100 Years Of British Airways

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British Airways, "The World's Favourite Airline", 1983.
British Airways, “The World’s Favourite Airline”, 1983.

Welcome to our 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines.

From the launch of the first flights from London to Paris on 25 August 1919 to the present day, we’re covering, warts and all, the highs and lows of 100 years of aviation history.

BA is an airline that has brought us some of the world’s most successful marketing campaigns, pulled off a major corporate financial and reputational turnaround in the 1980s, employed some of the most high profile and outspoken executives in the aviation industry, and launched a number of world firsts.

It’s also an airline that has often found itself on the world’s newspaper front pages for all the wrong reasons, become caught up in major geopolitical events, and been embroiled in some of the most bitter corporate rivalries in aviation.

We’ve covered everything from adverts, aircraft, airlines, cabins, liveries, routes and may be a few esoteric items as well. Below is a listing in numerical order. You can also view the full 100 part list by theme and by decade.

We are of course also covering official BA events for its centenary.

Parts 100 – 91

100. So how does an airline established in 1974 celebrate its centenary in 2019? A quick primer on the history of BA, its predecessor airlines and the BA “eras”.

99. The first flights from London to Paris on 25 August 1919.

98. “Manhattan” Saatchi & Saatchi’s first major work for British Airways in 1983, a big budget cinematic TV advertisement, signalling BA’s intention to be “The World’s Favourite Airline.”

97. Turn up at the gate ten minutes before departure without a ticket and be guaranteed a seat. This would seem unthinkable today but in 1975 BA launched The Shuttle, its turn-up-and-go service on UK domestic routes.

96. “Super Club” The widest seat in business class, at least in the 1980s, and BA’s first true branded long-haul business class cabin.

95. BA2069 to Nairobi. In December 2000, a passenger entered the flight deck of a Boeing 747 flying from Gatwick to Nairobi and seized control of the aircraft. Fortunately, the flight crew were able to regain control and the aircraft landed safely in Nairobi.

94. “Arrive Home” An advertising campaign from the early 1990s highlighting one of the best aspects of business travel – getting back home.

93. “In The Court Of Lord King” BA allows the Financial Times to visit the St James office of BA Chairman Lord King. What could possibly go wrong? When the Financial Times upset former BA Chairman Lord King.

92. ba.com Have You Clicked Yet? How BA learned to embrace the internet at the turn of the century.

91. 2 Engines 4 Long-Haul. How the twin-engine Boeing 777-200 became the mainstay of BA’s long-haul fleet from the mid 1990s onwards.

Parts 90 – 81

90. “Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major” A BOAC TV advertisement from the 1960s.

89. “The Sun Never Sets On British Airways” From 1985 when BA starts to promote not just its global reach and network, but also its in-flight service.

88. Club Europe BA’s short-haul business class cabin.

87. The late BOAC Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison, the only female recipient of The George Cross for gallantry in peace time for assisting with the evacuation of a BOAC Boeing 707 that experienced an engine failure shortly after take-off in 1968.

86. Go to sleep in New York. Wake up in London. BA’s Club World Sleeper Service.

85. The workhorse of BA’s short-haul fleet in the 1980s and 1990s, The Boeing 757.

84. Faced with depressed demand after the 1990 Gulf War, BA gave away every single seat on every international flight to and from the UK on one day in 1991 in The World’s Biggest Offer.

83. BA’s £200m Waterside Headquarters, near Heathrow designed by architect Niels Torp.

82. Club World London City, launched in 2009, BA’s all business class service from London City to New York JFK. Whilst it was hugely popular with passengers it was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19.

81. “Airline” The BBC’s four part fly-on-the-wall documentary series on BA from 1990 as it prepares to face new competition and take delivery of its first Boeing 747-400 aircraft.

Parts 80-71

80. “Surprise, Surprise” A viral cinema stunt conjured up Saatchi & Saatchi in 1991 to market BA Holidays.

79. In 1958, BOAC beat Pan American World Airways to operate the first passenger jet transatlantic flight from London to New York.

78. Probably one of the most frustrating yet endearing aircraft for both BA passengers and crew in recent decades, the Boeing 767.

