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…BA is peerless, it’s my airline any day, say decade-long patrons – By Oluwaseyi Adeyemo

With nostalgia, I recall growing up in my neighborhood in Obanikoro, Lagos, Nigeria, how spending summer in London was a must for virtually every household that had the means. Shortly before and after summer, the tales of plans to spend and how summer was spent in London was usually everywhere to the extent that some of us that our parents could not afford to take us to London for summer were able to feign it, and tell stories of summer in London to our other friends from other neighborhoods as if we were London Summer vacationers.

So striking and profound were their relayed experiences on British Airways (BA) that one was tempted to believe that BA was the only airline flying Nigeria to London and London to Nigeria at that time. Therefore, flying to London on BA became top on my bucket list early in life and I had eagerly looked forward to my very first experience on BA. Let me expressly say without exaggerating that from the first time I flew British Airways to my latest trip on the airline early December 2019, just before I started writing this piece, my experiences have been that of extreme satisfaction laced with spectacular pleasure. Thanks to the excellent services they provide on board, they make one feel like a ‘King’, a `Noble’, who a customer truly is.

Going by the assertions made, it is, therefore, my belief that there are definitely lots of reasons for cheers and accolades as British Airways celebrates its centenary in the world’s aviation industry. Undoubtedly, to record a century of safe flying is no mean feat, and what many may not know is that the air transportation company had undergone so many metamorphoses over the years which encompass strategic alignments and realignments, mergers and acquisitions, downturns and consolidations, disappointments and partnerships, losses and gains, and much more to get to where it is today.

In trying to put this piece together and looking through the press statement made by Alex Cruz, British Airways Chairman and CEO on Sunday, 25th August 2019, which marked the 100th anniversary of the airline, the aspect of it which caught my fancy was when he said: “We wouldn’t be here without their pioneering spirits and sense of adventure. From that first customer who flew from Hounslow Heath to Paris on 25 August 1919 in a single-engine De Havilland DH4A to the millions who choose to fly with us every year on more than 800flights a day to 200 destinations around the globe”.

This profound statement expressly validates my conviction of British Airways being an organization that is strongly attached to its history and with a corporate vision that is tied around people (its customers and staff).

On a couple of occasions, I have had the opportunity of visiting the British Airways Museum which is called Speedbird Heritage Centre, situated at Waterside Speedbird Way Middlesex, right smack at the center of British Corporate Headquarters in London, and every visit that I have made to the center has always been very insightful and breathtaking for me. I truly do not have the right words to describe how enchanted I always feel seeing how well they have persevered British Airways Heritage collections. The collection comprises records and artifacts from BA’s history, including uniforms, aircrafts models, and pictures that unambiguously tell the story of the formation, development, and operations of the airline from when it was British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) to British European Airways (BEA), then from British South American Airways (BSAA) to the pre-war Imperial Airways Limited, and now the British Airways Ltd.

The Speedbird Heritage Centre is managed by three great men; Jim Davies, Geoff Perry, and Derek Young, all of whom retired from British Airways several years ago but decided at some point in time to be part of the team that manages the center as volunteers. Going by how passionately and diligently they took me through the essence of the center on my recent visit, the fact that these men have a great sense of history, love, and commitment to British Airways is indisputable and admirable. I asked Jim and Geoff, what they both think is responsible for the 100-year success story of BA and this is what they said. According to Jim, the first reason in his opinion is the fact that almost every member of staff, if not everyone is aware of the history of excellence that the airline had been known for, and that this history must be sustained. He said that the management of BA had actually taken advantage of the commemoration of BA’s 100 years this year to amplify its history of excellence.

The second reason he adduced is that British Airways as a corporate body understands that they are into a very competitive line of business, in which the customer is constantly exposed to a variety of options, thus they are constantly reinventing to ensure that the customers are exceptionally satisfied at all times.

Geoff, on his part, chose to use a football analogy; he said each football team is expected to have excellent team members while the best teams in addition to having excellent team members, would also have very good captains and very good managers; thus in his opinion, the formation of the best teams is a winning trait that the British Airways has had since he joined them in 1974.

They have always had very good management teams in BA, teams who had ensured that every member of staff is made to fully imbibe the “corporate ideology of the excellent service delivery’’ that has seen the organization succeeding to become an industry leader for 100 years.

