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#BA100 – the story of the first British Airways flight, as it appeared in The Times of 1919

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The British Airways 100th birthday celebrations last Saturday were muted by the aftermath of the strike announcement.  So, a week on from the actual date, I wanted to reproduce this article from The Times of 26th August 1919 which tells you exactly what happened back on the very first day.

There is so much in this article to enjoy – the cost of the flights, the people invited (and the notable lack of women), the route taken, the safety warning and the cargo carried.  It isn’t just airlines that have changed in the last 100 years.

You can get extra enjoyment by reading the following paragraphs in the tone of voice of a 1930’s newsreel announcer ….

British Airways first flight

“Yesterday three aeroplanes starting from Hounslow inaugurated the London-Paris Air Service, which it is intended to run daily.  The first machine to leave was the Handley Page, which left Hounslow at 8.40 yesterday morning with 11 passengers.

She was piloted by Major Foot, and the passengers included Mr L A Northend of The Times; Major C C Turner, Daily Telegraph; Mr E A Perris, of the Daily Chronicle; Mr Harold Begbie, Daily Chronicle; Mr Tourtell, Daily Express; Mr Bartholomew, Daily Mirror; and Mr Crosfield, Daily News.

The second machine to leave was the Airco 4, which left at 9.10.  This machine, in addition to the passenger, Mr G M Stevenson-Reece, Evening Standard, and Lieutenant Lawford, the pilot, carried a full load, including a number of daily newspapers, a consignment of leather from a London firm to a firm in Paris, several brace of grouse, and a considerable number of jars of Devonshire cream.

This machine was due to arrive in Paris at 11.40, and did so to the minute.  She left on the return journey at 12.40, and arrived at Hounslow at 2.45.  The machine, like the Airco 16, is owned by the Aircraft Transportation and Travel Company.  The third machine to leave was the Airco 16, piloted by Major Cyril Patteson, who carried Marshal Foch to England on a recent visit.  The Airco 16 carried four passengers, and arrived at Paris at 2.45, having left Cricklewood at 12.30pm.  Her return journey will be made today.  Both the Airco machines were fitted with Rolls-Royce 275-hp engines, and their speed is about 120 miles an hour.

The full fare for this London-Paris trip is £15 15s. The journey cannot be guaranteed every day, owing to the bad climate, and engine failure cannot be entirely eliminated, and forced landings and delay may occur.  The route will be Maidstone – Boulogne – Beauvais – Paris.

Arrangements have been made for copies of the latest edition of The Times to be carried daily by the service, and these will be available for delivery to subscribers at a special rate.  Details upon application to The Times Office, 2, Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin, Paris, or to the Publisher of The Times, Printing House Square, London, EC4.”

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Comments (29)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Lady London says:

    Just lovely.

  • David Smith says:

    A one-hour turnaround at an out-station is pretty good for back then.

  • Definitas says:

    OT: Has anyone flown LHR-ORD via DUB and return with Aer Lingus? How difficult (or easy) is the transfer & immigration process (with a toddler)? Thanks in advance for any advice

    • Joe says:

      It is great, did it a few years ago (we were travelling with some friends who would have had to connect somewhere anyway so all met in Dublin. We didn’t have a toddler then (we do now and travel regularly) and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

    • Tim Hewson says:

      Easier than doing it in ORD.

    • Alex Sm says:

      this comment looks a bit out of place here

  • Bill B says:

    In a related story on page 11 of the same issue of The Times:
    “The Handley Page machine left London for Paris about 9 o’clock yesterday morming with ten journalists as passengers and reached Paris safely, but was unable to return because of incomplete arrangements for petrol supply. It is to come back to London to-day.”

    “Yesterday’s experience will confirm the confidence of believers in flying as one of the main transport services of the future. One reason for their confidence is that these flights to Paris–though they were the opening of the public service–were by no means the first attempts to maintain regular communication by air between Paris and London. While the Peace Conference was sitting British Ministers, or some of them at least, made a practice of flying to Paris and of returning by the air. Occasional trouble there must be. Engine failure is the most probable cause of it, and the possibility of engine failure has not yet been eliminated. But a high degree of reliability in air communications over comparatively short distances has been attained, and the transport aeroplane has proved its value already.”

