BA100: 30. “Opportunities” (2009)

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s “Opportunities” advertising campaign encouraging passengers to start flying again after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

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British Airways "Opportunities" advertising campaign, 2009
British Airways “Opportunities” advertising campaign, 2009

The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the subsequent UK Government bailout of HBOS and RBS to help prevent the collapse of the banking system had a huge impact on BA.

The airline had already been through a difficult time operationally with the chaotic opening of Terminal 5.

The financial lifeblood of the airline, long-haul premium traffic, fell away very sharply. (The airline had in fact not long reconfigured some Boeing 747 aircraft to increase the number of Club World seats).

This was so much so it was a boon for frequent flyers with deeply discounted frequent flyer redemptions and aggressive overselling of economy and premium economy cabins. BA swung from a profit of £922m in 2008 to a loss of £401m in 2009. There were even questions as to whether the airline would be able to survive in its current form.

Here is a very softly spoken advertising campaign BA ran 12 months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

It featured 9 films in total gently encouraging both business and leisure passengers to fly and pursue new opportunities around the world such as Mumbai Fashion week and the migration of wildebeest across the Serengeti.

The campaign was noteworthy in that apart from a reference to BA’s route network at the end of the voiceover, it does not make any specific reference to any relative benefits of flying BA, nor does it feature any visuals of BA aircraft or cabins.

Buenos Aires – El Superclásico

Continue reading “BA100: 30. “Opportunities” (2009)”

BA100: 31. The Iberia Merger

100 Years Of British Airways: The merger of BA and Iberia under the umbrella of International Airlines Group.

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British Airways & Iberia aircraft
British Airways & Iberia aircraft (Image Credit: Iberia)

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

Ten years or so ago, it looked like BA was becoming increasingly isolated amongst airlines in Europe.

Air France-KLM had taken the lead in consolidation in Europe after talks between BA and KLM had fallen through for a second time. Lufthansa had acquired Swiss, again after talks between BA and Swiss fell though.

Not only that both Air France-KLM and Lufthansa were encroaching BA’s territory in London. Air France-KLM had acquired CityJet which, at the time, dwarfed BA at London City. Lufthansa had also, albeit not on the terms it would have liked, acquired bmi, the second largest airline at Heathrow.

BA admitted that it had looked on with some admiration with what both had groups have achieved. It turned to Iberia, in which the airline had already owned a stake in and had a codeshare relationship.

It took some time to acquire merger terms, principally due to concerns on Iberia’s side about BA’s pension deficit, which had to be ring-fenced. It also looked like talks were about to fall through when parallel merger talks between BA and Qantas leaked to the press.

There were questions as to how two airlines with radically different cultures and histories could be brought together.

The answer was to leave them operationally separate, partly due to route authorities requiring BA and Iberia to controlled in the UK and Spain respectively.

On top of BA and Iberia a new self-styled “brand agnostic” parent was imposed with the relatively anodyne name International Airlines Group.

Again, there were questions as to whether IAG could impose control over the two airlines. The answer came in the form of its new CEO Willie Walsh who was reported to have quipped that BA’s new CEO and former CFO Keith Williams had been promoted from the 2nd most important job in BA to the 2nd most important job in BA.

On the launch of its merger in 2011 IAG briefed the media that it had 12 takeover targets. So far it has acquired a further three airlines. IAG took full control of Vueling in 2013, acquired Aer Lingus in 2015 (navigating delicate national interests in the process) and, most significantly for BA, bmi in 2012.

Not that it was a given that bmi would be merged into BA. Many in IAG pressed for it to be kept separate and BA pilots had to make concessions to secure its integration. It’s no exaggeration to say the bmi merger has transformed BA’s position at Heathrow and enabled it to launch many new short-haul and long-haul routes.

There have been wobbles on the way. Shortly after the merger Iberia swung to heavy losses, bringing into question the merits of the deal. IAG pushed through a painful restructuring at Iberia which resulted in unedifying scenes during staff protests at Madrid. However, IAG can now claim with some justification to have radically improved Iberia’s fleet and image.