On my return to Nigeria, I asked British Airways’ Regional Commercial Manager, West Africa, Mr. Kola Olayinka, how British Airways was faring in Nigeria and he said; “as a carrier, we offer the 145,000 customers that fly us on a daily basis quality, choice, and convenience. We also fly to more than 200 destinations in 80 countries across the globe, from our home base at Heathrow, London, which is arguably the world’s busiest international airport. Therefore, it is safe to say that our operational strategies and actions are based on a very robust foundation. In the past more than 80 eventful years that British Airways has operated from Nigeria, we can confidently say without sounding immodest that British Airways is clearly the leading airline in Nigeria. We have a large and very loyal customer base in Nigeria as we fly our 747 from Lagos – the economic capital of Nigeria and our 777 from Abuja – the political capital and seat of Government daily to London and various destinations across the globe. As part of the many things we do to inspire our frequent fliers, we recently introduced what we called ‘On Business’ loyalty program’, which is dedicated to promoting business growth by awarding ‘On Business’ points to them each time a member of their company travels. Points can be spent on reward flights or a cabin upgrade”.

As an attestation to the first-class and world-class service of BA, I decided to take the testimonies of some regular and traditional patrons of the airline in Nigeria.
An air traveller for several decades, Mr Tunde Arogunmati, the Executive Director African Incentive Partnerships and Associate Director, Ben Enwonwu Foundation, said: “My relationship with British Airways over a number of decades has been a consistent experience with top class comprehensive civil aviation service delivery.

“In a personal sense, BA’s fanatical attitude towards safety, security and all-round technical support gives me a high level of confidence in travelling with them anywhere their vast network covers, notably as London is also a frequent business destination within my usual schedule.

“In a corporate sense, BA has over the years been a major league corporate social investor in the operations of the likes of the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators & the Nigeria-Britain Association, both of which I have held the position of President in, at various points in time. It is easy, therefore, to understand why, with over a century of operating on the frontlines of the global aviation industry, BA holds her pride of place at the forefront of modern aviation development and is the preferred choice of a plurality of premium Nigerian air travellers and corporate organisations.

“With a huge sense of gratitude, I would like to seize this opportunity to formally congratulate British Airways on the attainment of the first century mark and wish the entire corporation the best of success in the decades and centuries to come.’’

For Mrs Titilola Oladejo, the Chief Operating Officer of Assets & Resources Management Holding Company (ARM Holdco), a frequent flyer with BA: “The British Airways Club World has offered the most exciting flying experience compared to other airlines.

“Booking for a flight is easy and up to date information is provided on the airline’s portal regularly. Booking hotels and car rentals with my miles also happen seamlessly. From the very fast airport check-in where the ground crew at dedicated check-in desks assist you until you board the aircraft, to the spacious and comfortable lounges and the fast track immigration procedure in Heathrow and New York JFK, the overall experience is top-notch, deep, favorable and pleasurable impression!

“The lounges have a variety of delicious dining options, drinks, showers, and a spa. At Heathrow and JFK airports, I always plan to arrive well ahead of my flights to indulge in the luxury spa treatment from Elemis, a skincare and spa brand that I got hooked on because of its friendly effect on my skin.

“The Club World cabin has a privacy partition between seats which enables you to sleep in comfort without disturbance from other travelers in the cabin. The décor is pleasant to the eye with white-colored cabin walls that beautifully and elegantly contrast with the blue, specifically designed to create an atmosphere of well-being and relaxation, a home-away-from-home luxury,’’ she said.

I must not forget to mention the menu that offers interesting choices from a wide selection of drinks and food. The drinks particularly contain very comprehensive information on the variety of spirits and wines available, unlike what it is with most other airlines. Also, varieties from a very wide selection of bread and snacks are available throughout the flight. Above all, is the very warm, friendly and most professional service by the in-cabin crew….it is indeed super lavish and impressive!

The British Airways experience is one that I cannot but continue to relish every minute of the trip and what that leaves me with is the crave to have it again and again”.

The experience of a sick passenger flown on BA from Lagos to London is equally captivating and striking. Lagos-based Mr. Peter Damian Ejiofor, who titled his testimonial, “Memoirs of a sick passenger,’’ said in March 2014, he departed Nigeria aboard a British Airways flight for medical treatment in the United Kingdom.

Savouring his first time experience, he said: “From the point of boarding in Lagos to checking out in London, the experience was of “`courtesy, comfort and care’’.

“The comfort in the flight makes one feel you are not in the air. The pilots fly smoothly and to the like of every passenger. The convenience which I used while the flight lasted was something to behold.

“The crew was friendly, caring for the comfort of their passengers and they also made sure everyone was satisfied with their good cuisine and quality drinks.’’

