Soaring romance

The experience of flying, back in the early days of air travel was nothing short of adventurous and romantic, as told to us by British Airways


Published: Fri 26 Oct 2012, 7:51 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:02 PM

This month, British Airways marked the 80th anniversary of its first flight to the region, which landed in Sharjah on October 7 in 1932, travelling at just 160kmh and carrying fewer than 20 passengers.

In an interview, Paul Jarvis, Director, BA Museum, describes early days of flight, experiences onboard and on the ground, and the luxury of air travel.

Back then, the travel time from UK to Sharjah to India on Imperial Airways — British Airways’ predecessor — used to take a cool six days. “Air travel in those days was very expensive, and was only really for the rich and famous — government servants, military personnel etc,” said Jarvis. “It was all first class. Economy travel did not start until the 1950s. Passengers expected luxury and they received it. The airfare those days was £84 one way. That fare included hotel accommodation, all meals, transport, and gratuities; there was nothing further for the passenger to pay.”

Describing the journey, Paul recalls how passengers would arrive at the West London terminal, before being transported by limo to Croydon airport, which was London’s main airport in the 1930s. It would then take 2.5 hrs to fly to Paris, which enabled a five-course luncheon to be served at leisure. On arrival at the French airfield, they’d be taken by limo to the railway station and board the train that took two night stops — first at France, then through the Alps — before reaching Brandeis. Those days, aircraft didn’t fly at night, as they didn’t have the navigational aids needed.

“The next morning they’d be taken by car to the flying boat from Brandeis,” he continues. “It would fly to Athens, Baghdad, Basra, Kuwait, over the Straits of Hormuz and through Hajar mountains in the north of Oman — back then, you couldn’t fly over the mountains, which were several thousand feet high — to what was then British Balochistan, where the aircraft would refuel and fly to Karachi, and onwards to Delhi.”

For modern-day fliers — used to traversing the distance from here to London in approximately 6.5 hours, at 988 km/h and with about 345 co-passengers — listening to this account itself might wear them out. Paul assures that the interiors of the aircraft were perfectly luxurious by today’s standards, consisting of hardwood, veneer and leather, while passengers would dine off fine china and silverware, served by male stewards (the employment of female crew only began in 1946).

Here’s a selection of heritage images from over the years — and while you can bask in a bit of nostalgia, you’ll also probably feel glad about how far we’ve travelled.

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