Fifty-one years after he first started looking after Her Majesty’s interests in exotic destinations James Bond is about to appear on British Airways’ aircraft again as his latest movie Skyfall debuts on board.
Besides establishing a reputation for being well-travelled and with a taste for the finer things in life, Bond has also become known for the hi-tech wizardry he uses to thwart villains bent on global domination.
To mark Sky fall’s on-board premiere, Jim Davies, the British Airways Museum’s equivalent of Q, has taken a journey back in history to explore some of the technological innovations in air travel since 1962.
It was the year when Bond first appeared onscreen in Dr No. While the scheming doctor was planning to disrupt an early manned American space flight with a radio-beam weapon, the airline’s predecessor, BAE was introducing some of its own electronic gadgetry, launching its first electronic reservations unit. A year later BOAC, with which it would later be merged to form British Airways, rolled out electronic reservations to Canada and New York, making it much quicker and easier to make and retrieve bookings.
In 1965, Bond was heading to the Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads which the SPECTRE organisation had stolen. Meanwhile a BAE Trident aircraft was about to make history, using the sort of radio technology which might have turned Dr No green with envy. The flight from Paris Le Bourget to London Heathrow made the world’s first fully automatic landing of a commercial aircraft carrying fare-paying passengers. It paved the way for today’s automated systems which enable aircraft to land in all weather and poor visibility.
By 1969, Bond is onto his sixth film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Serviceand his adventures had taken him to Jamaica, Turkey, Switzerland, the United States, the Bahamas, Japan and Portugal. No doubt MI6 was grateful when BEA introduced the first computer-produced timetable, making mission planning much simpler and a new, computerised check-in system meant its agents could spend less time hanging around airports and more fighting bad guys.
As the sixties give way the seventies longhaul global travel entered a new era with Boeing introducing its now-iconic Jumbo-Jet. In 1971, while Bond was investigating an international diamond smuggling ring in Diamonds Are Forever, BOAC operated its inaugural commercial Boeing 747 flight from London to New York.
Then, in 1976, science fiction became fact when a commercial aircraft capable of travelling faster than one of Bond’s bullets took to the skies. On 21 January that year, British Airways and Air France Concordes took off simultaneously, starting the world’s first supersonic passenger services.
By 1993 things had also speeded up on the ground, when British Airways introduced Fast Track, a dedicated channel for premium customers, hastening the journey from check-in to the departure lounge.
The next revolution in long-haul luxury travel happened in 1996, when British Airways unveiled seats which turned into fully flat beds at the touch of a button and semi-private cabins in its flagship First cabin. Bond had a year before been flitting between Russia and Cuba to prevent criminals using Golden Eye satellite weapons and would no doubt have revelledthe additional comfort and privacy.
He would also almost certainly have approved of the recent £100 million makeover of the cabin, with the hand-stitched leather seats reminiscent of those in an Aston Martin, mood lighting and an electronic blind, similar to those in private jets.
In 2000 Bond was taking a well-deserved rest after The World Is Not Enough saw him narrowly escape death at an ICBM base in Kazakhstan, rescue M and disarm a bomb in a nuclear submarine in Istanbul. Meanwhile British Airways was again upping the ante in business travel, launching the first fully flat bed in business class.
The cabin was re-launched in 2007 with the second-generation Club World as distinct from its predecessor as Daniel Craig in Casino Royale to Pierce Brosnan in The World Is Not Enough. Both are definitively James Bond, Craig’s just a more modern take on a classic.
Now British Airways’ latest innovation means that customers boarding longhaul flights can see Bond battle former MI6 operative Raoul Silva in Skyfall from the moment they board the aircraft. Its extended programming which runs from the moment customers reach their seats until they leave the aircraft provides up to an hour more entertainment.
“Constant innovation is what has made the Bond franchise such a success. We’re constantly looking for new services and products that will make travelling with British Airways even better,” says Frank van der Post, British Airways’ director of brands and customer service.
British Airways Highligths
- British Airways’ predecessor, BOAC introduced inflight entertainment on Boeing 707 flights to Moscow and Tokyo in 1970.
- The top five movies in 2012 were – The Avengers, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises, Snow White and the Huntsman.
- Like Bond, British Airways uniforms over the past 50 years have reflected the fashion of the time.