Welcome to part two of our seven part series looking at the story of the Boeing 747 at BOAC and British Airways following its retirement in 2020.
In part one we looked at the introduction of the aircraft at BOAC, primarily on transatlantic routes. As BA continued to take delivery of more Boeing 747-136 aircraft, and longer range Boeing 747-236 aircraft, it continued to reach more destinations and cut journey times.
“East, West, Our Jumbos Are Best”
In the immediate years following the merger of BEA and BOAC, the 747 was touching all corners of BA’s global network.
New 747 network additions included Boston & Philadelphia, Kingston, Bermuda & Nassau, Tokyo via Anchorage (known as the Polar route) and Auckland.
“Wide Bodies All Over USA!”
By late 1975, BA served New York, Boston & Philadephia, Washington & Detroit and Miami with daily Boeing 747 services. Anchorage was served with a Boeing 747 three times a week.
The one exception in the United States was Los Angeles which was served by a DC10 aircraft. This was leased from Air New Zealand and was operated by BA crews between London Heathrow and Los Angeles, and by Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Auckland.
In 1976, Barbados gained a non-stop Boeing 747 service with the aircraft continuing to Port of Spain, Trinidad.
At the same time, BA trialled an enhanced economy class service for full fare passengers on flights between London Heathrow and Hong Kong.
48 seats in Zone B of the aircraft were designated as an “Executive Cabin” with a free bar service and inflight entertainment.
“All-747 Service For Australia”
By the summer of 1976, BA had 18 Boeing 747-136 aircraft in its fleet. All services to Australia – Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney – were operated with the Boeing 747.
However, multiple stops were still required en route. Only Perth had two stops en-route on some weekly flights. All other cities in Australia served by BA required at least three or four stops.
“A Touch Of Class For Executives”
After a successful trial on flights between London Heathrow and Hong Kong, the “Executive Cabin” was extended to all Boeing 747 flights in 1977, save for Chicago.
The main benefits were being first to receive the economy inflight service and early disembarkation from the aircraft. Being seated in the Executive cabin was not guaranteed – it could only be requested at the time of booking and passengers were advised to check-in early.
“San Francisco Here We Come”
In 1975, BA ordered four Boeing 747-236 aircraft at its launch. The first aircraft arrived at Heathrow in 1976, operating non-stop on routes such as Los Angeles.
BA also returned to San Francisco with a new non-stop route. This was the first time San Francisco had been served by a UK airline since BOAC withdrew from the route in 1969. Antigua and Mexico also gained Boeing 747 services.
The introduction of longer range Boeing 747-236 aircraft also enabled BA to reduce the number of stops en route via South East Asia to Australia.
Sydney was cut to two stops from London Heathrow. Melbourne gained a two stop service three times a week. Perth benefited from a one-stop service three times a week. Brisbane required three stops en route three times a week.
In the late 1970s BA continued to evolve its “Executive” cabin, branding it as “Club” on transatlantic routes, a word that soon become synonymous with business class.
Additional features such as dedicated check-in desks were introduced. Also note how boarding the aircraft later was sold as a benefit!
As airlines adopted different models of the Boeing 747 and different timetables, on longer range routes, they could compete on speed. BA and South African Airways frequently sought to operate the fastest services to South Africa.
The 1980s was a decade of profound change for BA. In the next part of our series we’ll look at the evolution of the Boeing 747 in the 1980s ahead of the delivery of BA’s first Boeing 747-436 aircraft.