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The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

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Yesterday we published a brief history of the Boeing 747.  Today, we want to focus on how the Boeing 747 helped shape the story of British Airways.

British Airways did not exist in its current incarnation when the Boeing 747 was launched in 1970.  Its predecessor, the British Overseas Airways Corporation – or BOAC – introduced its first 747 in 1971, initially flying the type to New York.

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

Somewhat ironically, a pay dispute with pilots meant that the jumbo was grounded for BOAC for a year, as this video shows. Some things never change!  This two minute video is a news report on the inaugural flight to New York.

If you are reading this by email and cannot see the video, visit this page of YouTube.

British Airways Boeing 747 history

Although BOAC also flew the 747 to Johannesburg and Tokyo amongst other routes, it really made its mark on the ‘Kangaroo Route’ to Australia.

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

By 1975, BOAC was operating to five Australian cities: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Despite the 747’s excellent range (at the time), the route still required multiple stops.  Perth was the shortest, requiring just two stops whilst Sydney and Melbourne required at least three.

This video was produced on the inaugural flight in 1971:

If you are reading this by email and cannot see the video, visit this page of YouTube.

As you can see, BOAC initially used the additional space afforded by the upper deck as a cocktail lounge for first class passengers and called it the ‘Monarch Lounge’ (click to enlarge):

Access was via a spiral staircase:

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

It wasn’t that big, however, as the upper deck on early variants was surprisingly small.  If anything it looks slightly claustrophobic!

It got a lot bigger by the time the current British Airways 747-400 was introduced, and the 747-8i (currently only flown by Lufthansa in Europe) is even bigger.  Here are some screenshots from the British Pathe video:

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

First class was a 2-2 arrangement in the nose of the aircraft:

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

In economy, passengers were sat in a 3-4-2 arrangement rather than the more common 3-4-3 in later years:

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

By 1976, BOAC had 18 747-136s in its fleet and would later order some 747-236 variants which would continue to be flown by British Airways until the 1990s. These aircraft featured 27 First Class seats and 292 in economy.

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

In 1974, BOAC and British European Airways as well as two regional airlines merged to become British Airways.  Between 1974 and 1984, British Airways aircraft were painted in the ‘Negus’ livery:

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

In 1984, aircraft were repainted in the ‘Landor’ Livery:

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways
In 1986, British Airways placed a large order for the next-generation 747 variant, the 747-400. The first of this type was introduced in July 1989 and the last arrived in April 1999.

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

In 1990, a British Airways 747 was involved in a high-profile incident in Kuwait. The BA149 flight arrived into Kuwait City from Heathrow on its way to Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, Iraq had launched a full-scale invasion of Kuwait and had by that time already taken control of Kuwait International Airport. On arrival, all passengers and crew were captured by Iraqi forces and detained at nearby hotels. The aircraft was eventually destroyed on site.

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

In 1997, British Airways had a bit of a mid-life crisis and decided to change its livery to ‘World Images’.  This introduced 50 different tail fin designs based on “ethnic” art from around the world.

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

In 1999, British Airways introduced the first fully-flat bed seat on its 747s.  This was a revolutionary product, from the time when British Airways was genuinely the leading global carrier:

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

In 2001 it introduced the Chatham Dockyards livery across the entire fleet, which is still in use today.

The story of the Boeing 747 at British Airways

At its peak, the British Airways Boeing 747-400 fleet reached 57 aircraft.  Since the last delivery in 1999, British Airways has been slowly retiring the type from service.  Other airlines moved faster, however, and BA has in recent years been the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 747.