Not all attempts to acquire airlines have been successful. IAG lost out on a bid to acquire Nikki from what remained of Air Berlin. A bid to acquire Norwegian was also rebuffed.

For BA, the cost and revenue synergies from IAG have helped it become a much more financially stronger airline. Last year, it reported an operating profit of £1,952m.

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BA100: 32. The Landor Livery

100 Years Of British Airways: The Landor Associates livery, introduced in 1984.

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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.

The Landor livery was the second livery introduced after the operations of BEA and BOAC merged under the British Airways brand from 1974.

It replaced the the first livery designed by Negus & Negus. The livery was designed by Landor Associates in San Francisco which was founded by the late Walter Landor who designed brand identities for Levi, General Electric and Fuji Film. This was in itself a controversial decision amongst British designers, but reflected BA’s global ambitions at the time.

The livery was officially unveiled on 4 December 1984. It features a deep midnight blue colour for the undersides and engines, a red speedwing and pearl grey for the upper fuselage and tail. The quarter Union Jack from the Negus livery was retained, with the BA coat of arms on the tail fin.

The Landor livery cost $1million to design. Of course, it extended far beyond aircraft. It encompassed a complete redesign of BA’s visual identity. Landor Associates spent 18 months on the project, including 4 months travelling on the BA network to carry out a “visual audit” and conducting over 1,000 interviews.

The concept behind the Landor livery was an emphasis on precision, whilst retaining BA’s British identity, and to present the company as fit for its planned privatisation. It wasn’t received with universal acclaim. Some British designers, perhaps expecting a modernist design, derided it as regressive and mediocre. Others mocked the inclusion of the BA coat of arms on the tail fin.

The Landor livery was retained until 1997 and the ill-fated World Tailfins.

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BA100: 33. Swift, Silent, Serene, The BOAC VC10

100 Years Of British Airways: Swift, silent, serene, the BOAC VC10 aircraft.

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BOAC Vickers VC10 Aircraft London Heathrow
BOAC Vickers VC10 Aircraft London Heathrow (Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

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

The British designed and manufactured Vickers VC10 and Super VC10 aircraft were operated by BOAC in the 1960s and 1970s.

It had a unique design with a distinctive high tail and large wing structure. Its four engines were at the back of the aircraft, meaning that all passengers were seated in front of the engines, making for a much quieter flight.

It was seen as particularly suitable for services to “hot and high” airports in Africa and airports with relatively poor runway conditions.

The aircraft first entered into service on 29 April 1964, operating from Heathrow to Lagos. The VC10 was used by BOAC on all parts of its route network initially to Africa, and then the Middle East, Asia, Australia and, with the Super VC10, the US. Her Majesty The Queen flew on the aircraft on a royal visit to Canada in 1967.

Relatively few aircraft were manufactured and ordered by other airlines, and it had a short life, as the Boeing 707, and subsequently the Boeing 747 were better suited to long range flights. By the late 1970s BA began to retire the aircraft. However, it was still a very popular aircraft with passengers and remains one of the most memorable aircraft operated by BOAC.

In one memorable incident, one aircraft was subject to a hijack in Dawson’s Field.

BOAC VC10 Poster
BOAC VC10 Poster
BOAC VC10 Advertisement, November 1964
BOAC VC10 Advertisement, November 1964
Continue reading “BA100: 33. Swift, Silent, Serene, The BOAC VC10”

BA100: 34. Flight BA149, The Last Flight To Kuwait

100 Years Of British Airways: The controversy surrounding flight BA149 which landed in Kuwait on 2 August 1990.

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BA Flight 149, BBC News, August 1990
BA Flight 149, BBC News, August 1990

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

Nearly 30 years on, the events surrounding flight BA149 on 2 August 1990 remain highly controversial and a source of considerable personal distress for those who were directly involved.

