‘Customers ate and drank from when they got on until they got off’: Former British Airways crew member recalls working on the first transatlantic jet flight 60 years ago
- Peggy Thorne, 91, was hand-picked by bosses to work on the first jet flight from London to New York in 1958
- The service was operated by a de Havilland Comet 4, which shrunk the journey from 18 hours to just seven
- The flight was a PR coup for BA as it beat rival Pan Am to become the first to make journey in a turbo jet engine
A former British Airways cabin crew member has recalled her experiences working on the first ever transatlantic jet flight exactly 60 years ago.
Peggy Thorne, 91, served passengers on the inaugural service on October 4, 1958, after being hand-picked by airline bosses and said customers on board virtually ate and drank from the moment the flight took off until it landed.
The London to New York flight was a public relations coup for BA – then known as BOAC – as it beat US rival Pan Am to become the first airline to fly a turbo jet engine across the Atlantic.
Peggy Thorne (far right) with the flight crew and another cabin crew members before taking off on board the first ever transatlantic jet flight from London to New York on October 4, 1958
Ms Thorne (left in a BOAC uniform) served passengers on the inaugural service after being hand-picked by airline bosses. The London to New York flight was a public relations coup for British Airways – then known as BOAC – as it beat US rival Pan Am to become the first airline to fly a turbo jet engine across the Atlantic
The de Havilland Comet 4 aircraft reduced what was previously an 18-hour journey to around seven hours.
Ms Thorne recalled: ‘It was marvellous. 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.
‘It was so exciting to be the first – it was wonderful.
‘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 canapes, and then a five-course lunch with wines. Petit Fours followed and then there was afternoon tea.
Ms Thorne with current British Airways employees Sophie Picton and Nadine Wood. To mark the 60th anniversary of that inaugural flight, Ms Thorne visited the BA training centre near Heathrow Airport to see how current employees carry out the job
‘Our customers loved it. They ate and drank from when they got on board until the time they got off.’
At the same time as the flight from London to New York, another BOAC flight completed the service eastbound in the opposite direction.
The two aircraft passed about 300 miles apart and Sir Gerard d’Erlanger, BOAC’s chairman, aboard the westbound aircraft and Basil Smallpiece, managing director, in the eastbound aircraft exchanged messages during the flights.
After visiting the BA training centre Ms Thorne said: ‘The technology and the number of aircraft training cabins – we had nothing like this in our day’
Back in 1958, a Comet 4 could fly just 48 customers once a day from London to New York at a cost equivalent to £8,000 today.
BA now operates up to a dozen flights a day, offering around 3,500 seats costing from £292 return.
To mark the anniversary, Ms Thorne visited the BA training centre near Heathrow Airport to see how current employees carry out the job.
And after the visit, she said: ‘It’s overwhelming. The technology and the number of aircraft training cabins – we had nothing like this in our day.’
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