BA100: 76. The Art Of The Poster

100 Years Of British Airways: How Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA used aviation posters to sell commercial aviation.

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British Airways 100 Years Of Aviation Posters (Image Credit: Amberley Publishing)
BOAC / Imperial Airways Aviation Posters (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

In the early days of commercial aviation, long before television advertising (let alone digital) took hold the principal means by which airlines advertised their services was the poster.

American Airlines, Braniff International Airways, Pan American World Airways, Swissair, Trans World Airways, United Airlines and many others all used the medium to great effect.

This was not only to sell the relatively new and glamorous idea of flying to a small constituency of wealthy travellers, but also their respective fleets and route networks, to passengers in their home markets and around the world. They use a variety of techniques from painting, to illustration and modernist graphic design.

In an era where there is an endless stream of digital content which can often prove to be ephemeral, so much so it’s easy to just glaze over it all, these posters have endured.

Imperial Airways, Flying Boats Poster
Imperial Airways, Flying Boats Poster
BOAC Caribbean Poster
BOAC Caribbean Poster
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BA100: 77. Do You Believe In Concorde?

100 Years Of British Airways: Do you believe in Concorde?

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Concorde and Santa Claus, Rovaniemi, Finland, 1997
Concorde and Santa Claus, Rovaniemi, Finland, 1997. Photo by Eric Chretien/Gamma-Rapho published under license from Getty Images. Unauthorised distribution and reproduction prohibited.

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

In addition to regular scheduled flights to Barbados and New York, Concorde used to operate charter flights to scores of destinations around the world.

At Christmas, Concorde used to operate special flights to Rovaniemi, Lapland. In a Christmas promotion, BA gave away 1,000 seats on Concorde flights to Lapland.

In a TV advert that says just enough, but not too much to spoil Christmas for many young children and their parents, a child when told by her father that he has won tickets to Lapland on Concorde replies “I don’t believe in Concorde”.

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BA100: 78. The Boeing 767

100 Years Of British Airways: The Boeing 767, once a flexible and versatile aircraft in the 1990s, that subsequently fell out of favour.

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British Airways Boeing 767 Aircraft, Project Utopia Livery, Golden Khokhloma
British Airways Boeing 767 Aircraft, Project Utopia Livery, Golden Khokhloma (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

The Boeing 767 must be the one aircraft in the BA fleet that had been a source of immense frustration to both passengers and crew, but in spite of its foibles, many still had a soft spot for it.

BA originally ordered 28 Boeing 767-336 aircraft in stages from the late 1980s onwards. The first aircraft entered service from early 1990 and operated short-haul flights, predominantly to Paris Charles de Gaulle.

They were soon joined later that year by long-haul configured aircraft, replacing TriStar aircraft to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Riyadh, Doha, Jeddah and Khartoum.

The last aircraft were delivered in 1998 with fleet then operating from Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester. Whilst the Boeing 767 fulfilled its initial promise of offering flexibility across short and long-haul operations, it fell out of favour.

At the turn of the century, BA put its whole network under review with the aim of cutting capacity and radically simplifying operations.

BA drastically downsized operations at Gatwick by reducing the number of different types of aircraft, leaving long-haul flights operated exclusively with the Boeing 777-200.

A combination of the Eurostar winning traffic from airlines and BA downsizing its short-haul operations at Heathrow meant that the much smaller capacity Airbus A320 series was preferred over the Boeing 757 and 767. 7 Boeing 767s were dispatched to Qantas, leaving 21 in the fleet.

The precise ratio of short and long-haul aircraft oscillated over time. However, before BA began progressively retiring the aircraft, 14 were in a long-haul configuration and 7 in a short-haul configuration.

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BA100: 79. BOAC Introduces The Transatlantic Jet Age

100 Years Of British Airways: BOAC introduces the transatlantic jet age with the first jet-engine flight from London to New York.

