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Trip Report: Traveling to an AvGeek Oasis in London

Paying a visit to British Airways' Speedbird Heritage Centre.

The entrance to British Airways’ Speedbird Heritage Centre, while unassuming, is the gate to a vast quantify of artifacts related to the airline’s history. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

British Airways is one of the few airlines that operates a museum. The British Airways Speedbird Heritage Centre is located inside the airline’s Waterside complex. It is a must-visit for any aviation geek or avid traveler when you are in London.

Booking

The museum requires advanced bookings since all visitors must register with building security. Museum staff manages all bookings via email, and their response has been very prompt in my experience. Alternatively, you can also call the centre to arrange your visit. The staff can generally accommodate any bookings between Monday and Thursday. 

You should let the staff know whether you’ll use the employee shuttle during booking. If so, you’ll receive an authorization letter for the bus the day before your visit.

Regular visits are free, although researchers needing access to some of the museum’s collections need to pay a nominal fee.

Getting There

The employee shuttle is the most convenient way to reach the museum. You can choose to depart from Terminal 5 at Heathrow International Airport or Hatton Cross bus station, which is two underground stops away from Terminal 5. I ended up riding from Terminal 5 to the campus on BA5 and returning to Hatton Cross on BA1. 

There are also bus services that reach the area. However, they arrive outside the campus, so you’ll have to trek on foot to reach reception. 

Parking is also available on-site. The lot will likely be busy during business hours since this is the airline’s active headquarters.

A set of Boeing 747 landing gears is the first thing you’ll see when entering British Airways’ campus at Waterside.(Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

Once I arrived, I checked in with the receptionist and received a visitor’s badge. Jim from the museum came out and escorted me and one other visitor to the museum. The museum is five minutes from the front lobby and is nestled in shops and other offices. I would probably have missed it if no one was leading the way.

Vast Collection

While the museum’s entrance may be insignificant, it has a large collection of artifacts from every phase of the airline’s history.

My tour started with a brief history lesson, where I saw a myriad of aircraft models used by the airline since 1919.

The museum kept the Club World seat functional and even allows visitors to sit in it. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

A Concorde seat on wheels. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

In addition to the airplanes, the museum also kept an excellent record of its cabin products, ranging from loveseats on a prop plane to first-class seats on its A380s. The museum even had a Concorde seat as an office chair. 

A case full of onboard amenities from British Airways’ present and past. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

In addition to the hard products, the museum is also home to a huge collection of onboard amenities over the years. A glass case filled with items from booklets to amenity kits was on display.

Drawers upon drawers of documents ranging from internal communications to inflight magazines. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

Last but not least, the museum also serves as the airline’s library. There are drawers of documents and publications from the airline’s past.

The museum also has a variety of other items such as this unique advertisement for Club World, the first flat-bed seat in business class. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

The Volunteers

Jim was very excited to show us Queen Elizabeth II’s signature from her visit during British Airways’ centennial celebration. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

The museum is entirely run by volunteers and everyone had worked with the airline for extended periods. My guide for the first part of the tour, Keith, started working for the company in 1945 and began volunteering for the museum in 1989. He still volunteers at the museum one day a week.

Another host of my visit, Barbara, will celebrate her 50th anniversary with the company by the time this report comes out. Keith, Barbara, and Jim were all very passionate about the company and have so many stories to share with the museum visitors. It’s remarkable to see everyone staying involved with the company after retirement. They made my visit truly memorable.

Fangzhong Guo

Author

  • Fangzhong Guo

    Fangzhong grew up near an OEM airport in northeastern China, where he developed his enthusiasm for aviation. Taking upon his passion, he's now working as an aircraft interior design engineer. Besides working in the aerospace industry, Fangzhong enjoys trying out different types of airplanes and seeing how airplane interiors have evolved. So far, he's flown on over 80 types of aircraft. He also planespots in his spare time. His rarest catches included the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and AN-225.

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