These are flights, some of which are still controversial to this today, that are remembered for the wrong reasons. More BA 747 flights from happier times will be shared tomorrow.
BA9 “All Engines Fail” – June 1982
On 24 June 1982, a BA Boeing 747-236 aircraft en route from Kuala Lumpur to Perth plunged 25,000 feet.
All four engines had failed after the aircraft hit a cloud of volcanic ash from Mount Galunggung in West Java, Indonesia.
Captain Eric Moody, who at the time did not know the cause of the engine failure, told passengers: “This is your captain speaking. We have a small problem and all four engines have stopped. We are doing our damndest to get them working again. I trust you are not in too much distress.”
Captain Moody, First Officer Roger Greaves and Engineering Office Barry Townley-Freeman spent 13 minutes trying to regain power on the engines. The aircraft subsequently diverted to Jakarta, where it landed safely.
The Last Flight To Kuwait – August 1990
The circumstances surrounding flight BA149 on 1 August 1990 remain a source of controversy to this day. The flight was scheduled to depart London Heathrow at 16:15 GMT for Kuala Lumpur, via Kuwait and Chennai.
There had been news reports on the day of escalating tensions between Iraq and Kuwait. BA claims it was advised by the British embassy in Kuwait that the situation was calm and there was no reason for the flight, operated by Boeing 747-136 G-AWND, not to operate.
The aircraft was in 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.
The aircraft landed in Kuwait at 04:13 local time. At around 05:00 local time the airport closed. In the next hour the runway was attacked by Iraqi forces and the aircraft was evacuated. 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 last remaining passengers and BA employees were released on 9 December 1990.
The aircraft was destroyed following the liberation of Kuwait.
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.
It has been alleged that the UK Government wanted the aircraft to land in Kuwait to enable an intelligence gathering exercise to take place.
BA has always denied any knowledge of a group of intelligence operatives boarding the aircraft at Heathrow. The UK Government maintained that the aircraft landed in Kuwait before the invasion and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a statement to that effect before Parliament.
BA has always maintained that it had no knowledge of the impending invasion of Kuwait and that it would never put its aircraft, passengers and crews at risk. No passenger list has ever been released for the flight.
A number of passengers sued BA in different jurisdictions. The airline settled cases brought in the US out of court, citing the cost of litigation. Passengers from France sued the airline and the courts found BA to be negligent and passengers were paid substantial damages. In the UK, attempts to bring the matter to court have been unsuccessful there has been no public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the flight.
Had 2020 gone to plan, around 25 BA Boeing 747 aircraft would now be despatching passengers betweenLondon Heathrow and numerous destinations around the world.
Those seeking Christmas in New York or winter sun in Cape Town, heading for the alternative reality of Las Vegas, or skiing in Colorado or Whistler via BA would have been carried on a 747.
Some may have complained about ageing interiors or antiquated inflight entertainment systems on certain aircraft. Those sat on the Upper Deck or in the nose of the 747 would have sat comfortably knowing they had at least another three years to enjoy their favourite seats in the house.
Events, as we know, took a very different course in 2020. 31 Boeing 747s met an abrupt and undignified end, save for four that will be preserved at Dunsfold Aerodrome, Kemble Airport and Bro Tathan Business Park, Glamorgan.
It’s not the first time unforeseen events have had an impact on BA’s 747 fleet.
After the events of 11 September 2001, BA’s 747-236 aircraft followed the 747-136 fleet into retirement. 747s at Gatwick were transferred to Heathrow as the airline switched routes to Africa and Central & South America to the airport.
In the early 1980s, the airline urgently needed to cut costs. Two Boeing 747-136 aircraft were sold to TWA in 1981. Four new Boeing 747-236 were placed into storage, with two ultimately sold to Malaysian Airlines.
That said, there was continued evolution in the Boeing 747 fleet from the early 1980s.
“The Widest Way To The USA”
One benefit of the Boeing 747 for passengers was that it allowed airlines to introduce new cabins beyond economy and First Class.
