From that very first flight in the summer of 1919 to the launch of the revolutionary Concorde in 1976, we chart the top ten hits from British Airways’ last 100 years in the skies.
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1919: AT&T De Havilland DH4a G-EAJC at Hounslow Heath
Air Transport & Travel Limited, a predecessor airline of today’s British Airways, opened on 25 August 1919 the world’s first international passenger air service with a flight by their de Havilland DH4A G-EAJC. The flight from London (Hounslow Heath) to Paris (Le Bourget) with one passenger, was flown by Lieutenant Lawford and also carried a cargo of jam, cream and grouse to His Majesty’s Ambassador in Paris.
1942: First transatlantic flight by a British PM
Winston Churchill MP, on 16/17 January 1942, made the first transatlantic flight by a British Prime Minister in a BOAC Boeing 314 flying boat G-AGCA Berwick from Bermuda to Plymouth. Churchill had travelled to Washington by sea in December 1941, following America’s entry into WWII. His homeward journey on the flying boat was from Norfolk Virginia to Bermuda, with a plan to return to the UK on battleship HMS Duke of York. Churchill elected to fly from Bermuda in a crossing that took 17 hours, thus saving a week in travel time. The flight was commanded by BOAC’s senior Captain John Kelly Rogers.
1946: Opening of London Airport
BSAA operated the first international departure from London Airport on 1 January 1946 when Avro Lancastrian Starlight – a converted Lancaster bomber – carrying 13 staff passengers left on a proving flight to Buenos Aires. BOAC’s first departure, on 28 May, was a Lancastrian flight to Sydney, a 63-hour journey. Heathrow officially opened on 31 May as the new London Airport to replace the old Croydon grass airfield. A new era was heralded in with new pressurised aircraft that could fly over the weather such as the Canadair Argonaut, Handley Page Hermes and Boeing Stratocruiser. On 1 August British European Airways Corporation (BEA) took over, operating short-haul routes from Northolt. BEA operated the unpressurised Douglas DC-3 and the Vickers Viking, developing a large flying programme that for several years made Northolt the busiest airport in Europe.
1958: BOAC, first pure jet service across the North Atlantic
On 4 October 1958, BOAC opened the first pure jet service across the North Atlantic between London and New York using the de Havilland DH106 Comet 4. The flights operated simultaneously passing each other in the mid Atlantic; G-APDB commanded by Captain T B Stoney on the eastbound flight and G-APDC commanded by Captain R E Millichap on the westbound route. The service was the first transatlantic jet service of any carrier on any route. The westbound crossing took ten hours and 22 minutes with a refuelling stop in Gander, and the eastbound six hours and 11 minutes.
1965: First automatic touch-down
On 10 June 1965 British European Airways’ Trident 1C G-ARPR operating scheduled service BE343 from Paris Le Bourget touched down automatically at London Heathrow, the first time in the world that this had been accomplished carrying fare-paying customers. The flight was commanded by Captain Eric Poole. All customers on board the flight were presented with certificates.
1971: First Class cabin on BOAC 747
Customers enjoyed the exclusive comfort and luxury offered on BOAC’s Boeing 747-136s – the first plane dubbed the ‘Jumbo Jet’ – which entered service in April 1971. The first Boeing 747-136s of that year initially flew from London to New York JFK featuring this luxurious double-decker First Class cabin (or ‘club-in-the-sky’ as it was advertised at the time) at the front of the plane. The BOAC livery colour scheme then featured a blue stripe, with a two-tone white and chrome paint-job to the top and bottom of the fuselage.
The introduction of Concorde supersonic services by British Airways and Air France on 21 January 1976 was a step change in aviation history. BA's Concorde made just under 50,000 flights and flew more than 2.5 million passengers supersonically. With a take-off speed of 220 knots (250mph) and a cruising speed of 1,350mph – more than twice the speed of sound – a typical London to New York crossing would take a little less than three and a half hours as opposed to around eight hours for a subsonic flight.
1999: British Airways’ first commercial Boeing 777 flights
On 17 November 1995, BA took delivery of its third Boeing 777. Its first commercial flight was from London to Muscat via Dubai. The Boeing 777 and the 747-436 became the mainstay of BA’s long-haul operations for many years to come.
1999: The creation of oneworld
The oneworld alliance became effective on 1 February 1999; the founding members were British Airways, American Airlines, Canadian Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Today, the alliance includes 13 of the world’s leading airlines serving almost 1,000 destinations in more than 150 countries worldwide.
2019: British Airways Centenary
2019 is a stand-out year for British Airways, not least due to the airline’s landmark 100 years of operation. It’s the year of the new A350 aircraft, a brand-new Club World seat, WiFi on-board all short-haul flights, new lounges (San Francisco, Johannsburg and more), plus a new ba.com homepage and an industry-leading makeover for World Traveller Plus.