BA100: Number One.

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British Airways Pilots & Cabin Crew
British Airways Pilots & Cabin Crew (Image Credit: British Airways)

Well what did you think would be Number 1?

You can fly the most advanced commercial aircraft with market leading cabins all supported by big budget advertising campaigns, but if you don’t have the people – both in the aircraft and on the ground – to deliver the service, it all falls flat.

As recent events have shown relations can become strained – it wouldn’t be BA if its centenary wasn’t interrupted by “events” – but in its people BA has a phenomenal wealth of flying “know how” based on decades of experience and passion for aviation.

British Airways Engineers
British Airways Engineers (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Cabin Crew
British Airways Cabin Crew (Image Credit: British Airways)
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BA100: 2. Concorde

100 Years Of British Airways: The First Lady of aviation, Concorde.

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British Airways Concorde Landor Livery
British Airways Concorde Landor Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

“You leave. Arrive before”.

That was the promise of Concorde. One of the 20th century’s greatest design icons and the world’s only supersonic aircraft, flying at around twice the speed of sound at 1,350mph and at an altitude of 60,000 feet.

Concorde was in commercial service at BA from 1976 to 2003. In that time more than 2.5 million passengers flew on the fleet of seven aircraft. It operated scheduled services principally to New York, but also at times to Barbados, Bahrain, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Singapore and Washington. It also operated charter flights to over 250 destinations worldwide, including annual flights to Lapland.

One of its most frequent passengers was an oil industry executive who notched up 70 return trips a year.

Concorde also benefited from its own dedicated “cellar in the sky” wine collection and the promise that bags would be delivered to passengers within 8 minutes of arrival.

British Airways Concorde G-BOAD, Negus Livery
British Airways Concorde G-BOAD, Negus Livery (Image Credit: Heathrow)
British Airways Concorde G-BOAF Chatham Dockyard Livery
British Airways Concorde G-BOAF Chatham Dockyard Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Concorde
British Airways Concorde G-BOAB
British Airways Concorde Wimbledon Advert
British Airways Concorde Wimbledon Advert
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BA100: 3. “The Face”

100 Years Of British Airways: One of the greatest airline advertisements of all time, “The Face” from 1989.

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"The Face" British Airways, 1989
“The Face” British Airways, 1989

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

When the idea for what is possibly the greatest airline advertisement of all time was presented by Saatchi & Saatchi to BA, it is existed solely as a rough scribble on a single sheet of paper.

BA had asked Saatchi to prepare a new blockbuster advertising campaign. Saatchi had presented two ideas, which by its own admission were fairly unremarkable, to an unimpressed BA.

They then pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Out came a crumpled piece of paper bearing a sketch with the fairly unappealing sight of a disconnected smiling mouth, an eye, and a nose and a scribbled face.

But BA bought into the idea. And so “The Face” was born.

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BA100: 4. The Queen of the Skies, The Boeing 747

100 Years Of British Airways: The Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747.

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BOAC Boeing 747-136 aircraft
BOAC Boeing 747-136 aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

Pan American World Airways, for whom the Boeing 747 aircraft was designed, was the first airline to operate passenger flights, from New York to London on 21 January 1970. 

It may seem strange to think now, but there were doubts as to whether airlines could fill the aircraft with passengers. In addition, there were concerns about the ability of airports to handle the aircraft, at the time the biggest passenger jet in service. Both London Heathrow and New York JFK had to implement makeshift arrangements to handle the aircraft. 

“All the 747 needed was BOAC service.”

BOAC began passenger flights from London to New York on 14 April 1971.

It had been delayed by a year, partly due to an industrial dispute with its pilots. You can see footage of the cabin interior, with its Monarch lounge on the upper deck in this video:

The 747 would be progressively added to many North American routes.

BOAC Boeing 747 Canada Advert 1971
BOAC Boeing 747 Canada Advert 1971
BOAC Boeing 747 Miami Advert 1972
BOAC Boeing 747 Miami Advert 1972
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BA100: 5. Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge

100 Years Of British Airways: Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, Chief Executive of BA from 1983 to 1993.

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Lord Marshall Of Knightsbridge
Lord Marshall Of Knightsbridge (Image Credit: British Airways)

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge was recruited by Lord King to be Chief Executive of the airline in 1983.

Together with Lord King and Saatchi & Saatchi, Lord Marshall is credited with BA’s turnaround in the 1980s.