After introducing Executive and Club Class for full fare economy passengers, in 1981 BA introduced a dedicated “Super Club” cabin with six abreast seating, dubbed the widest seat in the air.
This would later evolve in to Club World, dubbed the “profit engine” of BA, with the Boeing 747 aircraft being the first to benefit from many innovations and new seats.
“Get Down Under 3 Hours Quicker”
Modifications to engines also enabled improvements on longer range routes, with BA claiming in 1984 the fastest journey times to Australia, a claim previously made by Qantas.
In part one we looked at the introduction of the aircraft at BOAC, primarily on transatlantic routes. As BA continued to take delivery of more Boeing 747-136 aircraft, and longer range Boeing 747-236 aircraft, it continued to reach more destinations and cut journey times.
“East, West, Our Jumbos Are Best”
In the immediate years following the merger of BEA and BOAC, the 747 was touching all corners of BA’s global network.
New 747 network additions included Boston & Philadelphia, Kingston, Bermuda & Nassau, Tokyo via Anchorage (known as the Polar route) and Auckland.
“Wide Bodies All Over USA!”
By late 1975, BA served New York, Boston & Philadephia, Washington & Detroit and Miami with daily Boeing 747 services. Anchorage was served with a Boeing 747 three times a week.
The one exception in the United States was Los Angeles which was served by a DC10 aircraft. This was leased from Air New Zealand and was operated by BA crews between London Heathrow and Los Angeles, and by Air New Zealand from Los Angeles to Auckland.
In 1976, Barbados gained a non-stop Boeing 747 service with the aircraft continuing to Port of Spain, Trinidad.
At the same time, BA trialled an enhanced economy class service for full fare passengers on flights between London Heathrow and Hong Kong.
48 seats in Zone B of the aircraft were designated as an “Executive Cabin” with a free bar service and inflight entertainment.
“All-747 Service For Australia”
By the summer of 1976, BA had 18 Boeing 747-136 aircraft in its fleet. All services to Australia – Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney – were operated with the Boeing 747.
However, multiple stops were still required en route. Only Perth had two stops en-route on some weekly flights. All other cities in Australia served by BA required at least three or four stops.
“A Touch Of Class For Executives”
After a successful trial on flights between London Heathrow and Hong Kong, the “Executive Cabin” was extended to all Boeing 747 flights in 1977, save for Chicago.
The main benefits were being first to receive the economy inflight service and early disembarkation from the aircraft. Being seated in the Executive cabin was not guaranteed – it could only be requested at the time of booking and passengers were advised to check-in early.
That was the promise of BOAC as it introduced the Boeing 747 in 1971.
It was a tacit admission the airline had been behind its competitors in introducing the aircraft into service.
It is an understatement to say the launch of the Boeing 747 at BOAC was troubled. It would, of course, become the backbone of its successor airline British Airways until its abrupt and undignified retirement in 2020.
BOAC placed its first order for six Boeing 747-136 aircraft in 1966, following government approval. This would soon to be increased to twelve aircraft.
Although BOAC took delivery of its first Boeing aircraft in May 1970, three aircraft sat idle at London Heathrow for a year due to dispute with its pilots over pay and productivity.
The delay was estimated to have cost BOAC upwards of £25,000 a day. Its transatlantic rivals Pan American World Airways and Trans World Airlines were already operating the Boeing 747 from London and were able to take advantage of rising passenger numbers between Europe and the US.
It did at least allow BOAC to learn of some of the teething troubles of Pan Am and TWA where some passengers complained of chaotic food and beverage service, malfunctioning inflight entertainment, long queues for bathrooms and extended waits for baggage on arrival.
283 passengers were on board the aircraft, which had capacity for 300 passengers in tourist class and 50 passengers in First Class with 6 galleys and 12 bathrooms. At seat inflight entertainment consisted of 4 stereo and 3 mono channels of music. In common with other airlines, the Upper Deck featured a dedicated “Monarch” lounge for First Class passengers.
The launch of flights to New York JFK was not the end of BOAC’s industrial troubles as a dispute with engineers briefly grounded the aircraft again.
BOAC was keen to emphasis distinctive features unique to its Boeing 747 aircraft, such as its humification system. Other features claimed to be unique to BOAC included adjustable headrests and artwork on bulkheads.
After New York JFK, daily services to Montreal and Toronto followed on 12 July 1971. Economic pressures did however force BOAC to cancel orders for a further 4 Boeing 747 aircraft beyond its initial order of 12.
In November 1971, BOAC launched what it claimed was the first direct Boeing 747 service to Australia via Hong Kong and Darwin.
British Airways has permanently suspended a large number of long-haul routes.
It was inevitable that due to COVID-19 marginal long-haul routes would be at risk of suspension. Many of these routes are Boeing 787 routes and, due to the retirement of the Boeing 747 and grounding of many other aircraft, these aircraft have been reallocated to other routes.
By region, BA’s weakest markets in Asia and the Middle East bear the brunt of route suspensions.
Some airports such as Pittsburgh have wanted to secure a BA service for some time. It is also disappointing to see years of network growth reversed.
The following routes are suspended permanently with effect from Sunday 28 March 2021 at the latest, unless otherwise stated. All routes are from London Heathrow, unless otherwise stated.
Central & South America
Lima (from Gatwick)
The Seychelles (from 24 April 2021)
Jeddah (occasional flights may still operate for Hajj in July 2021)
Kuala Lumpur (from 28 March 2021)
In addition, flights to Bangkok, San Jose (Costa Rica – from Gatwick) and Sydney are suspended until 30 October 2021.
As ever, in the current climate, further changes cannot be ruled out. There are also many destinations not listed above that are not yet operating and their return depends on the easing of travel restrictions.
Passengers whose flights have been cancelled are entitled to a full refund. Where, possible passengers can also be re-acommodated on alternative BA flights with connections to BA’s codeshare partners such as American Airlines, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways.
Any passengers who have booked with BA to fly to Kuala Lumpur from 28 March 2021 can be re-accommodated on Malaysia Airlines flights from London Heathrow.
Passengers due to fly to fly to Bangkok or Seoul can be re-accomodated on BA (up to 28 March 2021) or Malaysia Airlines (from 28 March 2021) services to Kuala Lumpur with onward connections on Malaysia Airlines to their final destination.
Affected passengers should check the status of their bookings using the Manage My Booking tool on ba.com and should contact BA or their travel agent.
British Airways is to reinstate a connection between London Gatwick and Manchester after a hiatus of many years.
The route was suspended during a long process of “de-hubbing” BA’s operation at Gatwick with a focus on point-to-point traffic. It was a one of a number of domestic routes suspended at Gatwick including Aberdeen and Newcastle.
At present, timetables indicate that the route will operate once-daily. An early morning departure from Manchester will facilitate connections to long-haul flights at Gatwick.
BA is also transferring long-haul flights from London Heathrow Accra and to Gatwick from 28 March 2021.
More broadly, this does suggest that BA is intent on restoring its short-haul operation at Gatwick next summer and preserving its slot portfolio.
That said, as ever in the current environment everything is subject to change at short notice.
British Airways’ service from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires will operate via Sao Paulo from Sunday 28 March 2021.
The last non-stop service from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires is currently scheduled to operate on Friday 26 March 2021.
As a consequence of the stop for one hour at Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport, the journey time from London Heathrow will increase from 14 hours to 15 hours and 40 minutes.
The flight numbers to / from Buenos Aires will also change from BA245 / BA244 to BA247 / BA246.
This is expected to continue until Sunday 31 October 2021 at the earliest. Long time BA flyers may remember that BA used to fly to Buenos Aires via Sao Paulo many years ago. A non-stop service to Buenos Aires is likely to return when economic conditions allow.