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.

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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.

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BA100: 45. Dawson’s Field Hijacking

100 Years Of British Airways: The hijacking of a BOAC Super VC-10 aircraft at Dawsons Field in September 1970.

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

An inevitable consequence of operating a global airline is that it will be caught up in major geopolitical events.

On 6 September 1970 members of Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine made an unsuccessful attempt to hijack an El Al Boeing 707 flying from Amsterdam.

The hijackers were overpowered and the aircraft landed at Heathrow. One of the two hijackers was shot. Another hijacker, Leila Khaled, was held in custody in the UK. Members of the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine sought to negotiate her release.

On 9 September 1970, a BOAC Super VC-10 aircraft operating as flight BA775 and piloted by Captain Cyril Goulborn, having started its journey in Mumbai, departed Bahrain for Beirut.

The aircraft was hijacked by members of the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine. The aircraft landed in Beirut before being made to fly to Zerqa (also known as Dawsons Field) which was a military airfield 20 miles north of Amman.

Also at the airfield was a hijacked TWA Boeing 707 and a Swissair DC-8 aircraft.

The 105 passengers and 10 crew on board the aircraft were held hostage for several days until British, German, Swiss, and Israeli authorities agreed to release Leila Khaled.

All passengers and crew were released from the aircraft before all three aircraft were blown up on 12 September 1970. All passengers and crew from the BOAC flight subsequently returned to the UK.

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BA100: 46. “London Airways”

100 Year Of British Airways: BA’s “difficult” relationship with UK regional passengers.

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British Airways Birmingham Liveried Aircraft
British Airways Birmingham Liveried Aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

In its near 100 year history, the operations of BA and its predecessor airlines have been primarily based in London.

However, all of BA’s predecessor airlines have a history with the UK regions. Imperial Airways began operating a route from London to Birmingham and Manchester in the early 1930s.

The relationship between BA and UK regions over the past few decades could be described as “somewhat difficult”.

“Manchester Terminal 1 British Airways”

30 years ago, BA had a substantial presence in the UK regions.

It had a sizeable long-haul route network in Manchester serving Barbados, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Mumbai, New York, Orlando, as well as around 10 UK domestic airports and 18 airports in mainland Europe.

Manchester airport also opened a new £75m terminal called “Terminal 1 British Airways” to house all BA services under one roof and offering a minimum connection time of 30 minutes for transfer passengers.

BA also had a sizeable presence in Birmingham dubbed a “Eurohub” from 1991, with the airport also being the first to receive new deliveries of Airbus A319 aircraft in 1999.

BA also used to operate transatlantic routes to New York from Birmingham and Glasgow until 1999. Other airports such as Bristol and Southampton also had a BA presence.

The short-haul operation across the UK was a mix of acquired airlines and franchise partners with a varied fleet that was in near permanent state of restructuring.

Over time BA gradually reduced its presence following the rise of low cost airlines. Cabin crew bases in Glasgow and Manchester were closed. Ground staff at UK regional airports were outsourced. Links from Gatwick to Aberdeen, Manchester and Newcastle were cut as part of a “de-hubbing” of Gatwick.

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BA100: 47. The Things You Can’t Do Anymore

100 Years Of British Airways: Services and facilities withdrawn by BA over the past few decades.

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

Even over the past two decades, air travel has changed beyond recognition.

Whether it is due to advances in technology, security requirements, changing social attitudes or simply cold hard economics, there have been any facilities and services withdrawn over the past few decades.

1. Peruse a printed timetable

Sadly, these were withdrawn many years ago. Of course, you now have searchable timetables online, but sometimes it is easier to just browse the printed page. Printed timetables do of course also serve as a permanent historical record. Here’s one of, if not the last, printed timetables from 2007/2008.

2. Rock-up at the gate without a ticket 10 minutes before your flight

It’s unthinkable today, but in the era of BA’s Shuttle Service on UK domestic routes you could just turn up at the gate 10 minutes before departure without even a ticket and be guaranteed a seat on the aircraft

3. Check-in downtown

It wasn’t until that long ago you could check-in for your flight (and in some cases luggage) at Paddington and Victoria stations.

BA also used to offer Club Europe passengers the ability to check-in at parking and car hire facilities. At some airports you could also check-in in the lounge or at the departure gate.

4. Check-in by telephone

No, not on your phone. But as in literally calling up BA.

5. Make a run for your flight

Running late for your flight? Caught up in traffic or just missed a Heathrow Express train? Hoping to make a run for the departure gate and catch the flight just as the aircraft doors are closing?

Today, not a chance, at least at Heathrow Terminal 5. The opening of Terminal 5 introduced the concept of “conformance” whereby you have to clear security 35 minutes before your flight departs or you will be automatically offloaded from the flight.

Although many passengers viewed this as an aberration and BA admitted at the time it would require giving passengers difficult messages, it has been maintained.

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BA100: 48. Rosalind Hanby

100 Years Of British Airways: Rosalind Hanby, the face of British Airways in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Rosalind Hanby, British Airways
Rosalind Hanby, British Airways

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

Rosalind “Roz” Hanby was the face of British Airways through much of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Roz joined BOAC as cabin crew in the early 1970s and worked for BOAC and BA on the Boeing 707 and VC10 aircraft, as well as Concorde, before taking up a full time role promoting BA.

Roz appeared in numerous print and TV advertisements all over the world, including a BA billboard that featured in the James Bond film “Moonraker”. Roz left BA permanently in 1982 to pursue a career in television.

Roz Hanby spoke to advertising industry publication “Campaign” about her time at BA as part of its 50th birthday celebrations in 2018:

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BA100: 49. British Airways Lounges

100 Years Of British Airways: How BA lounges have evolved over the past 40 years.

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British Airways Lounge, Boston Logan International Airport
British Airways Lounge, Boston Logan International Airport (Image Credit: British Airways)

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

For many passengers, the lounge before a flight is considered an essential part of the travel experience.

High quality decor, furnishings from leading designers, complimentary food and beverage, and often some very interesting people watching all help provide a welcome respite from the departure terminal.

There are many lounges in the world, such as the Qantas First Class lounges in Sydney, that are rightfully known as destinations in their own right.

BA does of course have large lounge complexes at London Gatwick, Heathrow and New York JFK, as well as many lounges around the world.

The 1980s and 1990s

In terms of how lounges first emerged and their form in the early days, there’s not much material of note.

Lounges in the 1980s were known as Executive Club lounges. It was in the 1990s that saw the start of real innovations.

In 1993, BA introduced its first arrivals lounge at London Heathrow. Whilst this is much valued by passengers arriving at Heathrow early in the morning, there are remarkably few arrivals lounges outside of Heathrow.

As part of a focus on the ground experience for Club Europe short-haul passengers in the mid-1990s, BA added a number lounges in Europe. Many such as Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Munich have since closed.

As BA developed a very close working relationship with Qantas in the mid-1990s, it also opened a number of joint lounges in Asia, including Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. As BA and Qantas have since gone their separate ways, they no longer share lounges, except in Los Angeles.

The “Terraces” Lounge Concept

Towards the late 1990s, BA introduced the “Terraces” concept for its business class lounges.

The idea behind these lounges was a number of designated zones that passengers could choose to use according to personal needs such as the Larder, World Wine Bar, Combiz Centre and the Sanctuary. Lounges also included garden furniture, water features and piped bird song with the aim of creating an open an airy feel, to the extent this can be achieved inside an airport. Although this format is now redundant you’ll still see traces of it at many airports, such as Newcastle.

First Class passengers and Executive Club Gold cardholders benefited from separate FIRST lounges.

BA also recruited Sir Terence Conran to design new Concorde rooms for passengers at London Heathrow Terminal 4 and New York JFK. These lounges featured many 20th century design classics such as Hoffmann Villa Gallia sofas, Eileen Grey Bibendum, Matthew Hilton Orwell and Balzac chairs and the Charles & Ray Eames lounge chair and office chair.

In 2001, BA also opened its Molton Brown Travel Spa (now operated by Elemis) at London Heathrow. As BA introduced its Club World “Sleeper Service”, pre-flight dining facilities were added to many US East Coast lounges.

The “Galleries” Lounge Concept

British Airways Galleries First Lounge, London Heathrow Terminal 5
British Airways Galleries First Lounge, London Heathrow Terminal 5 (Image Credit: British Airways)

Ahead of BA’s move to Terminal 5 in 2008 came the “Galleries” concept. It made its debut in Brussels and Philadelphia.

The opening of Terminal 5 saw the introduction of a 8 new Galleries lounges across Terminals 3 and 5. Created by Davies Baron, the lounges include a Concorde Room for First Class passengers, 2 Galleries First lounges, 4 Galleries Club lounges, and an arrivals lounge. A promised lounge in Terminal 5C never materialised.

The lounges feature bespoke patterns designed by Osborne & Little and Swarovski chandeliers. BA also worked with Artwise to introduce many bespoke art works including Troika’s “Cloud” mechanical installation and “All The Time In The World” digital clock. Sadly, neither of these two installations are currently operational.

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BA100: 50. Former British Airways Routes

100 Years Of British Airways: Medium and long-haul destinations no longer served by BA.

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British Airways, "The World's Favourite Airline", 1983.
British Airways, “The World’s Favourite Airline”, 1983.

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

There are now very many destinations in the world no longer served BA.

Some route suspensions were prompted by economic events such as the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. Geopolitical events and security concerns have also caused a number of suspensions, notably Baghdad and Basra.

Many former routes were 1/2/3 stop flights which are now more economically served by connections to alliance and codeshare partners. BA also suspended a very large number of former BMED/bmi routes after its acquisition in 2012.

However, if there is one lesson history has shown, don’t ever rule out a return. Aided by more slots at Heathrow and new aircraft many former routes such as Islamabad, Kuala Lumpur, Osaka, Pittsburgh, Santiago and The Seychelles have returned. Another former route, Dammam, returns later this year.

Medium and long-haul routes suspended by BA since its formation in 1974 include (minus a few omissions no doubt!):

North America

Anchorage, Charlotte, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland. BOAC and BA used to fly to Tokyo via Anchorage:

Central & South America

Bogota, Caracas, San Juan

Africa

Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Agadir, Banjul, Casablanca, Dar es Salaam, Douala, Entebbe, Freetown, Gaborone, Harare, Khartoum, Kinshasa, Lilongwe, Luanda, Lusaka, Luxor, Monrovia.

The Middle East & Asia

Almaty, Baghdad, Baku, Basra, Bishkek, Damascus, Dhaka, Jakarta, Karachi, Manila, Nagoya, Taipei, Tbilisi, Tehran, Yerevan

India

Amritsar, Kolkatta

Australia & New Zealand

Adelaide, Auckland, Brisbane, Christchurch, Melbourne, Perth

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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)

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

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.

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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

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

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 Amristar (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)

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