This week, it announced that it would retire the entire fleet four years early as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Comments (67)

  • KBuffett says:

    I’ve just read the Wikipedia article on BA147. It’s shocking that it ever landed and the treatment of passengers and crew appalling. A BA stewardess was raped.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    I must admit i enjoyed the Article but i enjoyed all the errors even more
    Glad a even more knowledgeable person was able to post to correct them
    I have flown on 747s hundreds of times since 1980s
    So i don’t have the same desire of others on here to have a last flight
    In the 1980s the flights on 747s was very very enjoyable, but from 1990s on wards there was a very noticeable deterioration especially towards the end of the 1990s
    But i must say still a very good experience,
    But i revisited “economy” around 2005 it was the most unpleasant experience cramped seats ect not a bit how i remembered the 1980 flights (back to Business, first, and club for us lol)
    So although i have fond memory’s of 747s they are from decades ago
    But i suppose most readers on here wasn’t even born in the 1980s so don’t even know how good flying 747s really was then
    So would have a totally different perspective to me

  • JamesLHR says:

    Some additional facts:

    4 -400s were ‘lite’ which didn’t have stabiliser tanks fitted. This allowed an extra 6t of payload and a reduction in the MTOW by 18t (helpful with landing and overflight fees).

    Some -400s run with 524GT and 524HT engines which have a Trent core coupled with the RB211. This results in a more efficient engine with significant reductions in NOx.

    The A350 which is replacing the -400s burns 38% less fuel whilst carrying 4% less passengers in BAs configuration. The A350 will however carry 196% of the cargo the -400 can on the same flight.

    At LHR, a daily A350 will save £1.6m a year in noise (landing) fees over a Chapter 3 -400. For the fleet that is in excess of £40m per year.

  • Concerto says:

    So when exactly was the logo, or livery, changed to the one in use today?

  • Riku says:

    The images of the “super club” seats from the early 80’s are interesting. A block of 3 economy seats had a flip down table in the middle seat (much like short haul lufthansa planes used to) and this was sold as 2 “super club” seats at a price between economy and first. But if the table was stowed, the cabin could be used as economy with all 3 seats used.
    I do wonder what sitting in the middle seat when in economy config would be like (your backrest used to be a table) and although the seat was wide when in “super club” config the leg room was the same as it would be when in economy config (they did not mention the pitch in their adverts, only the width).

  • Spaghetti Town says:

    BA also retired the 747-200 from its fleet in late 2001. They too, finished up their careers flying to the east coast like the -400.

    Will miss flying the 747, I was even lucky enough to fly G-BYGC (BOAC Livery).

  • Paul says:

    In 1997, British Airways had a bit of a mid-life crisis and decided to change its livery to ‘World Images’. This introduced 50 different tail fin designs based on “ethnic” art from around the world

    It wasn’t a mid life crisis it was a brilliant idea – light years ahead of it time. The problem was it was thought up by people with a world view for an airline determined to be the go to airline for the world. As well as the new logo it had crew bases in major cities around the world. (much to the annoyance of cabin crew unions)

    It failed because of little engalander attitudes of the mail and express and the notorious hanky incident by thatcher, by then a hasbeen who went around peddling her spite and bile. The airline had not fully considered just how inward and xenophobic much of England is. The use of the word “ethnic” didn’t help

    Hey ho, look at us now, from global player to irrelevant rock off the coast of Europe, dancing to a nutters tune In the USA!

    • RWJ says:

      I also very much liked the various patterns, and can’t see why people had so much hatred of them. I doubt most of it was xenophobia (that would require people to actually look into what the designs were – I wouldn’t give most people that much credit!), but rather “AAAHHH change scary me no like”.

    • Spaghetti Town says:

      What a nice and racist way to describe the people of England. Yes you get idiots like you describe – but not the majority of the population. You should not tar everyone with the same brush.

    • Michael says:

      Agreed. I felt it was a great idea at the time bearing in mind most of the passengers were not British and it was the tabloid press who really demonised the designs, they really wouldnt let go. The global designs were only on some of the tailfins and Maggie putting her hankey over a union flag wavy design was childish

    • Lucas says:

      Perfectly summarised Paul.

    • ADS says:

      I too liked the “ethnic” tail designs – some were really beautiful

      And I loved the global ambition that it signalled.

  • glenn knowles says:

    I like to see the BOAC kept here in Britain for museum purposes, as a reminder of what we had.