EIGHT decades of British Airways (BA) flights to the Middle East will be celebrated today in Bahrain.
The UK's flagship carrier's first flight to the region landed in Bahrain on October 6, 1932 - four days after taking off.
It made several stops on the way and after leaving Bahrain flew to Kuwait, Sharjah and then India.
Back then the airline was known as Imperial Airways and the first flight to the region was by a Handley Page HP42 aircraft, which took off from Croydon, UK, on October 2 with just 20 passengers and travelled at 160kmph.
A reception to mark the anniversary will be hosted tonight by British Ambassador Iain Lindsay at the British Embassy, Manama.
Uniforms worn by crew throughout the decades will also be displayed during a planned catwalk show, although details of that event have yet to be announced.
"We are especially proud to have been a part of it in the Middle East," said BA Middle East and Central Asia area commercial manager Paolo De Renzis.
"British Airways has pioneered many aviation firsts and are currently two years into a £5 billion investment plan that includes new aircraft, smarter cabins, elegant lounges and new technologies.
"As the aviation industry in the Middle East continues to grow, we look forward to being a part of its development for the next 80 years and beyond."
Travelling to Bahrain from the UK today is a lot easier than it was 80 years ago.
A Boeing 777 with up to 345 passengers takes approximately six hours to reach here, travelling at almost 1,000kmph.
Since the first flight in 1932, the Middle East has been a key market for BA - which now operates 68 flights a week to eight cities in the GCC during the winter schedule.
Imperial Airways first began passenger flights to Bahrain in April 1935, with the journey starting in Croydon with a flight to Paris - where passengers then had to take a train to Brindisi, Italy, before flying on to Athens, Alexandria, Cairo, Gaza, Rutbah, Baghdad and Basra in Iraq; and finally to Kuwait and Bahrain.
Two years later, the airline began flying boat services from Southampton to Karachi with stops in Marseilles, Rome, Brindisi, Athens, Alexandria, Tiberias (Israel), Habbaniyeh and Basra in Iraq, Bahrain, Dubai and Jiwani (Pakistan).
This service continued under the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in conjunction with Qantas, with twice-weekly services between Poole in England and Sydney, stopping in Marseilles, Augusta, Cairo, Basra, Bahrain and Singapore.
British Airways then operated the first commercial supersonic Concorde flight on January 21, 1976 from London Heathrow to Bahrain.
The flight, which took less than four hours, continued until October 1980.
One of the pioneers of the aviation and travel industry in the region yesterday described BA as a "university of aviation".
Unitag Group founder and executive chairman Jamil Wafa explained that BA had produced some of the Gulf region's top airline executives.
Mr Wafa himself became the airline's first non-British marketing development manager for the Gulf in 1971, covering Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
He recalled how the experience of flying had changed over the years, with BA considered a pioneer in several areas.
"There was no announcement on the weather conditions and the routes aircraft would take," he recalled.
"Instead, a sheet of paper used to be passed around the passengers who would go through it.
"The captain would also go around the cabin asking every passenger if everything was fine.
"It was a much more personal way of flying and the crew knew each passenger's name."
He said one of the major attractions was a logbook the captain would compile for passengers on how much distance was covered.
"That was a major attraction for children who would get their parents to fly BA just to get an entry in that book," he said.
"This later became what we now know as loyalty programmes."
Mr Wafa, now 81, also recalled when Bahrain's airport was opened in 1972 by the late Amir HH Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa after a major upgrade.
"The first aircraft to arrive at the new terminal was a BOAC Boeing 747 when I was in Bahrain," he said.
"I remember being interviewed by Bahrain Television's Ahmed Sulaiman for the BBC. It was a great moment in Bahrain's and BA's history."