Tag Archives: British Airways

British Airways is NOT Ninety Years Old

Much as I’m sure British Airways are keen to promote themselves in these difficult times, I do think celebrating their ninetieth birthday today is a bit rich.

The actual anniversary today is of the first scheduled international flight from London to Paris, run by a company called Aircraft Transport and Travel. The company had been formed several years earlier in 1916, and had flown a proving flight across the channel on 15th July.

The connection to the modern day British Airways is pretty convoluted (although they are glossing over that in the press release). Aircraft Transport and Travel ceased flying three years later in 1921 along with the other British airlines that had formed in protest at the government subsidies their French competitors were receiving. They were then acquired by a private air hire company to form Daimler Airway, which in 1924 merged with three other early airlines to form Imperial Airways.

British Airways Ltd was formed in 1935 and was in competition with Imperial Airways until the government nationalised both companies and merged them into the British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1939.

BOAC was demerged into three separate corporations in 1946, and then remerged in 1974 to form British Airways that was subsequently privatised in 1987 to bring us to the company as it is today.

So as far as I’m concerned British Airways is either twenty-two or thirty-five, depending on whether you count from privatisation, or from when the present company was formed. Celebrating ninety years is like someone celebrating on their great-grandfathers birthday because they contain some of the genetic material passed down through their parents. Indeed given that we’re not even celebrating on the date of the formation of Aircraft Transport and Travel, it’s a bit like having a party on the day your great-grandfather first walked…

Really, this should be a celebration for the whole British airline industry, where alongside British Airways we also have BMI (British Midland) and Virgin Atlantic, and also EasyJet, who in terms of passenger numbers are now the largest British airline. Certainly if you look at the league table, from our beginnings with the first international scheduled service, we still make a significant contribution to the industry, which certainly can’t be said about many other industries that were born in the UK.

A Lucky Escape

When I first heard the details of the plane crash at Heathrow yesterday, my first thought was quite what a lucky escape everybody had. The flight was coming in from the east, so would have done the traditional run over central and west London known to so many people – indeed news reports last night were showing this YouTube video of the same approach, on the same kind of plane, to the same runway – which does go to show you quite how populated the areas under the approach actually are. The pilot yesterday managed to get the plane across the perimeter road, and although he hit the ground before the runway, it was within the airfield.

However, the big question now is what went wrong. Reports are saying that the pilot had told an airport worker that all the electronics had failed, and he had lost all power. That would have left the pilot with nothing but the emergency manual backup to the fully fly-by-wire systems to bring the plane in.

It also reminded me of comments that I heard from someone who worked for British Airways on aircraft maintenance for many years, finishing his career working on the 777 fleet, bemoaning the differences with the modern planes. On the older planes the mechanics that keep the whole thing going are fairly straightforward – there is a mechanical link between the pilots controls and the fundamental components that keep the plane in the air. With modern planes such as the 777, the links are electronic – essentially the pilot controls a computer which then controls the fundamental components, and the computer is essentially a black box. Fixing a fault involves removing one black box and putting in another – as he said, you can’t visually check the fundamentals, and you are essentially trusting in the skill of the electronics specialists that what is inside the black box does what it says.

Whilst it could be some sort of power system fault, some component having been improperly replaced, I really wouldn’t want to be a software engineer working at Boeing over the next few days. It definitely makes me glad that the bugs in my software are not a life or death situation like this…

heathrow plane crash 3 originally uploaded by artofthestate.

Flying

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First off, a bit of good news to all of our friends who have got one of my moans over about the past week about the complications of trying to book our next trip to Canada – you’ll be pleased to hear that we’ve now actually booked a trip, so no more moans – well at least not about this! 😀

The problem has been trying to find a reasonably priced flight that fitted in with when we wanted to go. Now there are two competing airlines flying the London to Calgary route I foolishly assumed that it might make the fares more competitive – no such luck, Air Canada were doing their usual mickey take on prices, and the new competition, British Airways were coming back with fares of over £2000 return for both of us to go over on the dates we wanted. I then moved onto Canadian Affair, who are usually pretty good, but they are still running their winter schedule when we were looking, and the only options they had were some seats on a Monarch flight, which whilst it is cheap is a 29“ seat pitch which whilst it is fine for Beth would be torture for me, or a couple of their once a week Air Transat flights that would have significantly cut the length of the trip.

