2016. Photo / Getty Images
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, with their children, Princess Charlotte and Prince George, enjoy a short private skiing break in 2016. Photo / Getty Images

A Flybe spokesperson said: "Flybe denies any involvement in the decision over which aircraft to fly on this route, which is fully operated by Eastern Airways."

Eastern Air, which operates the planes on behalf of Flybe, called the series of flights "immaterial", adding: "As long as all the passengers had a nice flight."

Loganair, one of Scotland's biggest regional airlines, said: "We operate services on the Norwich-Aberdeen route on behalf of Eastern Airways for Flybe – that is with Loganair aircraft and crew – but deployment of aircraft can and does change to meet airline operational requirements."

In an extraordinary conversation, a spokesman for Eastern Air, which operates the planes on behalf of FlyBe, told the Mail they were "completely unconcerned" what this newspaper was intending to publish, describing the scenario put to them as "immaterial, as long as all their passengers had a nice flight".

Asked repeatedly whether they wanted to correct anything that had been put to them, the answer was "no – write what you want to write".

The spokesman eventually said, after prompting, that they would provide a "one-line statement – for what it is worth", but despite repeated requests to both Eastern and Flybe nothing was sent by the time of going to press.