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.

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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.

More To Read From BA100:

BA100: 40. Not Everything Ages Well

100 Years Of British Airways: Not everything ages well, a controversial advert for the Club World cradle seat in 1996.

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British Airways Club World Advertisement 1996
British Airways Club World Advertisement 1996

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

The UK advertising regulator the Advertising Standards Authority has recently banned two adverts for Philadelphia cheese and Volkswagen because they breached new advertising rules on gender stereotypes.

Under new rules introduced this year “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.”

What would the Advertising Standards Authority of today made of this BA advert from 1996?

The advert depicts a mother holding a baby, but with the face of an older businessman superimposed over the baby’s face. The text of the advert reads “The new Club World cradle seat. Lullaby not included.”

Many female passengers at the time wrote to the airline to complain it was demeaning to cabin crew.

BA has been far from alone in this regard. There are things Virgin has done in the past that look absolutely cringeworthy today. It can be said with confidence that if this advert was run today the airline would be in teeth of a social media storm.

British Airways Club World Cradle Seat Advert 1996
British Airways Club World Cradle Seat Advert 1996

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BA100: 41. The British Airways Coat Of Arms

100 Years Of British Airways: The British Airways coat of arms, granted to the airline in 1975.

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British Airways Coat Of Arms
British Airways Coat Of Arms (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

British Airways was granted a coat of arms in 1975.

The central shield of BA’s coat of arms features a quarter union flag which appeared on the first two British Airways liveries, Negus and Landor.

The shield is supported by a winged horse and a winged lion. The lion, as the heraldic symbol of England is shown with wings to reflect flying and a crown to reflect supremacy.

Above the shield is a helmet, topped with an astral cloud and a full sun. The motto is “To Fly. To Serve”

The coat of arms also featured on the tail fin of the Landor livery which was introduced in 1984.

British Airways Coat Of Arms - Aircraft Tailfin
British Airways Coat Of Arms – Aircraft Tailfin (Image Credit: British Airways)

The coat of arms was removed from the livery when the Project Utopia and then Chatham Dockyard livery was introduced in 1997.

However, following a brand relaunch in 2011 when companies tracing their heritage was very much in vogue, the coat of arms and its motto was resurrected and featured prominently in advertising.

Continue reading “BA100: 41. The British Airways Coat Of Arms”

British Airways Prepares For Airbus A350 Long-Haul Flights

British Airways has undertaken a trial of its long-haul service on Airbus A350-1000 aircraft on the ground at London Heathrow.

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British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service (Image Credit: British Airways)

British Airways is currently running test flights for its Airbus A350-1000 aircraft on London Heathrow – Madrid (flights BA464 / BA465) ahead of its inaugural long-haul flight to Dubai on Monday 2 September 2019.

BA has also this week carried out a full test flight from London Heathrow to Dubai. This involved performing the complete in-flight service for an aircraft full of passengers exactly as it would be run on a flight, apart from the fact that the aircraft never left the ground at Heathrow!

Here are some pictures of the in-flight service from earlier this month. Like previous pictures, these are professionally staged and shot, but do give a bit more of a flavour of the aircraft and the cabins.

As you can see from the pictures below, the in-flight service follows the same format as for other aircraft. In terms of the experiencing the service for yourself, it will take time for crews to get used to the layout of the aircraft so the service may be a little slower than usual to begin with.

British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service
British Airways Airbus A350-1000 Club World Service (Image Credit: British Airways)
Continue reading “British Airways Prepares For Airbus A350 Long-Haul Flights”

BA100: 42. The Airbus A320 Family Aircraft

100 Years Of British Airways: How the Airbus A320 became the workhorse of BA’s short-haul operations.

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British Airways Airbus A320 Aircraft, Landor Livery
British Airways Airbus A320 Aircraft, Landor Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

The Airbus A320 is now the workhorse of BA’s short-haul operation. However, its first delivery to BA came by accident.

When BA acquired British Caledonian in 1988, it inherited an order for 10 Airbus A320 aircraft which BCAL had placed at launch of the aircraft in 1983.

The first aircraft were delivered after the merger with BA. The first scheduled Airbus A320 passenger flight was from Gatwick to Geneva in April 1988. The aircraft were promptly dispatched to Heathrow.

In 1998, BA placed its first order for Airbus aircraft with an order for 59 Airbus A320 family aircraft with options on a further 129 aircraft. This was at the time BA’s single largest order for an aircraft.

The first Airbus A319 aircraft were delivered to BA in Birmingham in 2000 but were subsequently transferred to Heathrow as it sought to replace Boeing 757 & 767 aircraft with smaller capacity aircraft.

It has since proven to be extremely effective and efficient aircraft. Though BA is in the process of reducing the number of Airbus A319 aircraft, in favour of the Airbus A320. The latter aircraft have also been subject to “densification” as BA seeks to compete with low cost airlines.

British Airways Airbus A320 Yip Man-Yam "Rendezvous" Project Utopia Livery
British Airways Airbus A320 Yip Man-Yam “Rendezvous” Project Utopia Livery (Image Credit: British Airways)

BA currently has 42 Airbus A319, 67 A320 and 18 A321 aircraft at Heathrow and Gatwick. BA has also since taken delivery of 10 Airbus A320neo and 5 Airbus A321neo aircraft.

It was thought until recently that BA and many of its fellow IAG airlines would operate exclusively the Airbus A320 family on short-haul routes. IAG took the aviation industry by surprise earlier this year by announcing a letter of intent to acquire Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. However, IAG has yet to convert this to a firm order.

More To Read From BA100:

BA100: 43. World Traveller

100 Years Of British Airways: BA’s long-haul economy cabin World Traveller.

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BA World Traveller Cabin, Boeing 777-300 aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

If truth be told, long-haul economy is not an area where BA can claim to have led the airline industry in innovation.

Virgin Atlantic can with some justification claim to have led the industry with seat back TVs as well as extra touches such as complimentary ice creams. Virgin claims to be the first airline to offer seat back TV to all passengers from June 1991.

The “World Traveller” brand was introduced in 1991, replacing what was previously known as economy. The idea behind the rebranding was to present the cabin as a product in its own right, rather than simply the back of the aircraft.

The cabin last went through a complete “end to end” revamp in late 1998 with the aim of “Making time fly” for passengers. After extensive passenger research, BA rethought the entire passenger experience, introducing allocated seating, new seats and cabin interiors, amenities and seat back in-flight entertainment.

The “innovative” double-decker meal tray structure did not last long.

Continue reading “BA100: 43. World Traveller”

BA100: 44. The Gate Gourmet Dispute

100 Years Of British Airways: How an industrial dispute between Gate Gourmet and its trade union flared up in spectacular fashion for BA.

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Gate Gourmet & British Airways at London Heathrow
Gate Gourmet & British Airways at London Heathrow

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

Former CEO of British Airways Sir Rod Eddington was once quoted as saying that when he woke up in the morning his first thought was whether BA aircraft are still in the air or not.

On one morning during Rod Eddington’s tenure, they were not.

The reason why dates back to 1997 when, as part of a business efficiency programme, BA decided to outsource its in-house catering function to Gate Gourmet. The company was subsequently sold to the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group.

8 years later, in the peak of the 2005 summer travel season, it would come back to haunt BA in quite spectacular fashion.

The exact facts behind this episode are subject to claim and counter-claim by all parties involved.

The issue first emerged in August 2005 when BA announced there would be no catering any BA flights to or from London Heathrow due to industrial action at Gate Gourmet.

What had happened is that Gate Gourmet had been in negotiations in what was then the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) on changes to its working practices, such as how many employees are required to load a dishwasher. Gate Gourmet claimed that a failure to reform its working practices threatened the long-term viability of the business.

Members of the TGWU rejected the offer. Around 667 of 2,000 Gate Gourmet employees at Heathrow took part in unofficial industrial action in protest and were sacked by Gate Gourmet.

If that wasn’t enough, the episode escalated further for as the next day BA ground staff at London Heathrow took part in a wild cat strike in sympathy with Gate Gourmet staff.

This grounded the airline’s entire London Heathrow operation for over 24 hours. It took days for the operation to return to normal, with passengers queuing outside Heathrow terminals in tents, all in front of the world’s media. 900 flights were cancelled and the estimated cost of the strike to BA was £40m.

Continue reading “BA100: 44. The Gate Gourmet Dispute”