77. Do you believe in Concorde? Could you really fly on Concorde to visit Santa Claus in Lapland?

76. The Art Of The Poster. How Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA used the poster to great effect to sell the relatively new concept of civil aviation.

75. The Negus Livery The first BA livery following the merger of BEA and BOAC in 1974.

74. The BA Executive Club. Originally launched in 1982 it has since become a hugely powerful marketing tool and business in its own right, with many millions of participating members.

73. Dreamflight, an independent charity founded by former BA staff members the raises funds to take hundreds of children with a serious illness or disability on a chartered Boeing 747 to Orlando, Florida.

72. 1987, the year of BA’s privatisation as “Britain’s Highest Flying Company” and the start of the “Wall Street” era in popular culture.

71. World Traveller Plus, BA’s long-haul premium economy cabin introduced in 2000.

Parts 70 – 61

70. The Chatham Dockyard livery, first introduced on Concorde in 1997 and now applied across all of BA’s fleet.

69. When BA featured in the James Bond film “Die Another Day”.

68. Opened in 1970 and originally known as the BOAC Terminal, Terminal 7 is the only terminal at New York JFK airport owned and operated by an international airline.

67. “Don’t Fly” BA tells its customers to stay at home during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

66. “An Airline Adventure” “Go” the low cost airline launched BA at London Stansted under the leadership of Barbara Cassani in 1998 and sold to 3i three years later.

65. “Look Up” An interactive billboard that identified BA aircraft flying overhead.

64. London City Airport, BA’s base in the Royal Docks, East London. The first BA liveried flight from the airport launched in 1999 when British Regional Airlines began a three times daily service to Sheffield.

63. BA’s 1989 advertising campaign, a period of self-confidence when BA sought to be a truly global airline.

62. “Trident Over Europe” Trident, the short-haul aircraft serving BEA and BA from 1962 to 1986.

61. From 12 and a half days to less than 17 hours. How flying from the UK to Australia has evolved in 85 years.

Parts 60-59

60. OpenSkies – BA’s “boutique” premium airline launched in response to the deregulation of the EU-US market and operated between Paris Orly and New York for nearly ten years.

59. “Where Is Everybody?” asks BA in a post-apocalypse TV advertising campaign from 1994.

58. “We never forgot you have a choice.” The promise of British Caledonian, established as a “second force” to compete against BA in 1971. It was subsequently acquired by BA in 1988.

57. “So calm, you’ll simply flow through”. BA’s promise for London Heathrow Terminal 5 which opened in chaotic fashion in March 2008.

56. The Franchises. Franchising used to be a major part of BA’s business with up to 11 airlines adopting the BA name and livery. By the late 1990s up to 6 million passengers flew on franchise airlines. Today there are just two as many struggled to compete against low cost airlines.

55. A look at the work of the advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty for BA, who secured the BA account in 2005 and lives by the mantra “When the world zigs, Zag”.

54. The Speedbird. Theyre Lee-Elliott’s logo designed for Imperial Airways in 1932.

53. The British European Airways London Waterloo Air Terminal which operated from 1953 to 1957 and the West London Air Terminal which operated from 1957 to 1979.

52. India. First served by Imperial Airways in 1929 and is today one of BA’s most important long-haul markets.

51. KLM. The airline that BA should have, but repeatedly failed, to merge with. After talks failed in 2000, KLM subsequently merged with Air France.

Parts 50-41

50. The former routes served by BA, many suspended for commercial as well as geopolitical reasons.

49. A look at how British Airways lounges have evolved over the past 40 years.

48. Rosalind Hanby, the face of British Airways during the 1970s and early 1980s.

47. The things you can’t do anymore. Services and facilities BA has withdrawn whether due to security reasons, changing technology, consumer habits or cold hard economics.

46. “London Airways” BA’s difficult relationship with passengers based in UK regions over the past few decades.

45. The hijack of a BOAC Super VC10 aircraft at Dawson’s Field in September 1970 which prompted a radical review of airport security procedures.

44. The Gate Gourmet dispute. How an industrial dispute at BA’s catering supplier at the height of the summer of 2005 grounded BA at Heathrow and cost the airline £40m.