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Passengers boarding a BOAC De Havilland DH106 Comet 4 at London Airport, 4 October 1958
Passengers boarding a BOAC De Havilland DH106 Comet 4 at London Airport, 4 October 1958 (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

BOAC and Pan American World Airways were fierce transatlantic rivals in the 1950s.

In 1958, BOAC was in a race with Pan Am to operate the first transatlantic jet flight from London to New York. Pan Am had even taken out advertisements in UK newspapers promising to operate the first jet flight.

However, on 4 October 1958, BOAC flew two de Havilland Comet 4 aircraft between London and New York International Airport, Idlewild.

Pan Am actually had a Boeing 707 aircraft in London ready to operate its flights. This was a larger aircraft with capacity for 86 passengers in First Class, 143 in tourist class and 163 in economy class. However, it did not begin scheduled flights until 17 November 1958, partly due to difficulties in negotiating with pilot unions.

Flight and cabin crew operating a BOAC De Havilland DH106 Comet 4 at London Airport, 4 October 1958
Flight and cabin crew operating a BOAC De Havilland DH106 Comet 4 at London Airport, 4 October 1958 (Image Credit: British Airways)

BOAC’s first flight was a mere 24 hours after the Port Authority of New York granted approval for passenger jet services following concerns over noise. It was also less than a month after the aircraft had been delivered to the airline and it had received its certificate or air worthiness.

The westbound flight left London at 09:55 local time and landed in New York at 15:15 local time after a refuelling stop for one hour and ten minutes in Gander, Newfoundland. The total journey time was 10 hours and 20 minutes.

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BA100: 80. “Surprise, Surprise”

100 Years Of British Airways: Surprise, Surprise, BA’s viral cinema marketing stunt.

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British Airways "Surprise, Suprise" Cinema Stunt, 1991
British Airways “Surprise, Suprise” Cinema Stunt, 1991

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

Long before the era of smartphones, social media and carefully planned “flash mob” viral stunts, here’s a stunt developed Saatchi & Saatchi for BA in 1991.

A British Airways Holidays advert for romantic weekend breaks begins playing at a cinema before the screening of a film.

Everything starts as expected featuring a couple on holiday in Paris. It all looks perfectly predictable with footage of a couple walking arm in arm along the River Seine in Paris with French accordion music playing in the background.

An actress planted in the cinema audience playing the character of Michelle then pretends to recognise the man on screen as her boyfriend, Nigel, cheating on her with the other girl, Amanda, on screen.

Standing up, she starts shouting at the cinema screen to get his attention. He then recognises her in the audience and tries to explain away the situation to both her, and the girl he was in Paris with.

The actress has none of it, dumps her boyfriend, and storms out of the cinema to applause from the audience.

The voiceover then hastily wraps things up for BA Holidays. The stunt was repeated in cinemas around the UK (although the actress was asked to leave in one cinema by a staff member unaware of the stunt) and, although it took approval from Lord King for it to be signed off initially, it generated significant press coverage for BA as well as winning numerous awards.

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BA100: 81. “Airline” (1990)

100 Years Of British Airways: “Airline” the BBC’s four part documentary series on BA from 1990.

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British Airways Boeing 747-400 Aircraft
British Airways Boeing 747-400 Aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

Over the past few decades, BA has regularly opened itself up to the cameras.

In 2013, BA was the subject of a BBC documentary series “A Very British Airline”. Title Role Productions is currently filming a series on BA’s centenary year for Channel 5. It’s also taken part in airport series such as “Airport Live” and “Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport.”

However, it is relatively rare that you see the upper echelons of BA at work – PRs know that access given to TV production companies must be carefully controlled. However, “Airline” from 1990 was an exception.

Filmed in 1989, this four part series covers the delivery of the first Boeing 747-400 aircraft and BA’s position in the market at the time, competing against airlines such as American Airlines (then a foe wishing to secure access to Heathrow), Singapore Airlines and former rivals Air Europe, British Caledonian, British Midland, and Laker Airways.

There’s a good amount of vintage footage, including the relaunch of First Class in 1989. One notable episode is dedicated to following Lord King at work, with his famously abrupt manner with journalists.