Lord Marshall had previously been Chief Executive of Avis in the United States. The UK was of course a very different country in the early 1980s. Those in the UK who had been to the United States in the 1970s knew, for all of the faults of the US, of the competitive power of the market. Lord Marshall would later say:

“In a deregulated environment, where government policies can no longer fix markets and offer competitive protection, who calls the shots? The answer is obvious: the customer. It is the essential truth of the new world competitive order – of global business development – that customer choice, preference and demand are its real driving forces.”

Like Lord King, Lord Marshall joined BA with no experience of working in the aviation industry. Speaking to the New York Times in 1989, Lord Marshall said of BA:

”There was very little understanding of what the passengers wanted and what the marketplace was all about,” ”And ‘marketing’ was a word that did not exist in the company. They had a commercial director, but no marketing director.”

Lord Marshall oversaw a “night of the long knives” which resulted in the dismissal of over 70 senior managers.

“Almost like an archaeological excavation, we had to sweep away the dust and dirt of generations of economic and attitudinal litter, in order to expose the treasure trove of air transport quality that we knew had accumulated over years of network, product and technical development. Then it needed to be polished to the point where it would both attract the customer and dazzle the competition.”

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BA100: 6. Club World

100 Years Of British Airways: Club World, BA’s long-haul business class cabin and the “profit engine” of the airline.

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British Airways Club World Ticket Wallet
British Airways Club World Ticket Wallet

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

It was in January 1988 that BA introduced the “Club World” brand, roughly ten years after the concept of long-haul business class first became known.

Initially, long-haul business class was simply a separate part of the economy cabin for full fare passengers. Then, BA introduced its Super Club cabin.

BA claimed that the introduction of Club World in 1988 which featured a dedicated crew for the first time, improved catering and ground services, increased traffic by 31%.

Since then, Club World has become by far BA’s most important cabin and it has featured the airline’s biggest innovations. The financial performance of BA is inextricably linked to the volume of Club World traffic. So much so, it was to become known as the “profit engine” of BA.

The First Club World Seats

The initial Club World seat was a “slumber seat”.

In the 1990s, BA maintained a regular pace of change in the cabin. Another new cabin interior and seat was introduced in the early 1990s with seat-back TV for the first time.

British Airways Club World Advert 1993
British Airways Club World Advert 1993

The Cradle Seat

The next significant change to Club World came with the “Cradle Seat” in 1996.

British Airways Club World Cradle Seat
British Airways Club World Cradle Seat

The concept behind this seat was that rather than simply reclining, the seat would tilt and, with the aid of “ears” in the headrest and a built in leg-rest, it would support the entire body whatever the position of the seat.

“Presenting a revolutionary view from business class”

At the turn of the century, BA announced one of the most significant innovations in its history, the first fully flat bed in business class.

BA Club World Cabin (Image Credit: British Airways)

Designed by tangerine, it featured a patented “yin-yang” layout of rear and forward facing seats that would convert into fully flat beds.

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BA100: 7. Royal Duties.

100 Years Of British Airways: How BEA, BOAC and British Airways have carried Her Majesty The Queen since 1952.

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Her Majesty The Queen, BOAC
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II returns to London airport on BOAC, 1952

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

Her Majesty The Queen has a long history with BA and its predecessor airlines. 

On 31 January 1952, The Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, bid farewell to King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at London airport before departing on a BOAC Argonaut “Atlanta” G-ALHK aircraft with Prince Philip for a world tour of Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

This trip was cut short following the death of King George VI. Princess Elizabeth returned a week later from Kenya on the same BOAC aircraft as Queen Elizabeth II.

BEA, BOAC and BA have flown The Queen on many state visits and tours.

These include the 1953 and 1954 Commonwealth tours (on a BOAC Stratocruiser), Canada and the US in 1957 (on a BOAC DC-7C aircraft), Bermuda and Jamaica 1963 (on a BOAC Stratocruiser), New Zealand in 1974, the Commonwealth Silver Jubilee tour 1977 (on Concorde), the Middle East in 1979 (on Concorde), and Australia in 2011 (non-stop from London to Perth on a Boeing 777).

Her Majesty The Queen, Malta
Her Majesty The Queen, Malta (Image Credit: British Airways)
Her Majesty The Queen, Concorde, 1977
Her Majesty The Queen, Concorde, 1977 (Image Credit: British Airways)
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BA100: 8. The Day That Changed The World

100 Years Of British Airways: The single worst day in civil aviation history, 11 September 2001.

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British Airways Logo
British Airways Logo (Image Credit: British Airways)

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

BA, like much of the world, entered the 21st century with a sense of optimism.

