Concluding our series on the story of the Boeing 747 at BA, here’s a broader look at how the aircraft transformed flying from London over the past 50 years.
The 747 Brought New Airlines To London
Air New Zealand, Avianca, Cathay Pacific, Braniff International (aided by deregulation of the US market) and Virgin Atlantic all launched their first services from London with the Boeing 747.
As you can see from Air New Zealand advert below it, as many airlines did, likened the Boeing 747 to a flying hotel.
Airlines Could Compete On Speed
The airline industry has a dirty secret.
For all the differences between airlines on cabins and inflight service, they all buy the same aircraft from the same two manufacturers. Time is the most precious commodity of all. You may have a choice of five airlines to fly you from London Heathrow to New York, but not one can take you there any more faster than the others.
As airlines adopted different models of the Boeing 747 they could genuinely compete on speed as destinations in Asia and South Africa could eventually be reached non-stop. In the early years of the 747, this could often be only on certain days of the week or in one direction.
New Airport Infrastructure
In preparation for the 747, many airlines invested in new airport infrastructure. BOAC opened its own terminal at New York JFK, now Terminal 7.
TWA also opened “Flight Wing One” at New York JFK, now demolished.
The size of the Boeing 747 did allow airlines to introduce new cabins beyond First Class and economy.
Who deserves credit for this depends on who you ask. Qantas claims to be the first airline to introduce long-haul business class. Virgin Atlantic claims to be first to introduce premium economy.
And that draws our special series on the 747 to a close. Sadly, there are no more airlines operating the Boeing 747 from London airports. It has been usurped by more modern aircraft which, in truth, offer better cabin comfort. But it has hard to envisage the Airbus A380 completing 50 years’ service or the eventual retirement of the Boeing 777 attracting anywhere near the same degree of affection.