Of course, much has changed in 30 years. This series pre-dates the liberalisation of the aviation market in Europe. Though some things haven’t changed. BA CEO Colin Marshall complains about the US being unwilling to open up its domestic market to overseas airlines which, in spite of EU-US Open Skies, it has doggedly refused to do.

Part 1

Jet Jockeys – It’s the job every small boy dreams of, but the pilot’s role is changing fast. In Jet Jockeys cameras are for the first time in the cockpit for BA’s 22-hour London to Sydney flight, and with the pilots off duty in Bangkok. What personal and professional problems do pilots face? Is the job as glamorous as it seems? How do pilots combat fatigue on the flight deck? Will the day come when air traffic controllers take over and the jet jockeys no longer fly their own aircraft? 

Continue reading “BA100: 81. “Airline” (1990)”

BA100: 82. Club World London City

100 Years Of British Airways: Launched in 2009, BA’s all business class service from London City to New York.

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British Airways Embraer E170, Airbus A318 aircraft, London City airport
British Airways Embraer E170, Airbus A318 aircraft, London City airport (Image Credit: British Airways)

Before the 2008 financial crisis, a number of new “boutique” all premium class airlines started operating flights from London airports, principally to New York.

In 2005, Eos, founded by former BA director David Spurlock, launched an all business class Boeing 757 service from Stansted to New York JFK, carrying just 48 passengers on each aircraft.

MAXJet launched all premium service from Stansted to New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Silverjet also launched an all premium Boeing 767 service from London Luton to Newark and Dubai.

Whilst MAXJet was plagued with reliability issues, Eos and Silverjet were very well received by passengers.

However, all three airlines were financially unsuccessful and had ceased operations by May 2008 due to rising fuel prices and being unable to secure new financing.

Still, they did not escape the attention of existing airlines. Virgin Atlantic announced it planned to launch all business class services to New York from a number of European cities, not that it ever came close to fruition.

Club World London City

Club World London City Publicity
Club World London City Publicity (Image Credit: British Airways)

In February 2008, BA announced its own plan to launch an all business class service from London City to New York JFK.

The route would be served twice daily with two brand new Airbus A318 aircraft in all business class configuration of 32 seats.

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BA100: 83. BA’s Waterside Headquarters

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s Headquarters at Waterside, designed by Norwegian architect Niels Torp.

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

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

When BA’s current Waterside Headquarters opened in 1998 it was a development of such architectural significance it was deemed worthy of inclusion in the ultimate arbiter of cool, the zeitgeist of the 1990s, Wallpaper* magazine.

The site was designed by Norwegian architect Niels Torp, who had also designed offices for SAS Scandinavian Airlines in Frøsundavik, Stockholm.

Constructed at a cost of £200m, it was hailed at launch as a revolution in BA’s working practices. Replacing 14 different buildings that was estimated to save £15 million a year in costs alone, it introduced open plan working for the first time, even for the CEO.

Set in 240 acres of land that had been reclaimed and landscaped into a public park and nature reserve, Waterside is based on a village concept of streets and neighbourhoods. It features six four storey buildings all connected by a glass-roofed internal street that is criss-crossed by aerial walkways. The Scandinavian influence is present with the building clad in pale cream limestone and grey steel.

The building does have its detractors. It did open just as low cost airlines took hold in Europe, and with their spartan headquarters, BA’s is seen as an indulgence.

The buildings also comprises BA’s museum The Speedbird Centre, and the offices of its parent company IAG. And since BA’s ownership under IAG many functions have been transferred from Waterside to IAG’s Global Business Services centre in Krakow. Her Majesty The Queen did also recently pay a visit to mark BA’s centenary year.

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BA100: 84. The World’s Biggest Offer

100 Years Of British Airways: How BA have away every seat on every international flight on one day in 1991.

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"The World's Biggest Offer" British Airways, March 1991
“The World’s Biggest Offer” British Airways, March 1991

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

The early 1990s was not a good era for BA.

