First class and business class has evolved tremendously over the years, becoming more luxurious than those in the 70s. Sure, we may not have piano bars or top floor lounges, but the seats have now been converted into apartments and mini-suites.
But this type of luxury may not have even emerged if it wasn’t for British Caledonian—the airline that created the first true business class seat in 1978. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a major airline, and only after two decades of service, British Caledonian ceased to exists, but the pioneering airline continues to live on.
The carrier was first founded in 1970 in Scotland and then became the major non-government owned airline for Britain the same year. Three years later, oil prices began to skyrocket from the Oil Embargo, and with the rapid price changes, airlines were struggling to recover costs. As a result, British Caledonian decided to create the very first business class seat called the Super Executive Cabin to help generate more revenue.
It was in 1978 that the airline began flying its Boeing 707, which featured three cabins with 24 seats in first class, 54 seats in the Super Executive Cabin and 48 seats in economy class (or as it was then called “Thrift Class”).
The business class cabin was brilliant. It offered travelers more perks than its predecessor, including additional room to stretch out, separate check-in counters, and additional flight routes out of London Gatwick. Travelers began to feel the type of exclusivity that comes with paying for a better seat. It was a step in the right direction for both the passenger and the cabin class.
British Caledonian business class was contagious—other airlines saw the revenue possibilities it could bring, and thus developed their own the very same year. The first airline to do so was Air France, followed by PanAm.
Ten years later in 1986, British Caledonian ceased operations due to several international disasters including Chernobyl, a bombing of a club in West Berlin, as well as the Nigerian economic crisis (which the airline had routs to from London). As hard as it tried, British Caledonian couldn’t turn itself back around and was thus acquired in 1988 by British Airways.
Although short-lived, we can thank the small airline, British Caledonian, for spearheading the business class seat we all love and enjoy so much today.