What It Was Like Flying Singapore Airlines To London 50 Years Ago

Singapore Airlines recently racked up half a century of flying to London. In early June 1971, a Boeing 707-320 in black and yellow Malaysia-Singapore Airlines colors left Singapore on its inaugural flight to London Heathrow. The route has since become a key plank in Singapore’s network. At the time, it was the airline’s first transcontinental service.

Singapore Airlines began flights to London in 1971. Photo: Singapore Airlines

Four stops and 18 hours on a Boeing 707-320

By 1972, timetables available online show Malaysia-Singapore Airlines flying to London five times a week using Boeing 707-320 aircraft. These weren’t the nonstop hops we take for granted today. These flights were genuine odysseys.

ML777 would start in Melbourne (MEL) on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The Boeing 707-320 would fly across the Nullarbor to Perth (PER) before continuing onto Singapore (SIN). Mid-evening on the same day, the aircraft would continue to Colombo (CMB) for a 45-minute stopover before continuing onto Bahrain (BAH). From there, the plane would fly onto Athens (ATH), make it to Zurich (ZRH) in time for breakfast before finally landing in London (LHR) mid-morning.

On Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, the Malaysia Singapore Airlines aircraft would originate in Sydney (SYD). Wednesday’s ML783 flew Sydney – Jakarta (CGK) – Singapore – Bombay (BOM) – Bahrain – Rome (FCO) – Frankfurt – London. Friday’s ML785 service kipped Jakarta to run SYD – PER- SIN before continuing onto London via Bombay, Bahrain, Rome, and Frankfurt. Sunday’s ML787 departure from Sydney went to Singapore via Denpasar (DPS) before continuing onto London with the same four post-Singapore stops along the way.

The Singapore Airlines 1972 London timetable. Source: Singapore Airlines

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Singapore Airlines builds up its United Kingdom presence over 50 years

Alas, no airline builds flights like that anymore. At the time, Malaysia–Singapore Airlines was the flag carrier of both Malaysia and Singapore. In 1972, the governments went their own way. The partnership was dissolved, and Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines were born.

Back then, the leg(s) between SIN and LHR took 18 hours to complete (these days, flying time is around 13.5 hours).  Those Boeing 707-320 featured two cabin classes – first and economy. Regardless of class, passengers between London and Singapore were offered four meals along the way. Those early SQ flights also pioneered menu choices in the economy class cabin.

Being the early 1970s, you could immoderately throw back brandies and enjoy a few ciggies inflight – probably needed to get through 18 hours in economy class on a 707. Images supplied by Singapore Airlines dating from the era shows dressed to the nines first class passengers enjoying silver service.

Over the years, Singapore Airlines gradually built up its presence in the United Kingdom. By 2012, the airline was flying four times a day to London and using Airbus A380s on the route. Along the way, Singapore Airlines added Manchester (MAN) to the timetables.

The Singapore Airlines Concorde – on the plane’s other side is BA livery. Photo: Singapore Airlines

Airbus A350s and Boeing 777s now replace the 707-320

Within six years of commencing flights to London, Singapore Airlines did a deal with British Airways to run Concordes on the route. The Concorde featured British Airways livery on the starboard side and Singapore Airlines colors on the port side. The joint venture only lasted a few years and went via Bahrain. Flying time was a pacey nine hours.

The iconic Singapore Airlines Boeing 747 would go onto become the mainstay aircraft type on the London route. Singapore Airlines began flying nonstop in 1984. By 2008, Singapore Airlines was going double daily to London with their new A380s.

These days, amid the travel downturn, the situation at Singapore Airlines is tough, and the number of flights between Singapore and London is reduced. Now, Singapore Airlines sends a mixture of Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A350-900s on the London run. They are nice planes – quick and efficient. But it would be interesting to know how many people would swap today’s flights for an early 70’s Boeing 707 Singapore Airlines’ milk run across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.