The facts surrounding the flight are these:

On 1 August 1990, flight BA149 was scheduled to depart London Heathrow at 16:15 GMT for Kuala Lumpur, via Kuwait and Chennai.

The departure was delayed by approximately two hours due to a fault with the aircraft’s auxiliary power unit. The Captain of the first leg of the flight was Richard Brungate and the Cabin Service Director was Clive Earthy.

There had been news reports of escalating tensions between Iraq and Kuwait. The Captain requested updates on the situation before the flight was scheduled depart.

BA claims it was advised at 16:20 GMT by the British embassy in Kuwait that the situation was calm and there’s no reason for the flight not to proceed.

The flight, operated by a Boeing 747-136 aircraft registration G-AWND, departed London Heathrow at 18:04 GMT.

The aircraft was in constant radio contact with BA in London during the flight. At no point were the flight crew advised of an impending invasion or to divert the aircraft.

At 22:13 the Captain of BA149 made radio contact with the pilot of BA148 which had just left Kuwait and was told that the situation in Kuwait was normal.

The aircraft landed in Kuwait at 04:13 local time.  56 passengers had booked to end their journeys in Kuwait.  Those passengers and transit passengers wishing to stretch their legs left the aircraft for the airport terminal.

Another 67 passengers were booked to fly on from Kuwait to Chennai or Kuala Lumpur.  Those passengers joined the aircraft with the crew operating the next sector to Chennai. 

At around 05:00 local time the airport closed. In the next hour the runway was attacked by Iraqi forces and the BA aircraft was evacuated.  The passengers and crew immediately went to an airport hotel.

According to BA, 310 passengers and 82 BA employees were held hostage by Iraqis.   Women and children were allowed to return home in late August.  The remaining hostages were dispersed to various sites and some were used as “human shields”.  The hostages witnessed many atrocities by Iraqi soldiers. The last remaining passengers and BA employees were released on 9 December 1990.

The Boeing 747 aircraft, which had remained at the airport in Kuwait, was subsequently destroyed following the liberation of Kuwait.

“The Last Flight To Kuwait”

The source of the controversy surrounding this flight is why it proceeded to operate when other airlines had suspended operations and who in BA and the UK Government knew what, and when.

The flight was the subject of a drama-documentary “The Last Flight To Kuwait” shown in the UK on BBC2 in 2007.

The central allegation is that the UK Government wanted the aircraft to land in Kuwait to enable an intelligence gathering exercise to take place.

The film made a specific allegation that a team of intelligence operatives boarded the aircraft at Heathrow. Their behaviour on the flight and at the airport in Kuwait was a source of suspicion for the cabin crew and some passengers. The film also featured contribution from one of the operatives, speaking anonymously, who stated they were there to carry out a covert intelligence mission.

Continue reading “BA100: 34. Flight BA149, The Last Flight To Kuwait”

BA100: 35. Project Utopia, The World Tailfins

100 Years Of British Airways: “The World Is Closer Than You Think”, BA’s much maligned World Images tailfins from 1997.

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Loganair Scotland Islander Peter MacDonald "Mountain Of The Birds" Project Utopia Livery
Loganair Scotland Islander Peter MacDonald “Mountain Of The Birds” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

Depending on your point of view, the unveiling of a new corporate identity for British Airways in 1997 was one of the biggest rebranding failures of all time.

Or it was one of the unfairly maligned and misunderstood marketing campaigns that was way ahead of its time.

The aim of the rebranding by the design agency Newell & Sorrell was to not simply present a new livery for BA, but an entirely new BA as an airline of the world with a much softer, warmer, image.

The 1980s Landor livery, featuring its very precise Speedwing, quarter Union Jack, and BA’s coat of arms was replaced. The new livery featured a new logo with a three dimensional Speedmarque, in a brighter and lighter palette of red, white and blue and the name “British Airways” in a softer, rounder, typeface.

The “World Images” were designed by artists from around the world which would appear not only on aircraft tailfins, but also all company vehicles and stationery. This was a reflection of the fact that three of every five BA customers were based outside the UK.

