Written by Daniel James Parry
We’ve all been there. It’s early morning and you find yourself perched on one of the many, for lack of a better word for them, benches dotted around the boarding gates of Manchester Airport. Sat at the British Airways gates, you look to your left; an old man sat nonchalantly, glasses resting on the end of his nose as frail and weathered fingers turn the worn and dog eared pages of the book he’s currently invested in. You look to your right and witness almost a juxtaposition – a young mother buried in her phone, her children by her side. Blinded by the light emanating from the seemingly surrounding duty free area, you avert your gaze, only to notice a toy aeroplane clutched in the child’s hand. And you cast your mind back to when it all began…
The year is 1903. It’s a cold Thursday morning in December, and excitement is in the air – Christmas is a little over a week away, and a handful of people have gathered on the dunes near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to witness history in the making. Zealous with the success of the glider the year before, the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, were ready to cement their legacy with the unveiling of a project they’d spent all spring and summer working on – the first successful flight of the aeroplane. There’s a commotion, a coin toss, and Wilbur springs into the pilot’s seat. In the hours that follow, four very brief but very significant flights are made. Minimal. Undeniable. Unforgettable.
But that’s common knowledge. What’s your point?
Fast forward over 110 years and technology has rolled on like a beautiful Katamari to heights that Orville and Wilbur could only dream of. It’s mind-blowing to think that journeys that once took days, sometimes weeks, today can be completed in a matter of hours. For example, in the 1930’s, a flight from London to Brisbane took twelve and a half days to complete, with eleven stops along the way. Today, it takes little over twenty four hours. Expertly detailing this progression across 160 beautifully illustrated pages, curator of British Airways’ Heritage Centre Paul Jarvis presents ‘Mapping the Airways’, a fascinating new book which compiles almost a century’s worth of maps, adverts and pilot charts, in paperback form.
‘Mapping the Airways’ contains the authentic charts used by pilots, and the adverts published that showed passengers where they could fly off to, before Trivago and Expedia could do that all for you at the touch of a button. Each poster includes a detailed caption featuring the likes of Imperial Airways, a company often described as British Airways’ ‘great grandparent’, with a very rustic, informative, no nonsense approach to advertising, and the more simple ‘shoot first, think later’ approach of British European Airways, whose colour scheme and love of the colour red would’ve no doubt earned the approval of Lenin and his followers.
Pinpointing all the significant moments in the vast timeline of British aviation without wanting to be mistakenly picked from a shelf in Waterstone’s for a copy of War & Peace, ‘Mapping the Airways’, in all of its 160 page glory, includes charts used by the Southampton based British Overseas Airway Corporation’s infamous flying boat service, affectionately known as ‘BOAC’. In hindsight, they could’ve picked their lexical choices a little more carefully on the drawing board; it was almost an acronymical masterpiece. Venturing boldly into the 21st century, ‘Mapping the Airways’ explores the modern moving maps featured on today’s aircraft, which is usually shown just after the expertly choreographed and timeless ‘The Locations of the Emergency Exits’ routine, keeping passengers entertained by appealing to an undying fascination with journeys around the globe.
Speaking about the book, author Paul Jarvis comments, “It’s clear that maps have long held a fascination for travellers and airlines have used maps in different artistic styles over the decades to entice the public to take to the skies. What’s fascinating is just how maps have developed over the years and how they have become an enduring power to spark our imagination and chart our voyages through the skies.”
British Airways former executive chairman Keith Williams adds, “Whoever we are, our history is always part of us. The history of British Airways is indeed rich, and there is no better demonstration of that than this fascinating book.”
‘Mapping the Airways’ is available from April 15th, available at all good book shops at a cost of £17.99