Mrs V wants a holiday, don’t we all, and the thought of flying off to a Greek Island is very tempting (but not possible at the moment). To be able to jump in an aluminium tube and jet off somewhere warmer is now a common occurrence, but when I was younger it was a lot more exotic.
Sounding classier than it actually was, Britannia Airways was the package holiday charter aircraft of choice. If you were on a BY flight you were likely to be going to Spain or Greece. This was not a code you would really find on the boards at LAX or JFK. If you were on a Britannia flight you were going on a Thomson’s holiday (mainly due to the fact they were owned by the Thomson Group).
This was as cheap and cheerful as airlines came when I was young, before the internet decided to drive flight operators into more obscene ways of making money like charging for using the toilets or wings on the plane.
At the time this was the only way to fly for thousands of Brit holidaymakers, and during the 1980’s was the largest charter airline in the UK. Lines of blue tailed aircraft with silhouette of Britannia herself were common sights at most British airports, as well as those on the Costa Brava or Canaries. They always seemed to exude more style than the garish yellows of Monarch Airlines.
Due to the nature of the holidaymakers you would be confined to a tube mostly made up of pensioners, young families and people ‘on tour’. This meant that most flights consisted of:
- People who dawdled in aisles and were slow to get to their seats, yet somehow would always be the first in the queue to get on and off the plane.
- Kids running amok as their parents slept off the hangover from the 5am start at the airport bar.
- Fifteen or so lads who were boozed up before the safety announcements; it was only due to the effort of these guys pedalling really hard during take-off that the plane would get off the ground.
- Smoke wafting towards the front of the plane from the cigarette use at the back. Amazingly this was still allowed even in the early 90s.
Other aspects of a Britannia Airways flight were no less unique, it was similar to any other airline. The food was awful, the duty-free tacky and one TV for 20 people who would descend from the roof to show reruns of Only Fools and Horses and One Foot in the Grave.
Once the Thomson group started getting bigger it decided that it needed a bigger advertisement hoarding for its package holidays. One of the sacrificial lambs was an airline brand that had stood for forty years, and in 2004 Britannia ceased to exist and became, in the way of most modern web-minded marketing schemes. Re-branded with a nasty pastels and a garish red logo all the charm and understatedness of this once great airline was gone. It was even replaced on the TV show Airport by easyjet.