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.
BEA and BOAC trace their history of what was then known as London airport to the 1940s, replacing Croydon and Northolt airports as their hubs.
BOAC operated its first service from London Heathrow in 1946 and BEA in 1950. Heathrow has been BA’s principal UK hub for the entirety of its existence. Attempts to create a second hub at Gatwick failed and BA has withdrawn virtually all operations from UK regional airports.
BA’s main home at Heathrow was Terminal 1 from 1969 to 2008 until the opening of Terminal 5, with a brief reprise from 2012 to 2015 following BA’s purchase of bmi. BEA operated the first flight out of Terminal 1 to Edinburgh. BA operated the last flight out of Terminal 1, BA970 to Hanover in June 2015.
It has also operated flights from Terminal 3, and from Terminal 4 when it opened in 1986. Terminal 4 was ill-suited in its design for long-haul flights and a problematic location because it is located south of the southern runway, so you have to cross an active runway to reach the north runway.
BA’s time at Heathrow has not always been a happy one. As an airport that is virtually full there is little slack to withstand any operational disruption. Before the opening of Terminal 5 BA had signifiant problems with punctuality and baggage handling, particularly for transfer passengers.
It has also not always had a good working relationship with the airport. Events such as the opening of Terminal 5 and the snow disruption at Christmas 2010 exposed a dysfunctional working relationship between Heathrow and its airlines.
Lessons have been learned and relations between the airports and airlines have improved at an operational level. The overall reputation of Heathrow has improved immeasurably. And for all its faults, Heathrow remains a hugely attractive source of premium traffic. So much so that rival airlines are prepared to pay tens of millions of dollars for a single pair of arrival and departure slots.
However, BA’s parent company IAG does not pull any punches regarding the costs of the third runway and effectively accuses Heathrow of misleading the public on its cost.
Should a third runway ever be constructed it will have a significant competitive impact on BA. easyJet has indicated it will seek to secure access to Heathrow and a number of long-haul airlines will also be able to secure access. That all said, no-one can predict the state of the industry by the time the third runway opens.