BA100: 51. The Deal That Never Happened, KLM

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s repeated missed chances to merge with KLM

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KLM Aircraft
KLM Aircraft (Image Credit: KLM)

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.

In 100 years, relationships between BA and other airlines have come and gone.

Whether it’s a simple codeshare with Emirates or an equity stake in Qantas, for one reason or another, both sides have moved on.

If there’s one airline in the world that BA should have got together with, but didn’t, it was KLM. This was not for a lack of trying. BA and KLM held merger talks in 1992 and 2000 and both fell through.

BA and KLM also held talks in the late 1980s in each buying a stake in a new subsidiary of Sabena in Belgium, Sabena World Airways, to create a new hub in Brussels. This fell through because of the poor financial health of Sabena.

On the second merger attempt the main issues were control and anti-trust immunity. KLM benefited from anti-trust immunity with Northwest Airlines which required the airline to be majority-controlled by Dutch nationals. BA insisted on having full control of the combined airline. This would have required KLM to a subsidiary of a combined BA-KLM controlled by BA. KLM baulked at the idea.

The attractions were obvious. Amsterdam Schiphol airport, with its four runways, is in close proximity to the UK. KLM serves very many UK regional airports that BA doesn’t. It also has a much broader route network. Joint marketing of flights via hubs in Amsterdam and London would have provided a strong proposition for all UK flyers, not just those in London.

Continue reading “BA100: 51. The Deal That Never Happened, KLM”

BA100: 52. India

100 Years Of British Airways: 90 years of flying to India.

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Imperial Airways India Posters
Imperial Airways India Posters

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.

In December 2019, British Airways will celebrate 90 years of flying to India, an extremely important market for the airline.

The First Flights To India

The first through passenger flight from London to India was operated on 30 March 1929 by Imperial Airways. It took nearly seven days to complete. The initial routing, by four different means, was as follows:

London Croydon – Paris – Basle by Armstrong Whitworth Argosy aircraft.

Basle – Genoa by train (Italian authorities refused to permit British aircraft to enter Italy via France.)

Genoa – Rome – Naples – Corfu – Athens – Suda Bay (Crete) – Tobruk – Alexandria by Short Calcutta flying boat.

Alexandria – Gaza – Rutbah Wells – Baghdad – Basra – Bushire – Lingeh – Jask – Gwadar – Karachi – Jodphur – Delhi flown by DH66 Hercules aircraft.

By the late 1930s, flight times had been progressively reduced and India could typically be reached in two and a half days on Imperial Airways’ flying boats. Today, flights take approximately ten hours non-stop.

The market has historically been restricted by limitations of flights under a bilateral treaty between the UK and India. This was relaxed in 2005 and enabled BA to increase flights from London Heathrow from 19 to 35 a week. BA launched a new five times weekly service to Bangalore and increased frequencies on other routes.

BA did also seek to set-up a local franchise partner India, where there had been considerable restrictions on foreign ownership of airlines, but to no avail. A new service to Hyderabad was added in 2009.

The relaxation of the bilateral treaty also prompted a number of new entrants into the market, notably bmi British Midland, which was suspended Mumbai shortly after launch. Virgin Atlantic launched a new service to Mumbai which it has now suspended twice and plans to relaunch again later this year.

Today BA flies to five cities: Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and New Delhi. It has previously suspended non-stop flights to Amritsar (briefly inherited from bmi) and Kolkata. BA also has cabin crew bases in India who also wear a dedicated uniform.

India is a competitive market and expectations of local passengers are very high. It has proved difficult for privately owned airlines in India. Former Oneworld alliance member Kingfisher Airlines collapsed in 2012. Jet Airways collapsed earlier this year. Whilst they were not financially successful, they provided strong competition on in-flight service. Emirates also provides strong competition, particularly for connecting traffic between the US and India.

BA has used emotional appeal to promote itself in India with a strong emphasis on family bonds, as per these five films from 2013 to 2016:

A Ticket To Visit Mum (2013)

Continue reading “BA100: 52. India”

BA100: 53. BEA’s Waterloo & West London Air Terminals

100 Years Of British Airways: BEA’s Air Terminals at Waterloo and Cromwell Road, West London

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BEA London Waterloo Air Terminal 1953
BEA London Waterloo Air Terminal 1953

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.

Before airports had direct public transport links, airlines used to provide centrally located air terminals where passengers could check-in their luggage and then be bussed passengers to the airport.

The first British European Airways terminal was Kensington Air Station which opened in 1948. Prior to that BEA used BOAC’s Victoria Air Terminal to transport passengers to Northolt.

