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 its near 100 year history, the operations of BA and its predecessor airlines have been primarily based in London.
However, all of BA’s predecessor airlines have a history with the UK regions. Imperial Airways began operating a route from London to Birmingham and Manchester in the early 1930s.
The relationship between BA and UK regions over the past few decades could be described as “somewhat difficult”.
“Manchester Terminal 1 British Airways”
30 years ago, BA had a substantial presence in the UK regions.
It had a sizeable long-haul route network in Manchester serving Barbados, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Mumbai, New York, Orlando, as well as around 10 UK domestic airports and 18 airports in mainland Europe.
Manchester airport also opened a new £75m terminal called “Terminal 1 British Airways” to house all BA services under one roof and offering a minimum connection time of 30 minutes for transfer passengers.
BA also had a sizeable presence in Birmingham dubbed a “Eurohub” from 1991, with the airport also being the first to receive new deliveries of Airbus A319 aircraft in 1999.
BA also used to operate transatlantic routes to New York from Birmingham and Glasgow until 1999. Other airports such as Bristol and Southampton also had a BA presence.
The short-haul operation across the UK was a mix of acquired airlines and franchise partners with a varied fleet that was in near permanent state of restructuring.
Over time BA gradually reduced its presence following the rise of low cost airlines. Cabin crew bases in Glasgow and Manchester were closed. Ground staff at UK regional airports were outsourced. Links from Gatwick to Aberdeen, Manchester and Newcastle were cut as part of a “de-hubbing” of Gatwick.
Middle Eastern airlines introduced direct flights from UK regional airports to their hubs, opening up many new one-stop connections to the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific that BA simply could not compete with. Why take a connecting flight to Heathrow on a crampt Airbus A320 when you have the option of an Airbus A380 to Dubai?
Whilst Heathrow was spared route cuts, passengers on UK domestic routes were often deeply frustrated at BA’s propensity to cancel domestic flights during disruption.
In 2007, BA threw in the towel and effectively paid Flybe take its “BA Connect” UK regional operation off its hands. The transaction cost BA around £150m.
A year later BA suspended its last remaining long-haul route from Manchester, to New York JFK. It was at this point BA earned itself the moniker “London Airways”.
To today, BA has been largely happy to leave the UK regions to its rivals. Virgin Atlantic has progressively added long-haul routes at Manchester and will be using its interest in Flybe to add more connecting traffic.
That said, links from Heathrow to Belfast, Inverness and Leeds-Bradford have been added. BA CityFlyer does also operate weekend leisure flights from Manchester. With many growth opportunities at all three London airports, the situation is unlikely to change but never say never.