A hundred years ago, this year, the first scheduled international air service started when a De Havilland DH4 took off from Hounslow Heath bound for Paris.
The fledgeling airline which operated that flight, Air Transport and Travel, through various evolutions, became British Airways.
In international air travel, lots else has since changed.
Post-war infrastructure and a series of technological leaps, including the jet engine, the Jumbo Jet and composite airframes, to name some, have incrementally expanded possibilities and changed the travel experience.
To put this in context, consider that in 1920, the first flight from London to Cape Town took 45 days. Now it takes a little over 11 hours.
Today commercial aviation connects the world. Pre-WWII international air travel was the exception, now it is the norm. According to IATA estimates, in 2018 commercial airlines carried 4,343 billion passengers. That’s forecast to expand to 4,588 billion this year.
It’s fair to assume that a reasonable proportion of this growth will come from developing markets, rather than those which scheduled carriers already serve well.
Data from 2018 shows that Lagos and Abuja were amongst the fastest growing travel routes for small-medium enterprises on the British Airways’ network last year. Both grew by over 10% compared to the previous year, putting them firmly in the top 25 behind Keflavik (39%), Santiago (18%) and Krakow (12%).
Closer to home, there are more flights and non-stop, direct capacity from Nigeria to London than British Airways has ever offered. This includes the three new, weekly non-stop Durban/ London services. From Lagos and Abuja there is a double-daily A380 service and four more 787-8 flights and this summer there are double-daily flights to Heathrow and three weekly services to Gatwick.
The appeal of direct services to the UK, one of Nigeria’s top trading partners, is self-evident, particularly for business and corporate customers.
The UK also remains an attractive destination for Nigerian tourists and VFR traffic. It is the destination in Western Europe that Nigerians most visit, according to Visit Britain.
While price is typically more of a concern for leisure travellers, time, convenience and some of the inevitable costs associated with stopovers, ensure the direct option remains a consideration.
New fares, such as the discounted Basic Economy Fare, give these customers more choice and the ability to personalise their trip with ancillary options based on their needs. The reduced fare does not include a checked bag or seat selection, with these options available for purchase.
But it’s wrong to consider the UK as only a point-to-point destination for Nigerian travellers. From London, there are excellent connections to North America. Together with its joint business partners, British Airways flies to nearly 140 destinations in the US and Canada, with flights from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to New York leaving nearly every hour.
Some of British Airways’ five-year, £6.5 billion investment, will ensure that these connections are quicker and easier for its customers.
New and improved technology will help speed the journey through airport formalities and improve punctuality. These include digital bag tags, a UK airline first. This enables customers to sync their personal baggage tag with the BA app, drop luggage at the airport and fly.
More biometric technology at Heathrow, London City and Gatwick, New York, JFK, Orlando, Los Angeles and Miami make boarding faster and more convenient. The self-service baggage drops, which have sped up the check-in process at T5 are being introduced at T3.
Technology is also being employed to better handle disruptions, automatically booking hotel rooms for customers who miss flights.
At the same time, almost 30 000 staff are receiving all-new customer-service training. More airports hosts than ever before are being re-trained to manage any customer issue from re-booking to upgrades, lounge access, baggage and transfer enquiries and flight information.
A century after its first customer took off from a field, bound for Paris, British Airways serves more than 200 destinations in 75 countries.