British Airways invited one of the cabin crew members on that inaugural flight for a visit to see how things have changed over the ensuing 60 years. The 91-year-old fondly recalled the excitement and fanfare of that first journey and marveled at the technological advancements in the years since.
It has been 60 years since British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), the forerunner of British Airways, flew the first transatlantic passenger jet flight on October 4, 1958 to edge out Pan American World Airways which had promised to be the first to offer transatlantic jet service. One of the cabin crew members picked for that historic flight was on hand to help British Airways officials mark the occasion.
“It was marvelous,” Peggy Thorne recalled while speaking at a British Airways media event. “We were used to traveling 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.”
Captain Hugh Dibley FRAeS (Fellowship of the Royal Aeronautical Society), a former British Airways crew member, fondly remembered the glory days of commercial jetliners. Captain Dibley served as a longtime navigator on the Comet 4 jet planes which made the historic flights possible.
“The Comet 4 was delivered to BOAC on the 30th September and flew across the Atlantic on the 4th October, which was quite a surprise to some people, not least because it was so fast!” Dibley remembered. “The Comet 4 was a firm favorite with pilots, as it was nice to fly and the design meant it was quite easy to make smooth landings. It also had great passenger appeal due to it’s beautiful appearance and take-off performance.”
Reminiscing about the first jet service across the Atlantic, Thorne described a much different air travel experience than most of us are used to today.
“It was so exciting to be the first – it was wonderful,” she told those gathered for the celebration. “There were all sorts of dignitaries on board, press and the chairman of BOAC. It was a thrilling experience. We served customers Madeira biscuits and coffee when they came on board, followed by cocktails and canapés, and then a five-course lunch with wines. Petit Fours followed and then there was Afternoon Tea! Our customers loved it – they ate and drank from when they got on board until the time they got off.”
Although the glamour of transatlantic air travel may have lost some of its luster over the past several decades, Thorne is nonetheless impressed by advancements in aviation that surrounded her at the British Airways crew training facilities where a portion of the festivities were held this week.
“It’s overwhelming,” she marveled. “The technology and the number of aircraft training cabins. We had nothing like this in our day.”