The Waterloo Air Terminal

BEA London Waterloo Air Terminal 1956
BEA London Waterloo Air Terminal 1956

BEA opened the Waterloo Air Terminal on 19 May 1953.

It was located at 18 York Road on the South Bank of the Thames, facing London Waterloo railway station. The structure had originally been constructed for the 1951 Festival of Britain celebration and was intended to be a temporary location.

The terminal was also used by Aer Lingus, Air France, Iceland Airways, Sabena, SAS and Swissair. It was designed to handle 60 flights an hour and 16,000 passengers a day. There were also ambitions to add a helicopter station nearby. However, this did not come to fruition.

The terminal proved to have a very short life at it was demolished in 1957 to make way for the construction of new Shell Headquarters.

The West London Air Terminal

The first West London Air Terminal opened on Cromwell Road on 6 October 1957 as a temporary structure.

Its location was chosen because of its proximity to the Circle, District and Piccadilly Lines and the M4 motorway.

It was a relatively modest two storey structure. A new permanent structure, constructed at a cost of £5m, was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on 6 November 1963.

It was an impressive structure both architecturally and for its on site facilities. Designed to handle 4.5m passengers a year, the construction was complicated by the fact that it was built 25ft below ground between branches of the Circle and District lines. It had to be constructed without disturbing the operation of London Underground during the day. Access roads had to be built out over the Tube lines on suspended concrete rafts.

The West London Air Terminal, Cromwell Road
The West London Air Terminal, Cromwell Road

The main concourse was located on the upper levels of the structure which was connected to an elevated roadway which could be reached by spiral ramps at either end of the building.

The aim was to provide passengers with all the facilities they would expect of an airport. It featured an expansive check-in area with 23 desks, a licensed snack-bar and restaurant, duty-free shops, banking facilities and a double height open plan departure lounge. The building also accommodated offices for BEA staff on its upper floors. It even had its own telephone exchange capable of handling 10,000 calls a day for BEA reservations staff.

BEA decided to end check-in facilities at the West London Air Terminal from 1974. This was prompted by the opening of London Heathrow Terminal 1 in 1969 and the planned extension of the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow. The terminal continued to serve as a coach station for Heathrow before closing in 1979.

BA sold the West London Air Terminal in the 1980s. A branch of Sainsbury’s supermarket was constructed on the site. It’s certainly not a building that will be remembered with affection for its architectural merit.

The concept of centrally located check-in facilities did live on as BA used to offer check-in desks at Paddington and Victoria stations. However, these were withdrawn. Whilst downtown check-in facilities are offered at airports such as Hong Kong, there are no such facilities in London.

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

BA100: 54. Theyre Lee-Elliott’s Speedbird

100 Years Of British Airways: Theyre Lee Elliott’s “Speedbird” logo, originally designed for Imperial Airways in 1932.

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The Speedbird Logo
The Speedbird Logo

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 “Speedbird” logo designed for Imperial Airways by Theyre Lee-Elliott in 1932 is considered one of the most enduring examples of modern graphic design.

Based on a stylised motif of a bird in flight it was retained by Imperial Airways’ successor BOAC.

In spite of many changes to BOAC’s identity and its fleet over decades, the Speedbird remained a consistent part of its aircraft liveries and visual identity.

It also featured on the first British Airways Negus livery. However, it was replaced by the Speedwing when BA introduced the Landor livery in 1984.

You can still see the Speedbird logo on the platform of Hatton Cross London Underground station. Of course the Speedbird name is still used as the Air Traffic Control callsign for BA.

Imperial Airways India Poster
Imperial Airways India Poster
Continue reading “BA100: 54. Theyre Lee-Elliott’s Speedbird”

BA100: 55. Bartle Bogle Hegarty

100 Years Of British Airways: A look at Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s work for BA after they prized the advertising account away from Maurice and Charles Saatchi in 2005.

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"To Fly. To Serve. Today. Tomorrow."
“To Fly. To Serve. Today. Tomorrow.” (Bartle Bogle Hegarty for 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.

There is no advertising agency / client relationship more talked about in the UK advertising industry than British Airways.

When BA tendered its advertising account in 2005 such was the interest bookies even ran odds on which agency was likely to secure the account.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), founded by John Bartle, Nigel Bogle, and John Hegarty prized the account away from Maurice and Charles Saatchi.

