British Airways celebrates 60 years of transatlantic jet flight

Sixty years ago, British Airways, then called British Overseas Airways Corporation, became the first airline to fly a turbo jet engine aircraft between Europe and New York, reducing the journey time from 18 hours to around seven.

On October 4th, 1958 the airline flew two de Havilland Comet 4 aircraft, one from New York to London and the other from London to New York.

One of the original cabin crew members, Peggy Thorne, 91, had joined BOAC in 1950 and was hand-picked to serve customers on the first flight.

Today, British Airways hosted Peggy, and captain Hugh Dibley, a former Comet 4 navigator, at an event to celebrate the historic achievement.

“It was marvellous,” Peggy remembers.

“We were used to travelling to New York on Boeing Stratocruisers which took up to 20 hours.

“We couldn’t believe the flight was possible in such a short time.”

US airline Pan Am had been promising that it would be the first airline to do this but was beaten by Britain’s BOAC with its new jet engine aircraft by several weeks.

It was front page news.

Back in 1958, Comet 4 could fly just 48 customers every day from London.

Today British Airways operates up to 12 flights a day from the capital, offering around 3,500 seats.

On the Comet there were two cabins, Deluxe and First Class.

Today, British Airways flights feature four cabins to suit all budgets – World Traveller, World Traveller Plus, Club World and First.

In 1958 a ticket to travel on the Comet staggeringly cost the equivalent of £8,000.

Dibley said: “The Comet 4 was delivered to BOAC on September 30th and flew across the Atlantic on October 4th, which was quite a surprise to some people, not least because it was so fast!”

With just a few months left before British Airways begins its Centenary celebrations, Alex Cruz, British Airways chief executive, paid tribute to the crew of the first flights.

He said: “British Airways and its predecessors have always pioneered innovation and hospitality, and this is a great early example.

“Next year we celebrate 100 years of taking Britain to the world and bringing the world to Britain, and the quality of service we provide to customers is better than ever.”