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.
In December 2019, British Airways will celebrate 90 years of flying to India, an extremely important market for the airline.
The First Flights To India
The first through passenger flight from London to India was operated on 30 March 1929 by Imperial Airways. It took nearly seven days to complete. The initial routing, by four different means, was as follows:
London Croydon – Paris – Basle by Armstrong Whitworth Argosy aircraft.
Basle – Genoa by train (Italian authorities refused to permit British aircraft to enter Italy via France.)
Genoa – Rome – Naples – Corfu – Athens – Suda Bay (Crete) – Tobruk – Alexandria by Short Calcutta flying boat.
Alexandria – Gaza – Rutbah Wells – Baghdad – Basra – Bushire – Lingeh – Jask – Gwadar – Karachi – Jodphur – Delhi flown by DH66 Hercules aircraft.
By the late 1930s, flight times had been progressively reduced and India could typically be reached in two and a half days on Imperial Airways’ flying boats. Today, flights take approximately ten hours non-stop.
The market has historically been restricted by limitations of flights under a bilateral treaty between the UK and India. This was relaxed in 2005 and enabled BA to increase flights from London Heathrow from 19 to 35 a week. BA launched a new five times weekly service to Bangalore and increased frequencies on other routes.
BA did also seek to set-up a local franchise partner India, where there had been considerable restrictions on foreign ownership of airlines, but to no avail. A new service to Hyderabad was added in 2009.
The relaxation of the bilateral treaty also prompted a number of new entrants into the market, notably bmi British Midland, which was suspended Mumbai shortly after launch. Virgin Atlantic launched a new service to Mumbai which it has now suspended twice and plans to relaunch again later this year.
Today BA flies to five cities: Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and New Delhi. It has previously suspended non-stop flights to Amritsar (briefly inherited from bmi) and Kolkata. BA also has cabin crew bases in India who also wear a dedicated uniform.
India is a competitive market and expectations of local passengers are very high. It has proved difficult for privately owned airlines in India. Former Oneworld alliance member Kingfisher Airlines collapsed in 2012. Jet Airways collapsed earlier this year. Whilst they were not financially successful, they provided strong competition on in-flight service. Emirates also provides strong competition, particularly for connecting traffic between the US and India.
BA has used emotional appeal to promote itself in India with a strong emphasis on family bonds, as per these five films from 2013 to 2016: