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.
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.