From free Benson & Hedges to on board wifi: How First Class travel with British Airways has changed over the past 40 years
While today’s passengers travelling First Class with British Airways would expect on board wifi and entertainment on demand, in 1974, it was different story.
To mark its 40th anniversary, the airline has released iconic photographs showcasing its top-price cabin through the ages – revealing how high flyers would be treated to a free packet of Benson & Hedges, and a seven-course meal.
From cabin staff wearing bow-ties, and food being dished up in the aisle of the plane, to passengers wearing three-piece suits, the insightful images indicate how both BA and passengers have changed over the years.
How it was: A photograph from inside the First Class cabin of a British Overseas Airways Corporation plane in the late 1960s
Caviar and canapes: British European Airways Sovereign First Class in the 1960s
Glamour in the skies: A gourmet meal service on a British Overseas Airways Corporation Comet 4 flight in the late 1950s
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the merger between the British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways, which led to the creation of British Airways.
In the late 1970s, the airline introduced a new style in in-flight catering for its First and club class passengers, going back 400 years to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I for inspiration.
The aim was to provide travellers with a style of service that was different from other airlines while at the same time retaining a specifically English flavour.
Passengers were offered dishes inspired from over the centuries, including real ale and Posset (an Elizabethan drink made from hot milk, spice and liqueur).
Dated: First class style in 1989 featured heavy draped curtains, purple seating and floral decoration
Bouffant hair styles and cocktail sticks: The British Overseas Airways Corporation First Class service on a VC-10 aircraft in the mid 1960s
No iPads here: A British Airways’ First Class cabin in the mid 1970s boasted a healthy selection of fruit and some complimentary cigarettes
In the 1980s, the sleeper seat was introduced and the First Class cabins were revamped with chrome fittings, spotlights and heavy drapes.
Tables were redesigned to swivel away from the passenger, allowing freedom of movement, even when the table was laid for a six-course meal.
Travellers were given a complimentary hot towel, fruit juice and champagne, along with magazines, playing cards, newspapers and most notably cigarettes.
The 1990s brought fully reclining seats, which gave flyers the feeling of having their own bedroom, five-course meals and international food menus, while the Noughties introduced larger video screens.
As of 2010, a new £100m cabin was unveiled, featuring impressive mod-cons, such as electric blinds, a 31-inch suite, a 6.6-inch bed, a 15-inch television screen, turndown service, a 200-thread count Egyptian cotton mattress, Anya Hinsmarch washbags filled with DR Harris products, pyjamas and a light blanket.
British Airways’ First Class cabin in 1990: Fine dining has always been a priority
Comfort is key: The 1990s saw the addition of the first fully reclinable seats
The nineties brought with it autumnal colours, plush upholstery and fully reclinable seats, a shot from inside First Class, taken in 1995
Also introduced was the afternoon tea service inspired by iconic London hotel, The Dorchester, a la carte dining, informal Bistro dining and English cooked breakfast and lengthy wine list.
Frank van der Post, British Airways’ MD of brands and customer experience, said: ‘British Airways has a 90-year heritage in bringing glamour to the skies. Our customers who fly in First have very exacting standards, so over the years we’ve invested millions to ensure they enjoy exceptional service, style and privacy.
‘Our new First cabin on the A380 re-established the airline’s position as an innovator capable of producing the very best of understated British elegance.’
Changing with the times: As of 2010 the British Airways First Suite features all mod cons, including electric blinds, Egyptian cotton sheets and charging port
‘Next year we’ll take another step forward when we unveil the details of the new First cabin on the state-of the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner,’ he continued.
‘Suffice to say, we’ ve paid immense attention to developing it to ensure our signature style is maintained as well as concentrating on the materials and technology used, the space around the seat and the comfort of the bed.
‘First is exceptionally important to the customers that fly in it – and we’ll continue to ensure all our customers enjoy the very best of
British style and service.’