Not that the Saatchi brothers let go of the account quietly. They reportedly revelled in industry gossip that BBH was initially having difficulty pleasing BA. Allegedly a letter was drafted headed “British Airways. Serves You Right.” with the text “Please feel free to use the strapline in your upcoming advertising. Alternatively, simply stick it to the wall and stare at it for the next few months/years.”

The BBH/BA client relationship ended in 2017 after 12 years. BBH which lives by the mantra “When the world zigs, Zag.” would say itself that the relationship was something of a rollercoaster, not least because it spanned the 2008 financial crisis. However, there was plenty of scope for creativity, notably the 2012 Olympics campaign.

Here’s a run through of some other notable work by BBH for BA:

“Clouds” (2006)

This was BBH’s first TV advertising campaign for BA.

You could say it was a very steady start. The advert featuring a cover of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” highlighting BA’s commitment to service at affordable prices.  Some of the items featured such as complimentary short-haul catering are of course no longer offered by the airline.

“Upgrade to BA” (2007)

“Upgrade to British Airways” was the strapline BBH pitched to BA.

This film features a very familiar device in airline advertising, with BA cabin crew handing out in-flight amenities to members of the general public in the attractive surroundings of Circular Quay in Sydney, highlighting the thoughtful and friendly nature of its service.

“Opportunities” (2009)

BA was hit very hard by the global financial crisis of 2008.

The backbone of the airline’s financial health, long-haul business class traffic, fell away following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

In 2009, BBH created eight TV advertisements for BA encouraging business travellers to fly by highlighting forthcoming events around the world.  The above advert featured the imminent Mumbai Fashion Week.  This has echos of BA’s 2002 “It’s Better To Be There” advertising campaign after the events of 11 September 2001, emphasising the importance of doing business face to face.

Continue reading “BA100: 55. Bartle Bogle Hegarty”

BA100: 56. The Franchises

100 Years Of British Airways: A look at airlines present & past which have franchised the British Airways name.

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Comair Boeing 737 Aircraft Matazo Kayama "Waves And Cranes" Project Utopia Livery
Comair Boeing 737 Aircraft Matazo Kayama “Waves And Cranes” Project Utopia 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.

Although now largely redundant, franchising was seen as a significant means of extending the reach of BA in the 1990s, both in the UK and around the world.

Under franchise agreements, airlines remained independently owned and managed but operated flights in full British Airways livery, albeit to slightly varying, and often better, service standards.

As well as generating revenue though licensing the BA brand, they enabled BA to offer many destinations that it could not serve economically.

At its peak BA had in excess of 10 franchises around the world. By the late 1990s nearly 6 million passengers flew on BA franchise airlines a year on over 100 aircraft to a similar number of destinations. Now there are just two franchise airlines. Some franchises were acquired by BA. Some were acquired by others. And some simply went out of business.

Many franchises struggled to compete against the rise of low cost airlines. They were also seen as less attractive as they are commercially and operationally independent to BA, but in the eyes of the passengers they are flying with BA and any customer service issues are seen to rest with BA.

The main franchises included:

Airline Management Limited

Airline Management Limited was a joint-venture between BA and the Flying Colours Group at Gatwick in the late 1990s.

It initially operated DC-10 and then Boeing 777-200 aircraft to Florida and the Caribbean. Flights were operated by BA pilots and cabin crew employed by AML. The operation of Boeing 777-200 was noteworthy as the aircraft operated in a dense two class configuration with 10 abreast seating in economy. Whilst this did not survive the end of the agreement, BA is now in the process of installing 10 abreast seating on its Boeing 777 fleet.

BASE Airlines of The Netherlands

BASE (Business Aviation Services Eindhoven) Airlines of the Netherlands – Established in The Netherlands in 1985, this small regional airline became a BA franchise in 1999 operating flights from London Heathrow to Eindhoven as well as Gatwick and UK regional airports to Eindhoven and Rotterdam.

British Mediterranean Airways

British Mediterranean Airways (“BMED”) – Originally founded in 1994, BMED became a BA franchise in 1997 serving destinations in the Middle East such as Amman, Beirut and Damascus with Airbus A320 aircraft.

It soon added destinations such as Alexandria, Bishkek, Tbilisi and Yerevan. These are of course destinations heavily exposed to geopolitical events.

After two years of heavy losses and BA declining to buy the airline, BMED was acquired by bmi British Midland in 2007 with the aim of repositioning bmi as a medium-haul airline. It became fully integrated bmi in late October 2007.

bmi’s owner Sir Michael Bishop exercised an option to sell the airline to Lufthansa in 2009. After struggling to turn around financial losses, Lufthansa had no option but to sell bmi to IAG in 2012. BA wasted little time in suspending virtually all former BMED routes and today it serves just Amman and Beirut.