15 designs were unveiled initially, with the aim of adding 12 each year until the millennium.

The unveiling of the new livery on 10 June 1997 was, it has to be said, an act of 1990s excess. BA, with the assistance of the BBC, held an outside broadcast from 25 locations around the world with the unveiling of aircraft by BA and its franchises and subsidiaries at locations such as Heathrow, Munich, Seattle and Victoria Falls. This was also supported by events such as fireworks at Sydney Harbour.

The unveiling of the new corporate identity was also supported by a new TV advertising campaign “The world is closer than you think.”

“Maggie Puts BA Into A Tailspin”

What happened next is well documented.

The former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took exception to the sight of a model BA aircraft at the 1997 Conservative Party conference and covered its tailfin with a handkerchief. “Maggie Puts BA Into A Tailspin” was the front page of the Daily Mail the following day. Virgin Atlantic painted the Union Jack and the decal “Britain’s Flag Carrier” on its aircraft.

BA’s initial response to negative criticism was to plan to paint half of the BA fleet in the Chatham Dockyard livery, before the project was abandoned entirely in 2001.

In many ways this project was ahead of its name. It was launched before galleries such as Tate Modern opened which, with the aid of installations such as Olafur Eliasson’s “The Weather Project” helped transform art from something that is displayed on a gallery wall to something that is experienced. A project of this nature today would of course be made for Instagram.

It is hard not to draw a parallel to the reaction the “World Images” tail fins in 1997 to contemporary politics. There is tension not just in the UK between those want nation states to assert their national identity and those who want to embrace and work a multi-lateral basis with other nation states.

The rebranding exercise has been largely airbrushed by BA from history. Unsurprisingly, there have been no retrospective World Images liveries for the centenary year.

May be one day the World Images tailfins will be given the full reappraisal it deserves.

The “World Images” Talfins

Here are a selection of the “World Images” designs and BA aircraft in World Images liveries:

British Airways "Project Utopia" World Tailfin Designs
British Airways “Project Utopia” World Tailfin Designs
British Airways "Project Utopia" World Tailfin Designs
British Airways “Project Utopia” World Tailfin Designs
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)
British Airways Boeing 757 "Whale Rider" Project Utopia Tailfin
British Airways Boeing 757 Aircraft “Whale Rider” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Boeing 767 Aircraft, Project Utopia Livery, Golden Khokhloma
British Airways Boeing 767 Aircraft “Golden Khokhloma” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)
Continue reading “BA100: 35. Project Utopia, The World Tailfins”

BA100: 36. The Friendly Independent, bmi British Midland

100 Years Of British Airways: “The friendly independent”, bmi British Midland.

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bmi British Midland Aircraft
bmi British Midland

If there’s one prediction that would have seemed implausible just ten years ago, but came to be true, it’s that bmi British Midland would be merged into British Airways.

bmi British Midland (“bmi”) and BA were fierce rivals at Heathrow. Although bmi’s history is almost as long as BA’s it was in the 1980s that BA and bmi started to compete head to head on domestic routes at Heathrow, initially to Glasgow to Edinburgh.

This was at a time when route authorities were granted by the Government. BA even went to court to try and prevent the Government from granting bmi to launch a service from Heathrow to Belfast.

“The Friendly Independent”

Positioning itself as the “friendly independent”, bmi competed against BA’s Shuttle services promising better service and lower fares.

BA lost a third of its market to Glasgow and Edinburgh to bmi. This prompted BA to radically improve its own offering with a “Super Shuttle” with complimentary food and drink.

British Midland Press Advertisement 1983
British Midland Press Advertisement 1983

Whilst bmi was by some distance the second airline at Heathrow and it had nowhere near the international presence of BA, it inspired tremendous loyalty from its frequent flyers. It had far more stable industrial relations than BA at Heathrow. Many domestic passengers also complained that BA would always cancel domestic flights first in the event of operational disruption.