Etching that flight experience in his memory, Ejiofor, rates their services as second to none, saying: “Since I had a return ticket, my wife and I felt the experience while returning was better than when we were going, showing that the airline continuously seeks ways to satisfy their passengers.

“British Airways keep what you have been doing in the last century up as I rate you high. Bravo!’’ He also added

Another patron of the British Airways, Mr. Adeleye Ajayi, also relived his first experience of travelling on British Airways, precisely on November 1, 2008.

His trip to London was primarily to be at the Thomas Reuters Building at 30 South Collonade Canary Wharf, London, for a Reuters Foundation Programme for two weeks. As a senior journalist, BA took him there and back after attending a course in Business News Writing which commenced on November 3.

His words: “I had planned to arrive at London (Heathrow Airport) early morning on November 2, 2008. In essence, my ultimate target was that a 48-hour time lag before the program would be enough. The flight took off from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, at 23.30 local Nigerian time.

“I vividly remembered that the flight which took off at the specified time had hundreds of passengers on board. The direct flight which lasted about six hours was hitch-free and make bold to say that my journey was very enjoyable and entertaining.’’ According to Ajayi, the cabin crew was very courteous and efficient while attending to his every need and those of the other passengers.

“I have since then traveled several times with BA and also with several other airlines and found British Airways to be the best of the whole lot. Being very comfortable, safe, and balanced in the air, I would not have any hesitation in recommending BA to other travelers’’

Brief History of British Airways

Since British Airways is very particular about its history, I consider it expedient to take a peek into its rich history. The birth of British Airways started in 1919 when the Department of Civil Aviation was formed at the Air Ministry with Winston Churchill appointed as Secretary of State for Air and in June, oversaw the first direct crossing of the North Atlantic by air which took place in a Vickers Vimy airplane from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland to Clifden, Ireland in 15hrs 57mins. However, the world’s first scheduled international service took place in August when single-engine De Havilland DH4A G-EAJC of Air Transport and Travel flew from Hounslow Heath, Middlesex to Paris carrying one passenger, a consignment of leather, several braces of grouse, and some jars of Devonshire cream. By November of the same year, Air Transport and Travel carried the first international airmail to Paris. The first flight was by DH4A G-EAHF and an Air Mail pennant was attached to its rudder.

By February 1921, all British airlines ceased operations due to subsidized European competition but Handley Page Transport operated the first subsidized London to Paris service in March due to the grant of a temporary government subsidy. The company carried 79 passengers in one day.

In 1924, Imperial Airways was formed and it took over the fleets of the Instone Airline Limited, the Daimler Airway, Handley Page Transport Limited, and British Marine Air Navigation Co Ltd, following the recommendations of the Hambling Committee about the future of British air services. The new airline became the “chosen instrument” of the British government with the mission of developing British commercial air transport on an economic basis.

With a comfortable recognizable airliner cabin, a steward, a four-course luncheon and a bar service, Imperial Airways’ Armstrong Whitworth Argosy flight took 2 hours 30 minutes to Paris in 1927 and it was regarded as a notable breakthrough in terms of comfort and service. Imperial Airways completed its first 10,000,000 miles of flying on 18th February 1933.

British Airways Limited was formed on 1st January 1936 from United Airways, Hillman’s Airways, and Spartan Airlines. On 11th November 1938, the British government announced its intention to merge Imperial Airways and British Airways Limited to form a single chosen instrument – the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The necessary Bill received Royal Assent on 4th August 1939, just before the commencement of World War II. The Corporation was eventually established under the BOAC Act on 24th November 1939 and by 1st April 1940, BOAC officially took over the operations of Imperial Airways and British Airways Limited.

On 1st August 1946, British European Airways Corporation (BEA) took over the services operated by the British European Airways Division of BOAC operating short-haul routes from Northolt. British South American Airways (BSAA) was merged with BOAC on 30th July 1949 and a tripartite partnership between BOAC, Air India, and Qantas was formed on 1st April 1960. The British Airways Group was established on 1st September 1972, which eventually resulted in BOAC and BEA being dissolved on 31st March 1974 upon the formation of British Airways.

After the election of a Conservative government in May 1979, it was declared that BA would no longer receive any state support or interference in its commercial decision making and in July, the government’s intention to go ahead with the privatization was announced but this was delayed with the recession which soon plunged BA into massive losses. Four years on, the airline survived the recession and became the British Airways Plc., on 1st April 1984. Three years afterward, it was finally privatized in a hugely oversubscribed flotation. Over one million applications were received for shares, offered at 125p, making the offer 11 times oversubscribed. Trading in British Airways shares began on 11th February 1987.