    The story concluded with this:
    “Within a few years air traffic between the British Isles and the Continent will be a normal part of everyday life. Civil aviation is about to prove its usefulness and its necessity; and already the Government’s insistence on the Service side of the Air Organization–accompanied by a practical boycott of the Civil side so far as funds go–is an evident anachronism. The relative importance, in the official view, of civilian and of Service aviation has to be readjusted radically; and the sooner the Government reconcile themselves to this self-evident, if for some recondite reason unpalatable truth, the better. So far the official attitude towards the Civil Aviation Department has been one of condescension embittered by parsimony. Parliament is not sitting, and most of the rulers of the country are on holiday. But this is the time when the permanent Estimates for the Air Organization should be beginning to take shape. By their, fruits the Government will be judged.”

    • Rob says:


    • Lady London says:

      ‘condescension [of thé British Government]embittered by parsimony’.

      So many other cases.

      How the British government ever got away with refusing to uprate pensions earned in Britain, but where pensioners had now taken their potentially expensive health problems with them when they retired abroad after a full working life in Britain earning their pension, is beyond me.

      ‘perfidy and parsimony’ perhaps those are Great British strengths. The French might be better at condescension!


      • Julian says:

        I think the basic concept on freezing pensions for those who emigrate has always been that you will no longer be paying UK VAT and quite possibly also some or a lot of income tax plus council tax etc on all of the pension you receive in the UK but if you receive it in another country then none of that money goes back in to the UK economy.

        I’m not saying I agree with the concept as these pensioners have paid just as much in to the scheme and it ought to be up to the British Government to run the country in such a way as to make its citizens want to keep their permanent residence here in Blighty during retirement rather than heading off to some other more sunny part of the world………….

        • Shoestring says:

          Complete rubbish, Julian.

          It’s always been about cutting off/ reducing pension payments to people living abroad who will no longer vote for you.

      • Alex Sm says:

        It’s all due to the bad climate, as per the article

  • Julian says:


    Given your own very high powered and successful business wife I’m quite surprised to find you willing to state publicly that the lack of any women being involved in flying in those days was a point of enjoyment.

    I would have thought that in view of the most feminists it would in fact have been another of the many heinous outrages perpetrated in the past by The Patriarchy that it is entirely right and proper that the women of today have taken have major strides to begin to redress eg with a significant and increasing number of female commercial pilots and also now vast numbers of male flight attendants (albeit if also heavily and disproportionately skewed in favour of males who tend to find greater identity validity in an inherently submissive and service based role).

    Also isn’t enjoying the minutiae of aviation history in this way a fairly sure sign of aviation geekery? And I could have sworn you had previously have assured us in the past that you are not in any way an aviation enthusiast, although to be fair I would say that like the substantial majority of regular HfPers that you are in fact most definitely a geek, even though Rhys would appear to quite possibly be more of a natural marketing and sales type of person.

    • Rob says:

      I didn’t mean ‘enjoy’ in that sense, ever so surprisingly ….

      I know absolutely nothing about aircraft but in Rhys I now have one of the leading avgeeks in the country 🙂

      I do like social history, which is why we do the occasional piece on ye olde world of aviation.

      • Julian says:

        Rhys seems unusually highly socialised and charming to me for a proper fullgoing geek 🙂

        I think he probably comes at it more the other way round that aviation is linked with exotic far away destinations and the world’s finest hotels (i.e. dream world lifestyle) rather than thinking excitedly of the registration number of every single plane he has travelled on and also marking off every engine single configuration of every sub species of Boeing 737 aircraft that he has ever travelled on as the true anorak type geek tends to.

        But of course I could be wrong about that……….

  • AndyGWP says:

    OT but BA100 related… Flew long haul yesterday and didn’t get the Kerridge menu that was supposed to be on offer in August (wasn’t it?)

    Bit disappointed :/

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