This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
It may seem strange to think now, but when the Internet first entered the public consciousness in the 1990s, airlines didn’t really know what to do with it.
BA launched its first website, with the not exactly snappy address http://www.british-airways.com, just before midnight on Christmas Eve 1995.
One of the most hyped websites of the late 1990s dot.com boom was lastminute.com which sells discounted flights, hotel rooms, and event tickets with late availability.
And that’s how BA, which of course had well established distribution channels through travel agents, viewed the Internet – a place for distressed inventory.
As you can see from the website in its early years, it largely operated as brochure for the airline. Though the ability to book flights online was available from 1996.
The big change came in 2001 when BA secured the domain name ba.com – previously held by Bell Atlantic.
The short address made it vastly easier to promote the website in advertising and communications. There was also the realisation that ba.com could be used as primary distribution channel and to simplify the airport experience by pushing pre-departure processes away from the airport so passengers arrived “ready to fly”.
Many innovations soon came, such as online boarding passes, up-selling of flight upgrades and dynamic packaging of flight and hotel / car hire packages.
The website has advanced hugely since its launch nearly 25 years ago. Though, it is not without its frustration and bugs. It has had periodic bouts of downtime in recent years.
It was also subject to a high profile hack last year which resulted in the theft of the personal data of hundreds and thousands of passengers, for which BA is now facing a fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office of £138m.
In the future, more innovations can be expected including possibly a single booking engine for all airlines in International Airlines Group.