Traffic fell away sharply during the 1990 Gulf War, which also led to the destruction of one of its Boeing 747 aircraft in Kuwait, with demand falling by about 30%.

BA was also facing increased competition at Heathrow with American Airlines and United Airlines securing route authorities from Trans World Airlines and Pan American World Airways. Virgin Atlantic was to also shortly secure access to Heathrow.

In March 1991, former BA Chairman Lord King described the situation as “The engine of consumer demand did not just idle in neutral, it sputtered to a complete stop” and “now it needs a kick start”.

“The World’s Biggest Offer”

So BA hatched a plan.

It gave away in a ballot every single seat on every international flight to and from the UK, including Concorde, on 23 April 1991. This was equivalent to around 50,000 free tickets. The 20,000 passengers who had already booked flights on that day would receive a voucher towards the purchase of a new flight.

Passengers could either apply in person at BA ticket offices or through newspaper entry forms.

The promotion was kept under wraps until it broke on the same day around the world in March 1991 – an achievement in itself given this pre-dated the internet.

BA’s ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi booked space in newspapers in over 70 countries around the world for the promotion. Bogus adverts were placed with the newspapers and then swapped at the eleventh hour.

It is estimated that some 500 million people read about the offer, 200 million saw it on TV and 5.7 million people entered the ballot for a free flight.

There is of course no more powerful marketing tool than getting something for free. The promotion was considered a success with passenger numbers returning to their original level within 120 days.

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BA100: 85. The Boeing 757

100 Years Of British Airways: How the Boeing 757 became one of the most favoured aircraft on BA’s short-haul fleet in the 1980s and 1990s.

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British Airways Boeing 757, Landor Livery
British Airways Boeing 757, Landor Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

The Boeing 757 was the little aircraft that could.

Its prospects at launch were not good. Boeing launched the aircraft in the late 1970s when airlines were grappling with an economic recession and rising fuel prices.

However, BA desperately needed to secure a replacement for uneconomical Trident aircraft for short-haul routes. These aircraft had three engines and required three flight crew. They also had to be phased out by 1986 due to noise regulations.

BA, along with Eastern Airways, placed the first two orders for the aircraft in 1978 with BA initially ordering 19 aircraft, securing production of the aircraft by Boeing.

The order was not without controversy. BA was facing heavy financial losses the early 1980s. There was genuine questions as to whether the airline might have to enter into administration and there were pressures on BA to cut the order to reduce capital expenditure. There were also political pressures on BA in the UK to place an aircraft order with Airbus, and not Boeing.

However, BA persisted and the first aircraft entered into service at BA in February 1983, initially operating Shuttle services to UK domestic routes and then major trunk destinations in mainland Europe. It offered vastly better fuel efficiency and significantly more sophisticated computerised in-flight management systems than the aircraft it replaced.

During the 1980s and 1990s the aircraft performed extremely well for BA and it continued to top up its orders. It was quite an aircraft to fly on, with an unforgettably steep climb during take-off. There was a dedicated Shuttle configuration of 195 seats and a European configuration of 180 seats.

The aircraft did also briefly operate long-haul routes from UK regional airports in the mid 1990s. One aircraft operated Glasgow – New York JFK – Boston and another Birmingham – New York JFK – Toronto. However, this was not a financial success and these aircraft were soon returned to short-haul use.

The late 1990s

British Airways Boeing 757 "Whale Rider" Project Utopia Tailfin
British Airways Boeing 757 “Whale Rider” Project Utopia Tailfin (Image Credit: British Airways)

By the late 1990s, the aircraft started to fall out of favour.

In September 1999, after BA had placed its first order for new smaller capacity short-haul aircraft with Airbus, BA announced that 34 of its fleet of what was then 53 aircraft would be sold to DHL for conversion into freighters.

Four aircraft were also sold before their planned delivery in 1999. (Airbus A320 aircraft have of course been “densified” with a configuration now close to the Boeing 757’s capacity)

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