British Airways origins go back to the birth of civil aviation and the pioneering days after the First World War.
On 25 August 1919 its forerunner company, Aircraft Transport and Travel (AT&T), launched the world's first daily international scheduled air service, between London and Paris. On 31 March 1924, Britain's four fledgling airlines - Instone, Handley Page, Daimler Airways (a successor to AT&T) and British Air Marine Navigation - merged to form Imperial Airways, which developed its Empire routes to Autralia and Africa.
Meanwhile a number of smaller UK air transport companies had started flights. These merged in 1935 to form the original privately-owned British Airways Ltd. Following a government review Imperial Airways and British Airways were nationalised in 1939 to form the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). Post-war, BOAC continued to operate long-haul services, other than routes to South America - these were flown by British South American Airways, which was merged back into BOAC in 1949. Continental European and domestic flights were flown by a new airline, British European Airways (BEA).
The 1950s saw the world enter the passenger jet era - led by BOAC, with the De Havilland Comet flying to Johannesburg in 1952, halving the previous flight time. The birth of the mass package-holiday business meant changes for the airline industry. BEA met this by establishing BEA Airtours, which took off in 1970. In 1972 BOAC and BEA were combined under the newly formed British Airways Board, with the separate airlines coming together as British Airways in 1974. British Airways, simultaneously with Air France, inaugurated the world's first supersonic passenger service with Concorde in January 1976
British Airways is based at London Heathrow Airport in London, England. It also has a commanding presence at Gatwick and Manchester International Airport. BA has succeeded in dominating Heathrow to the point that the airport is commonly referred to as Fortress Heathrow within both the airline and its competitors.
As an incumbent airline, BA had grandfather rights to around 36% of takeoff and landing slots at Heathrow, many of which are used for the lucrative trans-Atlantic market. Some competitors, such as Virgin Atlantic, bmi and United Airlines, assert that this stifles competition and some political think-tanks recommend an auction of slots. In recent years British Airways has been buying slots from other airlines including United Airlines, SN Brussels and Swiss International Air Lines, and now owns about 42% of slots at Heathrow.
Some British Airways services are operated by various subsidiaries and franchisees.