Some eighty years ago, a largely unreported event took place which would help pave the way for modern air services between Nigeria and the rest of the world.
On 9 February 1936 the weekly Imperial Airways’ flight from London to Khartoum connected with another flight to Kano, heralding the start of services to Nigeria.
These pioneering flights carried air mail rather than passengers, but apparently the initiative was successful, because by October the same year the service was extended to Lagos.
The limited records available from the time note that there was great enthusiasm shown everywhere the first service landed. According to Imperial Airways’ staff newsletter from 3 March 1936: “… the captain of Daedalus (the name of the aircraft) was entertained by Sultans, Shehus and Emirs en route.”
There were plenty of opportunities to celebrate the new service as the De Havilland DH86A biplane took seven days to complete the journey to Lagos.
Today Imperial Airways’ successor, British Airways operates daily, direct Boeing 747 and 777 services to Lagos and Abuja.
“It’s amazing to think that in just 80 years we were operating biplanes that could carry seven passengers and it would take a week to complete the journey. Today’s aircraft can carry between 226 and 299 customers and you can be in London five-and-a-half hours after leaving Lagos or Abuja,” says Paolo De Renzis, British Airways head of sales for Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
The onboard experience has also evolved beyond all recognition. The early aircraft were noisy, uncomfortable and more suited to carrying mail than passengers. In-flight entertainment might have been a newspaper or magazine and the catering a selection of sandwiches.
Today’s customers can choose from four cabins, an in-flight entertainment system that has more movies, serials, sitcoms and documentaries than they could watch in a week, while enjoying a three-course meal and full bar service.
In Club World they can help themselves to snacks from the Club Kitchen, while those flying in First can choose when they want to eat and even if they’d prefer the a la carte menu or something a little less formal.
“We have a distinguished history in Nigeria and 80 years on we’re proud to still serve it, connecting Africa’s largest economy to the rest of the world,” says De Renzis.
British Airways offers daily flights from Lagos and Abuja to London, from where it flies to some 200 destinations in nearly 90 countries.