Anyway, the breakthrough came when I tried looking up flights into Edmonton rather than Calgary. In the past it’s not really ever been an option – certainly the only times I’ve flown into Edmonton it has involved a plane change at Calgary, and a trip on the little turbo-prop service that shuttles backwards and forwards between the two cities. However now, alongside the twice daily service to Calgary, Air Canada have added a daily service into Edmonton – and significantly at a rather cheaper cost than the equivalent trip into Calgary.

At this point the vagaries of how airlines actually work out their flight costs really starts to get confusing. Looking at the seating plans for the Edmonton flights, they don’t look any less full than those into Calgary – the journey to Edmonton is marginally shorter granted, but in the grand scheme of things not by much, but the cost of the tickets we were being offered was noticeably less than what was being offered into Calgary. Actually if you really want to confuse yourself, try coming up with a reason why it’s cheaper to fly to Toronto and then on to Calgary than take the direct flight – longer flying time, more fuel used, but still cheaper.

Having got some idea of the costs I then tried to put together the best deal – and discovered that since their take-over by Air Transat, Canadian Affair are really not keen on booking flights with Air Canada – and that was after we’d been through the usual routine over my insisting that we needed to book the car rental with Hertz. (For the reasons why, check out this post about car rental companies and their definitions of â€?off-road driving“.) Thankfully I’ve now discovered that Opodo, unlike Expedia and Travelocity do have a deal with Hertz so I can build a reasonable package with them without too much trouble.

The one final oddity when we were booking on Opodo was down to the BMI codeshare on the flight – as usual the same physical flight was listed twice at different prices – however even more odd, the BMI version of the flight had only four seats left, whilst the Air Canada version had availability marked as â€?good“ – indeed if you look at the flight using the Air Canada reservation system online the flight is only about half full. I’m guessing that there are only a limited number of codeshare seats available – although as it’s all going through the same booking system I can’t imagine it’s too difficult to allow any of the seats on the plane to be sold through any of the codeshare partners.

Anyway all of that aside, after a bit of comparing, we’ve eventually opted to fly in and out of Edmonton on Air Canada for this trip. Even including the cost of the car rental and a hotel for the first night we are there it still worked out cheaper than flying into Calgary!

Has Heathrow Terminal 4 Improved?

Back at Christmas I posted a big grumble about the fiasco that is Heathrow Terminal 4 – a piece that even got me quoted in the Times. Heading over to France this last week, we went with British Airways, again from Terminal 4, this time into Geneva Airport in Switzerland.

So first up, there have been changes with the notorious ‘Fast Bag Drop’… Yes, rather than sort out the problems, they’ve just dropped the word ‘Fast’ from the title. Interestingly they’ve also done the same in Geneva, but as with Calgary we’d checked in and put the bags through in a few minutes there, unlike the twenty minute queue at Heathrow.

The other hassle we had last time was caused by the lack of available gates in the terminal, and it was the same this time around as we were bussed out to a remote stand. This didn’t cause us much of a delay going out, but coming back the inbound plane was over an hour late, entirely due to the same situation. According to the crew on the plane, they had been ready to go on time, but the flight coming out to Geneva had about twenty special needs passengers. Bear in mind that all of this would have been known to British Airways, but the plane was again on a remote stand. Whereas in Geneva the special needs passengers were taken off without too much of a delay over the air bridge, at Heathrow where on the remote stand the only access to the plane is up steps, it took them over an hour to load the passengers, resulting in such a delay that our plane took off only a minute or two before the next Geneva to London flight. It had one advantage though, when we touched down at Heathrow, they did put our flight onto a free gate at terminal 4, so at least we didn’t have to contend with the interminable wait for busses.

Thankfully all our baggage arrived – although considering that on the same day the Telegraph were running a story about the airlines selling off some of the hundreds of thousands that fail to be returned in the paper that was being given out, you couldn’t blame people for being worried that they wouldn’t!

Although we can do little to avoid Heathrow or Gatwick when heading to Canada Рcertainly it might be worth considering the Eurostar/TGV option next time we head to Taiz̩.