British Regional Airlines

British Regional Airlines operated primarily from UK regional airports. It would eventually be acquired by BA and integrated into another BA subsidy Brymon Airways and in turn rebranded by as BA CitiExpress. This is also operated from London City. It would later be rebranded as BA Connect. Most of BA Connect was effectively given away to Flybe, leaving what is now BA CityFlyer to operate almost exclusively from London City.

Comair

Comair is one of only two remaining franchises, and arguably its most important.

Originally founded in 1946, it became a BA franchise in 1996. It operates routes to destinations in South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe from its main hub at Johannesburg with a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft. BA owns a 11.49% stake in Comair. Comair also operates separately under the kulula.com name and the SLOW lounges in South Africa.

South Africa is of course an extremely important market for BA and Comair provides feed to its long-haul flights. BA did attempt to set-up a local franchise partner in India, another important market, but to no avail.

Continue reading “BA100: 56. The Franchises”

BA100: 57. “So Calm, You’ll Simply Flow Through.”

100 Years Of British Airways: The chaotic opening of London Heathrow Terminal 5 in March 2008.

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"Glide Through London Heathrow Terminal 5" Advert 2008
“Glide Through London Heathrow Terminal 5” Advert 2008 (Image Credit: Bartle Bogle Hegarty for British Airways)

27 March 2008 was all meant to go swimmingly.

This was the day that London Heathrow Terminal 5 would begin passenger operations.

Her Majesty The Queen had officially opened London Heathrow Terminal 5 just short of two weeks before. Hundreds of passengers had volunteered to take part in pre-opening trials. The airline was at pains to emphasise that it had learnt the lessons of teething problems at Denver and Madrid airports The baggage system had been put through its paces for months. Frequent flyers were to look forward to a brand new £60m “Galleries” lounge complex.

BA promised its frequent flyers that the terminal would be “So calm, you’ll simply flow through.” Such was BA’s confidence in its promise of “no queuing” the terminal didn’t even have a dedicated business class check-in at launch. A TV advert featuring fish swimming through the terminal was ready to air.

BA was the exclusive tenant of Heathrow’s first new terminal in more than 20 years and as the home to almost all of its Heathrow flights it would transform its presence at the airport.

On opening day, then BA CEO Willie Walsh was to greet passengers arriving on the first flight at Terminal 5 from Hong Kong and usher in a new era for the airline.

And then, it was chaos.

“So calm, you’ll simply flow through.”

A combination of factors collided.

BA employees could not park their cars in the staff car parks nor get through security screening. There were problems with the baggage system. Scores of flights were cancelled and thousands of bags misplaced. BA and BAA (then owners of Heathrow) briefed against each other in the next day’s newspapers. By BA’s own admission afterwards, delays in construction had truncated necessary time for familiarisation and testing.

Judging by TV news coverage on the night of the opening BA’s PR department was clearly not prepared and a media storm ensued for weeks. Naomi Campbell was arrested and charged with assaulting two police officers after being told before take off one of her bags was missing. Calvin Harris claimed he lost his album after BA mislaid his bag. Virgin Atlantic revelled in BA’s misfortunes.

The move of a second wave of long-haul flights from Terminal 4 was delayed. BA and BAA were summoned to appear before a House Of Commons Select Committee and two senior executives departed the airline.

Continue reading “BA100: 57. “So Calm, You’ll Simply Flow Through.””

BA100: 58. “We Never Forget You Have A Choice”

100 Years Of British Airways: British Caledonian, the “second force” independent airline established in 1971 to compete with BA.

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British Caledonian Aircraft at Gatwick Airport 1978
British Caledonian Aircraft at Gatwick Airport 1978 (Image Credit: Gatwick 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.

British Caledonian Airways, also known as BCAL, was formed in 1971 after the Edwards Committee in 1969 recommended the establishment of a “second force” independent airline to compete against the soon to be merged BEA/BOAC.

The airline was created through the merger of British United Airlines and Caledonian Airways and its hub was based at Gatwick. To give it a head start, the Government transferred route authorities to Central and West Africa and South America from BOAC to BCAL.

British Caledonian Caracas Advertisement 1976
British Caledonian Caracas Advertisement 1976

“We never forget you have a choice.”

British Caledonian sold itself on the basis that as an independent airline it had to work much harder to win customer loyalty.

