How The Boeing 747 Transformed Flying From London

Concluding our series on the Boeing 747, how it transformed flying from London bringing new airlines, new routes and reducing journey times.

London Air Travel » British Airways » British Airways Boeing 747 » How The Boeing 747 Transformed Flying From London

British Airways Boeing 747, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
British Airways Boeing 747, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (Image Credit: British Airways)

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.

Air New Zealand, London Gatwick - Auckland, August 1982
Air New Zealand, Boeing 747 London Gatwick – Auckland, August 1982
Avianca, London Gatwick - Bogota, via Madrid & Barranquilla, May 1978
Avianca, Boeing 747 London Gatwick – Bogota, via Madrid & Barranquilla, May 1978
Braniff International, London Gatwick - Dallas / Fort Worth, February 1978
Braniff International, London Gatwick – Dallas / Fort Worth, February 1978

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.

Pan Am, London Heathrow - West Coast, June 1970
Pan Am, London Heathrow – West Coast, June 1970
Cathay Pacific, London Gatwick Hong Kong, via Bahrain, June 1981
Cathay Pacific, London Gatwick Hong Kong, via Bahrain, June 1981
Japan Airlines, London Heathrow - Tokyo (via Moscow), March 1982
Japan Airlines, London Heathrow – Tokyo (via Moscow), March 1982
South African Airways, Boeing 747 London Heathrow - Johannesburg, May 1975
South African Airways, Boeing 747 London Heathrow – Johannesburg, May 1975

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.

TWA Terminal, New York JFK, February 1970
TWA Terminal, New York JFK, February 1970

New Cabins

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.

© Copyright London Air Travel 2020.

One thought on “How The Boeing 747 Transformed Flying From London”

We welcome any thoughts and comments below: