HERITAGE • August 2019
Ever wondered how air traffic control knows it’s talking to a British Airways pilot, how many bags of pretzels there are on a jumbo jet, or when the first ‘bed in the sky’ was invented? You’ve come to the right place
Pilots and air traffic controllers use call signs to identify flights and to ensure planes are manoeuvred safely both in the sky and on the ground. BA’s identifier, ‘Speedbird’, was the name of the stylised bird-in-flight logo designed in 1932 by Theyre Lee-Elliott for BA predecessor, Imperial Airways, which later merged into British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1939. It is now one of the most recognised call signs in the world.
Once the flight number for British Airways’ Concorde flights between London and New York, the BA1 is now the airline’s exclusive business-class only service from London City Airport to New York JFK. Operated by an Airbus A318, the aircraft accommodates just 32 passengers, all in the Club World cabin. Before crossing the Atlantic, the flight makes a brief stop in Shannon, Ireland, where the plane refuels while customers pass through US Customs and immigration, meaning they bypass passport control on arrival at New York. Who needs a private jet when you have BA1?
When BA forerunner, Air Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T) launched the world’s first daily international scheduled air service in August 1919 it carried cargo that included Devonshire cream, jam and grouse. Fast forward 99 years, and the typical Boeing 747 flying from London to New York JFK will be loaded with 493 meal trays, 473 cans of coke, 101 bottles of wine and 350 bags of pretzels. Customers with special dietary needs can pre-order from 20 different meal options, and recent investments have seen new menus in all cabins with a focus on seasonal ingredients.
From the smallest aircraft in the fleet – the Embraer 170, flown by BA subsidiary, CityFlyer – to the long range, twin-engine Boeing 777-300, known as the ‘triple seven’, BA has a fleet of more than 280 aircraft, with one taking off somewhere in the world, every 90 seconds. As part of the airline's £6.5bn investment for customers it will take delivery of 73 new fuel-efficient aircraft over the next six years, including five new types for the BA fleet: the Airbus A350-1000, Boeing 787-10 and 777-9 for long-haul, and the A320 and A321neos for short-haul. By 2020, the airline will have received 100 new aircraft in under a decade. To discover more about the current fleet, click here
As well as one-off items such as the 1970’s Caribbean paper dress, delving into BA’s uniform design through the ages is a ‘who’s who’ of the British fashion elite. In 1946, Maurice Helman designed the first women’s uniform for BA-predecessor, BOAC. The jacket had a nipped-in waist that hinted at the ‘New Look’, the post-war silhouette for women defined by Christian Dior. In the 1960s, Savile Row stalwart and dressmaker to HM The Queen, Hardy Amies was approached to design a new uniform for BEA. The result focussed primarily on three colours: red, white and blue. BA uniform collaborators have also included Roland Klein, Irish catwalk-designer Paul Costelloe, and Welshman Julien Macdonald, the designer of the current uniforms. Now, the baton has been passed to Savile Row tailoring expert Ozwald Boateng OBE, with the new-look uniforms expected to be unveiled later this year.
In 2000, BA became “the first airline in the world to offer business class passengers a ‘real’ bed to sleep in on a long flight”. BA’s ‘Bed in the Sky’ was the first lay-flat seating product in commercial aviation. At the time this was a ground-breaking moment in the design of aircraft interiors, and a concept which BA would subsequently extend to Club World. Later that year there would be another innovation: World Traveller Plus. In early 2019, designs for the new business class Club Suite were revealed. As well as luxurious flat-bed seats, it will offer direct-aisle access, a suite door for greater privacy and enviable 18.5-inch inflight entertainment screens. While customers in World Traveller Plus are currently enjoying a makeover that includes new amenities as well as cocktails.
BA has long played a role in history. HM The Queen took her first flight as monarch with BA, when it flew her back to Britain from Kenya after the passing of George VI, and Winston Churchill made the first transatlantic flight by a British Prime Minister (from Bermuda to Plymouth) following meetings with President Roosevelt in 1942. And, of course, BA has played its role in celebrating sporting success: as well as sponsoring the London 2012 Games (for which it created a new livery ‘The Dove’ on nine A319s and flew the Olympic flame from Greece), GB team members at the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic games were flown home on a BA 747 aircraft named ‘Victorius’.