A History Of British Airways, BEA, BOAC, & Imperial Airways

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

British Airways celebrated its centenary in 2019.

To mark the occasion we published a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. If you want to read the full countdown in numerical order you can do so here.

For ease of reference, we have also grouped all 100 items under the following themes here:

A Primer

To begin, a brief history of BA and its predecessor airlines.

Advertising Campaigns

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.

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

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

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

“The World’s Favourite Airline” One of the most powerful airline advertising slogans of all time used by BA between 1983 and 2001.

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

“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.

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

One of the greatest airline TV advertisements of all time, and one of the most effective use of non-airline imagery by an airline, “The Face” from 1989.

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

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

When BA gave away every single seat on every international flight to and from the UK in 1991 in The World’s Biggest Offer.

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

From 1996, not all BA advertisements age well with time.

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

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

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

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

“Look Up” An interactive billboard advertisement that identified BA aircraft flying overhead to celebrate the magic of flying.


“Swift, silent, serene” the much loved BOAC VC10 aircraft operated in the 1960s and 1970s.

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

Concorde. The flagship aircraft, and never to be replaced brand halo, of BA for 27 supersonic years.

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

Known for its rocket like take-off the Boeing 757 was the workhorse of BA’s short-haul fleet in the 1980s and 1990s.

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

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

2 Engines 4 Long-Haul. An aircraft that is hard for passengers to love, but the twin-engine Boeing 777-200 became the mainstay of BA’s long-haul fleet from the mid 1990s.

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

Aircraft Liveries

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

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

“Project Utopia”, BA’s ill-fated and much misunderstood World Images tailfins from 1997.

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


BA’s principal UK hub, London Heathrow Airport.

Originally known as the BOAC Terminal, Terminal 7 is the only terminal at New York JFK airport owned and operated by an international airline.

London Gatwick Airport, “The hub without the hubbub.” BA’s attempt at a dual London hub in the 1990s.

London City Airport, BA’s base in the Royal Docks, East London, which has grown significantly in the past decade.

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

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


The Imperial Airways Empire Terminal, Victoria, which opened in 1939 took passengers to Croydon Airport and by train to Southampton to flying boat services. It was closed in 1980.

The British European Airways London Waterloo Air Terminal and the West London Air Terminal, both of which have now been demolished.

BA’s Waterside Headquarters, near Heathrow designed by architect Niels Torp.


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

“Super Club” This was the widest seat in business class (at least in the 1980s) – BA’s first true branded long-haul business class cabin.

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

Club Europe BA’s short-haul business class cabin which, depending on your point of view is a poor substitute for First Class on US on Asian airlines or a welcome insurance policy when flying short-haul in Europe.

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

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

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

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

Club World London City, launched in 2009, BA’s all business class service from London City to New York JFK. This became hugely popular with passengers when it launched. However, due to COVID-19, the route has been permanently suspended.

Charity Appeals

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

Corporate Affairs

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

1987, the year of BA’s privatisation and the start of the “Wall Street” era which was reflected in its advertising at the time.

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

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

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

Former Predecessor and Subsidiary Airlines

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.

“An Airline Adventure” “Go” the low cost airline launched by BA in 1998 and sold to 3i three years later.

OpenSkies – BA’s “boutique” premium airline that operated between Paris Orly and New York for nearly ten years.


The late BOAC Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison, the only female recipient of The George Cross for gallantry in peace time.

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

The hijack of a BOAC Super VC10 aircraft at Dawson’s Field in September 1970.

British Airtours Flight 28M in 1985 which resulted in the loss of 55 lives when the aircraft experienced an uncontained engine failure after take-off.

“The last flight to Kuwait” One of the single most controversial BA flights in its history. The circumstances surrounding flight BA149 to Kuwait which departed Heathrow on 1 August 1990, remain subject to dispute and are unlikely to ever be resolved.

BA2069 to Nairobi. When a passenger entered the flight deck of a Boeing 747 flying from Gatwick to Nairobi and seized control of the aircraft.

The single worst day in aviation history 11 September 2001 and its impact on BA.

Flight BA38 A Boeing 777-200 which landed short of the runway at London Heathrow in January 2008 on its arrival from Beijing.

Logos & Identity

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

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

How the BA staff uniform has evolved since the days of BEA and BOAC. The current uniform designed by Julien Macdonald in 2004 is due to be replaced by a new uniform designed by Ozwald Boateng OBE in 2020.

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


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

“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.

When BA’s Boeing 747 First Class cabin featured in the 2002 James Bond film “Die Another Day”.


The BA Executive Club. Launched in 1982 with an initial emphasis on exclusivity, it has since become a hugely powerful marketing tool and business in its own right, with many millions of participating members.

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

BA has not always had an easy relationship with its home nation. Here’s how BA’s British Identity has evolved over time.

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.

A BA Miscellany – Some aircraft and airports that did not make the Top 100 list.


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

Her Majesty The Queen and BOAC, BEA and BA.

Number One.

Rival Airlines

“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.

“The Friendly Independent”, bmi British Midland which used to give BA a run for its money on UK domestic routes until it was acquired by BA’s parent company IAG in 2012.

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

BA’s 25 year battle to compete against low cost airlines.

KLM. The airline that BA should have, but repeatedly failed, to merge with.

Routes & Destinations

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

India. First served by Imperial Airways in 1919 and today one of BA’s most important long-haul markets.

Turn up at the gate ten minutes before departure without a ticket and be guaranteed a seat. The Shuttle, BA’s turn-up-and-go service on UK domestic routes.

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

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

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

Senior Management

“In The Court Of Lord King” Former BA Chairman Lord King was known for his brusque manner with journalists. When BA allowed the Financial Times to visit Lord King’s office in St James’s, what could possibly go wrong? When the Financial Times upset Lord King.

Also a profile of Lord King Of Wartnaby. BA’s Chairman from 1981 to 1993.

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, CEO of BA from 1983 to 1993. Along with Lord King, Lord Marshall was credited with the turnaround of BA in the 1980s and acting as foil to Lord King.

Willie Walsh, the combative former CEO of BA and CEO of its parent company, IAG until September 2020.

Significant Flights

The first flights from London to Paris on 25 August 1919, to which BA traces its 100 year origins.

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

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