75 Years Ago BOAC Operated Its First Flight To New York

Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, London to New York was among the most lucrative and competitive airline routes in the world. British Airways is one of several carriers with an extensive presence on this corridor. Yesterday, it marked the 75th anniversary of its predecessor BOAC’s first flight between London and the ‘Big Apple.’

BOAC Lockheed Constellation
BOAC initially flew the Lockheed Constellation to New York. Photo: RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons

A special anniversary

The British Overseas Airways Corporation was one of several airlines that merged to form British Airways in 1974. BOAC itself had been founded in November 1939, and commenced operations the following April. Just over six years later, it had arrived in New York.

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of BOAC’s inaugural flight to New York LaGuardia. It departed from what was then known simply as London Airport. Of course, this is the facility that, since 1966, has been known as London Heathrow Airport.

BOAC Constellation Getty
BOAC’s Constellations needed fuel stops in Shannon and Gander to make the trip. Photo: Getty Images

British Airways took to Facebook and LinkedIn to commemorate the anniversary, stating that, back in July 1946, this journey “took nearly 20 hours via Shannon and Gander.” These Irish and Canadian stops were crucial in enabling the service, as the Lockheed L-049 ‘Constellation’ airliners that plied the route couldn’t do so without stopping.

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Always an important route for BA

Interestingly, the inaugural service on July 1st, 1946 was only BOAC’s first to New York in terms of landplanes. Indeed, it had flown camouflaged flying boats there during the Second World War on mail and courier services. In any case, the London-New York corridor remained significant for BOAC, and continued to do so after it was merged into BA.

Concorde Final Heathrow Landing Getty
Huge crowds gathered at Heathrow to watch Concorde’s last arrival from JFK. Photo: Getty Images

Of course, British Airways’ most famous New York-bound services were those operated by its legendary supersonic Concorde aircraft. These inspiring delta-winged airliners could make the journey in less than three hours, with up to 100 lucky passengers onboard paying thousands of dollars or pounds for the privilege. These ended in October 2003.

Even after Concorde’s retirement, BA has treated new York as something of a flagship route. Until last year, it operated all-business-class flights from London City to JFK via Shannon, using Concorde’s old flight numbers. Before the pandemic, the UK flag carrier also used to deploy larger aircraft like the Boeing 747 to the ‘Big Apple.’

British Airways Boeing 747
Before its retirement, BA’s 747s were a common sight at JFK. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

BA awaiting transatlantic resumption

Under normal circumstances, it might have been nice for BA to commemorate BOAC’s anniversary with a special London-New York flight of its own. However, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the carrier is one of several that is frustrated at the inability for passengers to recommence transatlantic leisure travel due to restrictions.

Its CEO, Sean Doyle, appealed in May for the US to be placed on the UK’s quarantine-free ‘green list.’ The following month, several UK and US airlines called for a transatlantic travel corridor, for which a taskforce was established shortly after. In any case, the airline is relishing carrying US-bound leisure passengers again, and stated on social media that:

British Airways is proud to have such a special relationship with the USA, and we can’t wait to fly you there again soon!

What are your memories of flying between London and New York with BOAC and/or BA? Are you hopeful that we may soon see transatlantic leisure travel make a return? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.