43. World Traveller, the brand name for BA’s long-haul economy cabin, introduced in 1991.

42. The workhorse of BA’s short-haul operation today, the Airbus A320 family aircraft.

41. The British Airways Coat Of Arms granted to the airline in 1975.

Parts 40-39

40. Not all BA advertisements age well with time.

39. One of BA’s most popular long-haul aircraft, the Airbus A380.

38. After easyJet launched low cost flights from London Luton to Glasgow in 1995, BA began a 25 year battle to compete against low cost airlines.

37. London Gatwick, Following its acquisition of British Caledonian, in the 1990s BA sought to make Gatwick a second London hub “The hub without the hubbub.” It was subsequently downsized to focus on point-to-point leisure routes.

36. “The Friendly Independent”, bmi British Midland. For decades BA and bmi British Midland were fierce rivals at London Heathrow. After Lufthansa acquired the airline but couldn’t turn around heavy losses, the airline merged with BA in 2012.

35. “Project Utopia”, BA’s ill-fated attempt to rebrand and reposition the airline as a modern global airline, most known for the World Images tailfins from 1997.

34. “The Last Flight To Kuwait” The circumstances surrounding flight BA149 to Kuwait which departed Heathrow on 1 August 1990, and remain controversial to this today.

33. “Swift, silent, serene” the much loved BOAC VC10 aircraft.

32. The livery designed by Landor Associates in the early 1980s to revamp BA’s image and prepare the airline for privatisation.

31. The merger of BA and Iberia in 2011, under the umbrella of International Airlines Group.

Parts 30-29

30. “Opportunities” BA’s post Lehman Brothers collapse advertising campaign to encourage passengers to fly again.

29. Flight BA38 from Beijing which landed short of the runway at London Heathrow in January 2008.

28. “Tomorrow Is Theirs” a promotional film by BOAC from the 1950s.

27. Imperial Airways’ “Silver Wing” service, the first luxury in-flight service introduced on flights from London to Paris in 1927.

26. British Airtours Flight 28M which resulted in the loss of 55 lives when the aircraft experienced an uncontained engine failure after take-off.

25. The Special Relationship. BA’s long search for a transatlantic joint-venture partner.

24. “Putting People First” The training programme for tens of thousands of BA staff in the 1980s.

23. Lord King Of Wartnaby. BA’s Chairman from 1981 to 1993, known for his often abrasive and brusque manner.

22. “First Class” A cabin that dates back in name to 1924, but really came into its own on long-haul in the 1980s and 1990s.

21. The people who keep aircraft in the air, BA’s Engineers.

Parts 20-10

20. The Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, Victoria which took passengers to Croydon Airport and by train to Southampton to flying boat services.

19. New York, New York BA’s most important long-haul destination.

18. Willie Walsh, the combative former CEO of BA and, until September 2020, CEO of its parent company, International Airlines Group.

17. From overtly promoting its Britishness to positioning itself as a global carrier, how BA’s British Identity has evolved over time.

16. One of the darkest moments in British sporting history, the Munich Air Disaster of 1958.

15. “The World’s Favourite Airline” One of the most powerful airline advertising slogans of all time.

14. BA’s difficult and often rancorous relationship with its rival Virgin Atlantic.

13. How the BA staff uniform has evolved since the days of BEA and BOAC.

12. Chutzpah & Chutzpah – One of the most famous advertising agency / client relationships in the world: BA and Charles & Maurice Saatchi.

11. A BA Miscellany – Some aircraft and airports that did not make this list.

Parts 10-1

10. The theme of BA, “The Flower Duet” by Léo Delibes from the opera Lakmé.

9. BA’s principal UK hub, London Heathrow Airport which BOAC first served in 1946.

8. 11 September 2001 One of the darkest days in aviation industry which had a profound impact on BA for the next decade.

7. Her Majesty The Queen and BOAC, BEA and BA.

6. The profit engine of BA, its long-haul business class cabin, Club World.

5. Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, CEO of BA from 1983 to 1993.

4. The Queen Of The Skies, the Boeing 747, which was due to remain with BA until February 2024 before its premature retirement in the summer of 2020 due to COVID-19.

3. One of the greatest airline advertisements of all time “The Face”.

2. Concorde.

Number One.

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