"We never forget you have a choice" British Caledonian, 1977
“We never forget you have a choice” British Caledonian, 1977

This was a time of significant Government intervention and route authorities were allocated by the Government between BA and BCAL.

BA insisted it needed the freedom to compete against international airlines and should not be impeded by losing routes. BCAL fought a very public campaign that further route authorities should be transferred from BA to BCAL. Not only that, BA should transfer its regional operations to other airlines, leave Gatwick to BCAL and operate exclusively from Heathrow.

British Caledonian Advertisement November 1983
British Caledonian Advertisement November 1983
Continue reading “BA100: 58. “We Never Forget You Have A Choice””

BA100: 59. “Where Is Everybody?”

100 Years Of British Airways: “Where Is Everybody?” asks BA in 1994.

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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.

Airlines commonly advertise promotional offers with enticing images of the destinations on offer and the associated prices in a large typeface. 

This BA advert from 1994 doesn’t do that. Instead, the viewer is presented with a near post-apocalyptic vision. A man wakes up to find an empty home, no TV or radio services working, no rail services operating and empty streets as the entire city of London is deserted.

On first view, it is only at the end of the advert does the viewer have any clue as to what it is for (if you watch it back you’ll hear the sound of an aircraft taking off at around 11 seconds in).

To present the viewer with such an uncertain vision was a brave way of conveying the promotion that could otherwise have been done in a very ordinary and unremarkable way.

As well as a creative success, the campaign was considered a commercial success with an immediate increase in bookings as well as raising long term brand awareness.

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

BA100: 60. Project Lauren

100 Years Of British Airways: “OpenSkies” the now defunct European airline born out of the EU-US Open Skies treaty of 2007.

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BA OpenSkies Logo
BA OpenSkies Logo (Image Credit: BA European Ltd)

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.

“Project Lauren” was born out of the Open Skies treaty of 2007 which liberalised the EU-US transatlantic market.

Hitherto, the operation of transatlantic routes was heavily restricted. Open Skies gave EU and US airlines the freedom to operate routes anywhere between the EU and the US.

BA took advantage by launching a new subsidiary OpenSkies. The company had its own CEO, Dale Moss, a former BA Executive who returned to the group.

This was not BA’s first foray into owning airlines based in mainland Europe – it had previously held unsuccessful investments in Air Liberte and Deutsche BA. Undetered, Open Skies started with grand ambitions. The plan was to provide with the airline with a large number of reconfigured Boeing 757s from BA. Its launch was controversial and provoked industrial relations tensions with BA pilots who objected to the establishment of a new airline outside of their collective bargaining agreements.

BA OpenSkies Boeing 757 Aircraft
BA OpenSkies Boeing 757 Aircraft (Image Credit: BA European Ltd)

On launch, OpenSkies was clearly aimed at the US market, possibly because it knew that local French loyalty to Air France would be hard to crack. Its long-haul business class was branded “Biz Bed”. This was effectively a reupholstered version of BA’s first Club World flat bed, and “Prem” (also briefly called “Biz Seat”) for premium economy and “Eco” for economy.

The branding and service at the time of launch was quite distinct from BA and it borrowed very much from “boutique” premium airlines of the era such as Silverjet and eos. The intention was give the feel of a small airline, with just 82 passengers on board each flight, but with the backup and support of its parent, such as the Executive Club frequent flyer programme.

BA OpenSkies Biz, Prem, Eco Cabins
BA OpenSkies Biz, Prem, Eco Cabins (Image Credit: BA European Ltd)

The airline launched with Paris to New York JFK in June 2008. Whilst it was well received by passengers, later route launches between Amsterdam and New York and Paris and Washington were not successful. In early 2009, BA decided to sell what remained of its Boeing 757 fleet rather than transfer them to OpenSkies.

At launch, OpenSkies was the only significant means of expansion for BA. It had withdrawn all non-London flights from UK regional airports and significantly downsized at London Gatwick. With no imminent prospect of a third runway, there was no scope for growth at Heathrow.

However, BA soon turned its attentions elsewhere. In early 2011, BA merged with Iberia. It finally, on its third attempt, secured a long sought after joint-venture with American Airlines. The acquisition of bmi in 2012 also enabled substantial growth at Heathrow, much of which has been on transatlantic routes.

OpenSkies was left in limbo for some time with no evident plan to upgrade its fleet and in-flight product which, baring the addition of a BA Boeing 767, had remained the same since launch.

In 2018, BA finally decided to plug the plug. After suspending Paris Orly – New York JFK in March 2018, the last flights between Paris Orly and Newark operated on Sunday 2 September 2018.

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