The airline we know of today as British Airways has come a long way in its varied and illustrious life. From the world’s first scheduled air service to a global network covering six continents, the history of the UK’s main airline shows how they have had to evolve to the ever-changing demands of the travel industry.
Image courtesy of: Flight Global (contact D. Perry)
On the 25th August 1919, the first scheduled air service departed Hounslow Heath bound for Paris. Operated by the earliest forerunner of BA, Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T), and piloted by Lt E H “Bill” Lawford, the the single-engined plane carried one passenger, a consignment of leather, several brace of grouse and some jars of Devonshire cream.
In the decade that followed, many airline companies sprang up, but in 1924 four were amalgamated to create the government’s “chosen instrument of air travel”, Imperial Airways. This new airline was directed to develop routes to Europe and the Empire, including London to Delhi, India at the end of 1926 with a flight time of 62 1/2 hours.A commercial route to Karachi was opened by 1929 (including a train and flying boat) taking 7 days, with 18 stops, for the bargain price of £130 one way!
The 30’s saw an increase in the network, with domestic routes becoming more regular, and African countries in the Empire benefiting from extensions to routes already in place, including the first service to Cape Town in 1932. By February 1933, Imperial Airways had already covered 10 million miles in the air, and with Australia included on the routes for travel in 1935, passengers could book from London to Brisbane with a journey time of 12 1/2 days.
Before the beginning of World War II, the Imperial Airways network had extended to Canada and New York, and in conjunction with the German Zephyr, South America.
Image Source: AirTeamImages.com
1935 was the first time we heard the famous name, with the joining of four private airlines into British Airways Limited. This was then merged with Imperial Airways in 1939 creating the new British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).
During the war years, flight services were largely suspended, with certain routes re-opening for military use including Prime Minister Winston Churchill crossing the Atlantic in 1942. Services were resumed in 1946 and with innovations to technology, one being pressurised cabins meaning planes could fly over the weather, Australia was now only 5 1/4 days away!
BOAC operated their first pure jet service in 1952 to Johannesburg, and a new era was born. Jet propelled planes revolutionised air travel, and by 1957 the first non-stop flight from London to the Pacific Ocean was made, landing in Vancouver with a flight time of 14 hours 40 minutes.
The majority of both long-haul and European flights by the middle of 1958 operated with separate class cabins offering passengers the option of flying First Class or Tourist Class.
Image courtesy of: Eduard Marmet – airliners.net
By the 1960’s, air travel was becoming more and more popular, and the new Boeing 707 aircraft increased the range and number of passengers of each flight. Suddenly, people could cross the Atlantic for the lowest price ever offered, under £100!
Along with advancements in aircraft, by 1969 passengers now had computers helping with check-in and the production of timetables; but there was an even bigger development just around the corner!
Image courtesy of: Eduard Marmet – airliners.net
BOAC’s routes and capacity continued to increase in the early 70’s with now many direct services to The USA and Caribbean, and the introduction of Boeing’s 747 aircraft. Then, on the 31st of March 1974, the European and domestic flight operator (BEA) and the BOAC dissolved after merging operations into the newly formed British Airways, giving the world the airline we now enjoy.
After testing a new high-speed aircraft in the late 60’s, British Airways launched one of the world’s first passenger supersonic services on the Concorde, with flights to Bahrain and Washington D.C. in 1976. Services increased to other destinations including New York and Singapore, and routes were further extended in the 80’s to include Miami and Barbados.
This new style of flying made transatlantic crossing possible in under 3 hours!
British Airways re-invented itself in the late 80’s with the introduction of a new cabin class, Club World and Club Europe, a business class offering between First Class and Economy, and with the development of its worldwide lounge facilities in 1991, became the airline of choice for many business travellers. This was then solidified by the introduction of a frequent flyer program in 1995, and the OneWorld Alliance agreement in 1999.
Developments continued in 2000 with Flatbeds introduced in Club World firstly on the New York route, and a Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus) option on their new fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft; the suppliers that would eventually take over from the Concorde completely when they were decommissioned in 2003.
With a fleet of over 280 aircraft, and hundreds more across the OneWorld alliance, BA continues to grow onwards and upwards. Its 40,000+ employees and its constant investment into development, both technologically and physically, means that British Airways will continue to be at the forefront of air travel for people in the UK in the future.