British Airways commemorated 25 years of flying to Chennai with a show featuring crew uniforms over the years

A huge poster of a mahout with his elephant reads ‘India in days instead of weeks’. For the first flight from the stables of British Airways, then known as Imperial Airways, to reach India it took 10 days. When it did land in Delhi the aircraft was thronged by a curious crowd. This was in 1929. Of course now it’s a different story. A few hours and a couple of movies and sitcoms later you have reached the destination.

Ever since the 1920s the airline has seen quite a few mergers and changes; it went from being Imperial Airways to the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), to British European Airways Corporation and then British Airways. Over the years the uniform of the cabin crew too has seen changes. It went from being formal to trendy, conservative to chic.

The evening was all about flight and fashion. The first British Airways flight to Chennai was in 1988. To commemorate the airline’s 25 years of flying to Chennai, the wine and dine evening saw a fashion show featuring the uniforms the crew has sported over the years. The venue was Cottingley, the residence of the British Deputy High Commissioner for South India. The green lawns  echoed with the loud strains of the nadaswaram and beats of the mridangam.

The fashion show was presented and choreographed by Jim Davies of the British Airways Heritage Centre. As crew from the airline walked down the ramp Davies read out interesting nuggets of information about the uniform and the aircraft. The first-ever uniform that we saw on the ramp was khakhi shorts and shirt with the insignia and badges of Imperial Airways, a khakhi peak cap and knee-length socks.

The next round showcased the dark-blue worsted uniform for stewardesses on BOAC. This was the dress code post-World War II. In 1958 BOAC even introduced the sari for their Indian stewardesses. The bright red sari with scattered blue and white prints was replaced by the more practical kurta suit in 2005 which is very much in use even today. The other uniforms, mostly in dark blue, went from short knee-grazing lengths to longer more conservative silhouettes. At one point the colour palette even moved from the elegant yet staid blue to cheerful pink tunics and red-blue-grey striped polyester tops and skirts. Right from vintage to contemporary the show took us through 15 sequences (the uniforms of 1977 were even featured in Vogue!).

Interestingly, last month, to mark the launch of its sixth direct service to Chennai, the BA flight landed here with a Kanjeevaram sari flowing out of the cockpit. Woven by Nalli, the sari had the colours of the airline.

On the occasion, the British Deputy High Commissioner, Chennai, Bharat Joshi said, “I am delighted to see British Airways add more flights to Chennai to cater to the increased growth in international travel from here and to further enhance the strong business ties between India and the U.K. I do hope we celebrate another 25 years of British Airways’ service to Chennai.”