There had been some difficult years with the adverse reaction to World Tailfins. The airline was also facing increased competition from low cost carriers and in 1999 reported its worst financial results since 1982.

“21st Century Air Travel”

However, at the turn of the century, there was a cause for optimism.

Under the theme of “21st century air travel” the airline was making significant investments in all of its cabins with entirely new World Traveller Plus and Club World cabins and revamped Club Europe, World Traveller and First cabins.

One event of course changed everything. 11 September 2001 was the single worst day in aviation history. The events of that day and its substantial human cost are well known. It had a profound impact on the US psyche and global geopolitics which are still felt to this day.

For BA, there was the immediate impact of the closure of US airspace. 22 BA aircraft were diverted and it took days to fully restore transatlantic flights. At the time many wondered whether air travel would ever be the same again. Many security measures were implemented such as locking the doors to the flight deck in flight and the submission of advance passenger lists to US authorities.

BA subsequently announced a review of its business which became known as “Future Size and Shape”. This resulted in a substantial cut in capacity, thousands of job losses, and cost-cutting initiatives. Some projects that were already underway such as improving profitability at Gatwick were accelerated. Many long-haul routes were suspended such as Manila and Taipei.

This set the course for BA the rest of the decade with a focus on improving its balance sheet, removing legacy complexity and no significant capacity growth. It was only towards the start of this decade did BA start growing again.

Many at IAG, mindful that Ryanair was able to secure a substantial discount from Boeing for new aircraft after 11 September 2001, are determined that this does not happen again. Put in fairly crude terms, they want the next shock to the aviation industry to be an opportunity, not a problem, for IAG.

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BA100: 9. London Heathrow

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s principal UK hub, London Heathrow airport.

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London Heathrow Terminal 1, 1969 (Image Credit: Heathrow Airport)

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

BEA and BOAC trace their history of what was then known as London airport to the 1940s, replacing Croydon and Northolt airports as their hubs.

BOAC operated its first service from London Heathrow in 1946 and BEA in 1950. Heathrow has been BA’s principal UK hub for the entirety of its existence. Attempts to create a second hub at Gatwick failed and BA has withdrawn virtually all operations from UK regional airports.

BA’s main home at Heathrow was Terminal 1 from 1968 to 2008 until the opening of Terminal 5, with a brief reprise from 2012 to 2015 following BA’s purchase of bmi.

It has also operated flights from Terminal 3, and from Terminal 4 when it opened in 1986. Terminal 4 was ill-suited in its design for long-haul flights and a problematic location because it is located south of the southern runway, so you have to cross an active runway to reach the north runway.

BA’s time at Heathrow has not always been a happy one. As an airport that is virtually full there is little slack to withstand any operational disruption. Before the opening of Terminal 5 BA had signifiant problems with punctuality and baggage handling, particularly for transfer passengers.

It has also not always had a good working relationship with the airport. Events such as the opening of Terminal 5 and the snow disruption at Christmas 2010 exposed a dysfunctional working relationship between Heathrow and its airlines.

Lessons have been learned and relations between the airports and airlines have improved at an operational level. The overall reputation of Heathrow has improved immeasurably. And for all its faults, Heathrow remains a hugely attractive source of premium traffic. So much so that rival airlines are prepared to pay tens of millions of dollars for a single pair of arrival and departure slots.

However, BA’s parent company IAG does not pull any punches regarding the costs of the third runway and effectively accuses Heathrow of misleading the public on its cost.

Should a third runway ever be constructed it will have a significant competitive impact on BA. easyJet has indicated it will seek to secure access to Heathrow and a number of long-haul airlines will also be able to secure access. That all said, no-one can predict the state of the industry by the time the third runway opens.

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BA100: 10. “The Flower Duet” Léo Delibes

100 Years Of British Airways: The theme of BA, The Flower Duet by Léo Delibes from the opera Lakmé.

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British Airways Orchestra performing "The Flower Duet"
British Airways Orchestra performing “The Flower Duet” (Image Credit: British Airways)

This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.

The Flower Duet by Léo Delibes from the opera Lakmé has been the effective theme of BA.

It has featured in many adverts and has often been played during the boarding of aircraft.

It has been remixed many times, including by Dave Stewart for “The world is closer than you think” advertising campaign in 1997 and subsequent campaigns such as “The way to fly” in 2004.

You can read the full series from our 100 part series on the history of BA in numerical order here, or by theme here.