“All the 747 needed was BOAC service.”
That was the promise of BOAC as it introduced the Boeing 747 in 1971.
It was a tacit admission the airline had been behind its competitors in introducing the aircraft into service.
It is an understatement to say the launch of the Boeing 747 at BOAC was troubled. It would, of course, become the backbone of its successor airline British Airways until its abrupt and undignified retirement in 2020.
Welcome to part one of a seven part series looking at the Boeing 747 at BOAC and BA.
The Boeing 747 At BOAC
BOAC placed its first order for six Boeing 747-136 aircraft in 1966, following government approval. This would soon to be increased to twelve aircraft.
Although BOAC took delivery of its first Boeing aircraft in May 1970, three aircraft sat idle at London Heathrow for a year due to dispute with its pilots over pay and productivity.
The delay was estimated to have cost BOAC upwards of £25,000 a day. Its transatlantic rivals Pan American World Airways and Trans World Airlines were already operating the Boeing 747 from London and were able to take advantage of rising passenger numbers between Europe and the US.
It did at least allow BOAC to learn of some of the teething troubles of Pan Am and TWA where some passengers complained of chaotic food and beverage service, malfunctioning inflight entertainment, long queues for bathrooms and extended waits for baggage on arrival.
The inaugural BOAC passenger flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK took place on 14 April 1971. Ahead the launch, BOAC opened its own dedicated terminal at New York JFK.
283 passengers were on board the aircraft, which had capacity for 300 passengers in tourist class and 50 passengers in First Class with 6 galleys and 12 bathrooms. At seat inflight entertainment consisted of 4 stereo and 3 mono channels of music. In common with other airlines, the Upper Deck featured a dedicated “Monarch” lounge for First Class passengers.
The launch of flights to New York JFK was not the end of BOAC’s industrial troubles as a dispute with engineers briefly grounded the aircraft again.
BOAC was keen to emphasis distinctive features unique to its Boeing 747 aircraft, such as its humification system. Other features claimed to be unique to BOAC included adjustable headrests and artwork on bulkheads.
After New York JFK, daily services to Montreal and Toronto followed on 12 July 1971. Economic pressures did however force BOAC to cancel orders for a further 4 Boeing 747 aircraft beyond its initial order of 12.
In November 1971, BOAC launched what it claimed was the first direct Boeing 747 service to Australia via Hong Kong and Darwin.
On 10 December 1971, BOAC began daily Boeing 747 services to Johannesburg and the first ever Boeing 747 flight to Nairobi.
One of the benefits of the Boeing 747 meant that its extended range enabled airlines to compete on speed. Here, BOAC promotes its fastest service from London Heathrow to Johannesburg, with just one stop in Nairobi.
Further transatlantic additions to BOAC’s Boeing 747 network from 1971 onwards included Chicago O’Hare, Miami and Washington.
Whilst there were no major incidents involving BOAC and the 747, in June 1973 a BOAC 747 skidded off the runway at New York JFK. No passengers were injured.
The next year, BOAC merged with BEA to form British Airways. Join us tomorrow as we look at how the Boeing 747 grew rapidly at BA for the rest of the 20th century.