For many years, bmi was deeply frustrated that it could not fulfil its ambition to launch transatlantic flights from Heathrow which, due to the Bermuda II treaty, BA and Virgin Atlantic were the only UK airlines that could do so. It had even acquired a fleet of long-haul Airbus A330 aircraft which were subsequently used to operate transtlantic routes from Manchester. As the UK member of Star Alliance it also had the financially and operationally thankless task of providing short-haul feed to Star Alliance airlines at Heathrow.

Facing increased competition from low cost airlines, bmi sought to reinvent as a medium / long-haul airline. Whilst the difficult launch of Mumbai proved to be short-lived, it did launch services to Jeddah and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Cairo and Moscow. bmi also acquired former BA franchise partner British Mediterranean in 2007. Whilst this bolstered bmi’s portfolio of medium-haul routes, many of these were to areas very exposed to geopolitical events.

How bmi came to be acquired by BA, dates back to 1999 when bmi’s controlling shareholder Sir Michael Bishop entered into a “put and call” agreement with Lufthansa.

In 1999, Lufthansa acquired a 20% share of bmi for £91.4m, which valued the airline at £457m. Sir Michael also made a deal whereby he could exercise an option to sell his controlling stake in bmi of 50% plus one share to Lufthansa for £298m.

In 2008, Sir Michael exercised his option. Lufthansa baulked at the price and reached an out of court settlement with Sir Michael. Lufthansa paid Sir Michael £175m to give up his option right, and £48m to acquire his share, valuing the airline at just £98m.

Although this was seen by commentators as a major opportunity for the dominant Star Alliance airline to gain a foothold at Heathrow, it did not turn out that way.

Continue reading “BA100: 36. The Friendly Independent, bmi British Midland”

BA100: 37. Gatwick “The Hub Without The Hubbub”

100 Years Of British Airways: London Gatwick, “the hub without the hubbub”

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British Airways, London Gatwick
British Airways, London Gatwick

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

BA’s history at London Gatwick can be traced back to the original British Airways which was formed in 1935.

Whilst both BEA and BOAC had a presence at the airport, it wasn’t until BA acquired British Caledonian in 1988 and Dan-Air in 1992 did BA start to develop Gatwick into a second London hub.

The hub would be based in the new North Terminal, where BA operated the first flight, BA532 to Naples, on 22 March 1988.

BA transferred many routes to Latin America and Central & East Africa from Heathrow to complement those routes it inherited from British Caledonian.

The aim was for Gatwick’s North Terminal to be “the hub without the hubbub”, as illustrated by this advert produced at great expense in a full replica of the North Terminal at Pinewood Studios.

BA, in a joint-venture with USAir, launched new routes to Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Charlotte. BA also subsequently launched its own services to Pheonix and Denver from Gatwick.

By the late 1990s profitability at Gatwick was proving elusive. The dual London hub strategy wasn’t working. The short-haul operation was coming under pressure from low cost airlines.

Gatwick was to be “de-hubbed” and focus on point-to-point traffic. BA began progressively switching long-haul routes back to Heathrow.

The process was accelerated after the events of 11 September 2001, which prompted BA to launch a review called “Future Size and Shape”. It rejected measures such as closing Gatwick or moving to single class on short-haul flights.

The move was to see from 1999 to 2003 the number of BA long-haul aircraft at Gatwick reduced from 33 to 11 and the number of long-haul destinations fell from 48 to 15. Similarly, on short-haul over the same period the number of aircraft fell from 54 to 35 and destinations fell from 54 to 34.

The last routes inherited from BCAL, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston transferred to Heathrow after the liberalisation of the EU-US transatlantic market in 2008.

Continue reading “BA100: 37. Gatwick “The Hub Without The Hubbub””

BA100: 38. Competing Against Low-Cost Airlines

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s 25 year battle to compete against the rise and rise of low cost airlines.

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British Airways "Relaxed Trainer" Advert 2012
British Airways “Relaxed Trainer” Advert 2012

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

Twenty years or so ago, if you took a flight in BA Euro Traveller you’d be served a complimentary meal plated on china and offered unlimited drinks from the bar.

