October 4, 2018 marked 60 years since British Airways became the first airline in the world to operate jetliner service across the pond to New York City. Experience The Skies takes a look back on the historic event and how the London based airline battled with others in the race to claim this title.
British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), the forerunner to British Airways had a mission sixty years go. It wanted to be the first airline to fly a turbo jet engine aircraft between Europe and New York City. At the same time, Pan American World Airways headed by Juan Trippe, President, were in a tight race to bring a similar service with the new Boeing 707 aircraft.
While the de Havilland aircrafts had its fair share of technical challenges and crashes, BOAC was able to beat its American counterpart by three weeks with the launch of de Havilland Comet 4 aircrafts between London, United Kingdom and New York City, United States on October 4, 1958 just a few days after delivery. The airline flew two flights, one from New York to London and the other in reverse direction to begin commercial operations and officially brought on the “jet age”.
The westbound flight had to make a fuel step in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada and completed the London to New York run in 10 hours, 22 minutes. The eastbound flight was able to take advantage of tailwind from the jet stream and completed the trip to London in a then record-breaking 6 hours, 11 minutes. This record was a major achievement for the aviation industry as a typical transatlantic flight between London and New York on propeller aircrafts would have taken up to 18 hours previously (this record was broken by British Airways’ Concorde service in the 1970s).
While Pan Am made its first official commercial flight across the pond with the Boeing 707 on October 25, 1958, the airline’s service and the aircraft’s roominess (137 seats on the Boeing 707 vs 48 on the de Havilland Comet 4) proven to be an instant success. Over the course of operation, the Boeing 707 would be the more popular of the two and BOAC used them in the 19060s before both airlines transitioned to flying this route with other aircrafts such as the double decker Boeing 747.
One of the original cabin crew members, Peggy Thorne, 91, had joined BOAC in 1950 and was hand-picked to serve customers on the first flight. She remembered the first transatlantic flights as “marvellous”. “We were used to travelling to New York on Boeing Stratocruisers which took up to 20 hours. We couldn’t believe the flight was possible in such a short time.”
While Pan Am is no longer in service, British Airways continues to be the leader in the London to New York market with up to 15 flights daily with oneworld partner American Airlines. The airline noted that a ticket to travel on the Comet “staggeringly cost the equivalent of £8,000 (~US$10,300). Today, a return flight costs far less – from £292 (~US$380).”
Even after 60 years, Peggy vividly recalled the inaugural: “It was so exciting to be the first – it was wonderful. There were all sorts of dignitaries on board, press and the chairman of BOAC. It was a thrilling experience. We served customers Madeira biscuits and coffee when they came on board, followed by cocktails and canapes, and then a five-course lunch with wines. Petit Fours followed and then there was Afternoon Tea! Our customers loved it – they ate and drank from when they got on board until the time they got off.”
Peggy was also invited to see how the airline now trains its cabin crew members: “It’s overwhelming. The technology and the number of aircraft training cabins – we had nothing like this in our day.”
When Is The Celebration?
While British Airways has no official plans to celebrate this milestone, it is in the mist of planning its Centenary next year. Alex Cruz, British Airways Chief Executive and Chairman, paid tribute to the crew of the first flights: “British Airways and its predecessors have always pioneered innovation and hospitality and this is a great early example. Next year we celebrate 100 years of taking Britain to the world and bringing the world to Britain, and the quality of service we provide to customers is better than ever.”
About Larry Leung and Experience The Skies
Larry Leung is the Director of Research and Strategy at Experience The Skies. He is a certified avgeek, a public speaker and a dessert and design enthusiast. Contact him through LinkedIn, Twitter or email.
Experience The Skies is a consulting company based in Toronto, Canada that specializes in the travel industry with focus on the assessment, competitive analysis and development of loyalty programs, technologies, marketing, ancillary revenue solutions. Find out how Experience The Skies can assist in evaluating the entire customer journey from booking to the travel experience by contacting [email protected] or follow other posts on Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, and Instagram.