In March 1989, the airline introduced its new First Class service and in April 1992, Deutsche BA – the company formed by a consortium of German banks and British Airways, announced the acquisition of the German regional airline, Delta Air. A decade later, the ONEWORLD alliance came into effect on 1st February 1999 after British Airways, together with four other international airlines, announced the new alliance the previous year. The alliance was formed to launch a wide range of initiatives designed to provide greater customer benefits, including more information and support, greater value and increased opportunities for rewards and recognition. Another decade later, precisely January 2009, the alliance became the first in the travel industry to sell multi-airline round-the-world tickets online.

British Airways’ Foot Prints in West Africa:

Unambiguously, the development of aviation in the British West African Territory dates back as far as 1944 when, following World War II, Lord Swinton ordered the first studies. The British Ministry of Civil Aviation supported the Sanford Committee, which was established to that particular end, and both entities recommended the formation of the West African Air Transport Authority. The order-in-council enacting the formation of the West African Air Transport Authority (ATA) was signed by King George VI on 15 May 1946. This led to the establishment of what was known as the West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) in 1946 by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), and economically supported by four West African British colonies, Nigeria being the major shareholder (68%), followed by the Gold Coast (29.5%), Sierra Leone (2%), and The Gambia holding the balance. WAAC began operations in October 1947, following the delivery of its first aircraft, an event that took place on 14th September 1947. The De Havilland Dove aircraft inaugurated WAAC’s first scheduled service from Lagos to Calabar in October 1947.

The company was aimed at providing the British West Africa with air transport facilities, connecting it with Dakar and Khartoum in order to provide passengers with a gateway to the Americas and the Middle East, respectively, and to operating feeder flights that connected with the Europe-bound BOAC Hermes services at Accra, Lagos and Kano. The close ties with BOAC were evidenced by the fact that WAAC actually acted as an agent for the British state carrier in Nigeria and the Gold Coast.

However, as the member states gained Commonwealth status from the United Kingdom, they set up their own carriers—Ghana Airways, Sierra Leone Airways, and Gambia Air Shuttle. WAAC was formally dissolved in 1958, as Nigeria was the only state eventually having a participation in the airline. WAAC assets and liabilities were inherited by WAAC (Nigeria) that operated as “Nigerian Airways” from 1 October 1958. WAAC (Nigeria) was later re-branded Nigeria Airways.

Millennial Awards and Recognition

British Airways has always been in the position to amass lots of awards and recognition based on its impeccable services, exceptional customer relations, high industry standards and latest technological innovations.

In 2001, it won the prestigious Grand Prix award for International Design Effectiveness for the new Club World seat which turned into a six-foot full-fledged flatbed. The award was given in recognition of how the product had revolutionized business travel. The seat also won the best consumer product award.

In June 2003, it was named as the “best low-cost airline” in an annual Guardian newspaper poll.

In 2006, it swept the board at the prestigious Business Traveller Awards ceremony at the London Hilton Hotel, winning the trophies for Best Airline, Best Short-haul Airline, Best Frequent Flyer Programme, Best First Class, Best Long-haul airline and Best Economy Class.

In May 2009, it was named Best Business Class, Best First Class and Best Short-haul Airline at the 2009 Ultratravel Awards.

On 4th December 2012, it won both Best Short Haul and Best Long Haul categories in the Sunday Times Travel Magazine Reader’s Awards.

In May 2013, it won an award for its Home Advantage campaign run during British Airways sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics. This was at the Marketing Week Engage Award In the ‘Travel and Leisure’ category on 22nd May.

In February 2014, it was named as Consumer Super brand of the Year. The airline was the first airline or travel enterprise to top this poll beating well known global brands such as Coca-Cola, Apple, and Kellogg.

In January 2015, it was voted favourite airline in the 2015 Travel Weekly Globe Awards. The following month, it was named as both the UK’s number one Consumer Super brand and also the number one Business Super brand, thus becoming only the second company to top both polls at the same time. The month after the double recognition, it was ranked in the top three most attractive employers in Britain following a survey of a recruitment agency of nearly 11,000 employees in 26 industries and in November of the same year, it won the Best Short-Haul carrier, Frequent Flyer Programme and Lounges at the Business Traveller Awards.

In January 2016, it was voted favorite airline in the 2016 Travel Weekly Globe Awards, and in February of the same year, it was named the UK’s No 1 Consumer and Business Superbrand 2016, having topped the Consumer list for the last three years and the Business list for the last two.