Regardless of the fare purchased you’d also have a generous luggage allowance and be able to select a seat for free.

All that has changed since. The reason? The rise and rise of low cost airlines in Europe which, it is no exaggeration to say, has completely revolutionised travel in Europe.

20 years ago easyJet had just one route at London Gatwick, now it has around 50% of slots at the airport.

It is conventional wisdom that the network legacy airlines have aped low cost airlines. They certainly have adopted many aspects of their business model. Some of this is in a good way. There was a time when a one-way fare would cost little different from a return fare and fares came with Saturday night stay restrictions.

Low cost airlines have also adopted many aspects of legacy network airlines. They introduced allocated seating, when it used to an absolute free-for-all on boarding, introduced more services to primary airports, added priority ground facilities and smarted up their image. easyJet is also planning to introduce its own frequent flyer currency.

BA has for 20 years sought to differentiate itself from low cost airlines in its advertising, with mixed success.

“There Are Other Ways, Then There’s British Airways” (2003)

The timing of this advert was unfortunate as it had to be pulled as BA experienced unofficial industrial action at Heathrow at the time it aired.

Continue reading “BA100: 38. Competing Against Low-Cost Airlines”

BA100: 39. The Airbus A380 Aircraft

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s small, but perfectly formed, fleet of 12 Airbus A380 aircraft.

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British Airways Airbus A380 Heathrow
British Airways Airbus A380 Heathrow (Image Credit: Heathrow)

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

British Airways was certainly late to the Airbus A380 party.

It was on 18 March 2008, flight SQ308 arrived at London Heathrow from Singapore Changi airport marking the beginning of scheduled Airbus A380 flights between London Heathrow and Singapore.

Singapore Airlines has always prided itself on industry firsts, so it was natural that it would be the first airline to operate the aircraft.

Emirates and Qantas soon followed at London Heathrow. As did Etihad, Korean Air, Malaysian Airlines, Qatar Airways and Thai Airways.

It wasn’t until five years later in 2013 did BA take delivery of the first of 12 Airbus A380 aircraft. This was of course the first long-haul aircraft BA ordered from Airbus.

British Airways Airbus A380 Collage
British Airways Airbus A380 Collage

The aircraft now operates year-round from London Heathrow to Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Singapore and Washington Dulles. It also operates on a seasonal basis to Boston, Chicago and Vancouver.

It’s a relatively small fleet compared to the Boeing 787 and 777, but it’s a popular aircraft with passengers, particularly for its First Class cabin. World Traveller Plus and World Traveller are also relatively comfortable compared to other aircraft.

Ever since BA took delivery of the aircraft there had been speculation whether it would order more. That has now been settled. Its options to acquire seven more new aircraft have expired. It had explored leasing second-hand aircraft but the costs of conversion are considered too high.

Whilst BA was one of the last airlines to take delivery of the A380, it is perfectly feasible that, along with Emirates, BA may be one of the last operators of the aircraft.

Air France has chosen to retire its fleet early, rather than refurbish aircraft. Lufthansa is to also hand back aircraft to Airbus. Many airlines such as Malaysia Airlines and Qantas have reduced Airbus A380 services to Heathrow. Qantas clearly now has other priorities, with ultra long-range aircraft. Airbus confirmed earlier this year that it is to end production of the aircraft in 2021 after Emirates decided to reduce its outstanding orders.

The launch of the aircraft, dubbed a “flying hotel” at the time, generated a huge amount of hype. And this is one where BA can claim to have got one over Virgin Atlantic. Virgin generated a huge amount of PR with an order of 6 aircraft in 2000 and promises of childrens’ play areas, gyms, showers and games arcades. 

Without any hint of irony Sir Richard Branson quipped in 2005: “To be perfectly honest, it would be quite nice if BA were to buy some A380s as well – because it would support British aerospace and it would support Europe.”

Last year, Virgin finally cancelled its entire A380 order.

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