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British Airways

91-year-old Former Flight Attendant Recalls World’s Very First Transatlantic Passenger Jet Flight

91-year-old Former Flight Attendant Recalls World’s Very First Transatlantic Passenger Jet Flight
Jeff Edwards

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.”

View Comments (7)

7 Comments

  1. Frizzy

    November 22, 2018 at 2:14 am

    Nice story, lovely photo, interesting headline.
    And the headlined 91 year old former cabin crew member’s name is ……. Thorne
    And the body text former crew member’s name is …Captain Hugh Dibley FRAeS (Fellowship of the Royal Aeronautical Society)

  2. jonsail

    November 22, 2018 at 5:45 am

    In 1959 as a kid I and my sister and mother accompanied my father on a 3 month business trip to London. We flew BOAC one way and took an ocean liner the other way. I remember my father saying the cost for each was about the same so his employer gave him the choice each way.

  3. Bretteee

    November 22, 2018 at 7:27 am

    I want to know what the Stratocruiser was like. I flew on the Comet 4. The galley was narrow as far as I recall.

  4. Dublin_rfk

    November 22, 2018 at 8:26 am

    BOAC gone just like the Beatles who referenced them. A bygone age.

  5. lloydah

    November 24, 2018 at 4:11 am

    Hmmm. Perhaps it might be decent to publish my comment, which has so far not appeared asking why “Thorne” wasn’t given a first name in the article. It seems I was the first to point this out.

  6. UncleDude

    November 24, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    BOAC have not gone quite now as much as their 2 Main competitors PanAm and TWA.

    Even now when you fly BA First Class with a Legacy Crew it feels much the same as 50 years ago, Just no Caviar or Sliced at your Seat Fillet Steak.

    But of course the seat is much better for the return overnight flight.

    And the First Class fare, if you use AAdvantage Miles is Less than half [In Real Terms] than 50 years ago.

  7. AlastairGordon

    November 27, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    OK. Who else thought that was Theresa May, at first glance?

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