A-Z of Employers

British Airways
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Age: Nearly 80.

History: BA prides itself on being among the pioneers of flight during the years after the First World War. In 1919, the first trip to France in an Air Transport & Travel single-engine biplane took two hours - carrying a single passenger, Devonshire cream and grouse. AT&T was subsumed into Imperial Airways and, in 1939, the airline was nationalised alongside British Airways Limited to form the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). Meanwhile, its counterpart - British European Airlines (BEA) - developed a continental network, and the two were recombined under the British Airways Board in the early Seventies. It launched the world's first supersonic passenger service - Concorde - in 1976 and, branding itself "The World's Favourite Airline", was privatised in 1987, with more than one million applications for shares at pounds 1.25 each. A merger with British Caledonian took place during the same year.

Address: About 2,500 staff will move this year to Waterside, a purpose-built pounds 200m headquarters near Heathrow.

Ambience: Safe and secure, honest and responsible, innovative and team-spirited, global and caring, and a "good neighbour", are the terms BA uses to describe itself. Cabin crew, who wear a red, white and blue uniform designed by Paul Costelloe, are encouraged to treat passengers like guests in their own homes. Open- plan offices - including that of chief executive Robert Ayling - make for informality, with staff dressing down on Fridays.

Vital statistics: With more than 300 aircraft, including Concorde, BA has one of Europe's largest fleets and is the second biggest operator of Boeing 747s. Last year it carried nearly 40 million passengers on 400,000 flights, to 170 destinations in 80 countries. It has some 60,000 employees and is owned by almost 250,000 private investors. Last year's pre-tax profits were pounds 640m on a turnover of pounds 8,359m.

Lifestyle: Flight and cabin crew live out of a suitcase, staying away for up to two weeks on trips to Australia and the Far East. Ground staff and IT staff may work shifts, but flexi-time is available, particularly for sales and marketing personnel.

Easy to get into? The company claims to look for people who will "make a difference". Cabin crew must have English and another language, while potential pilots and graduates stand stiffer competition; 35,000 applied for 100 pilot positions recently, and competition for a couple of dozen annual places on the prized general graduate trainee course is fierce. Graduates are also recruited for finance, purchasing and marketing departments.

Glittering alumni: Ex-BA staff who have gone on to fame and fortune include Val Gooding, CEO of Bupa, and Hamish Taylor, managing director of Eurostar. Company secretary Gail Redwood is married to Tory ex-minister John, and many a celebrity or sporting romance has been struck up in the aisles.

Pay: After a 15-month training course, a cadet pilot starts on pounds 20,000, rising to a six-figure salary when captaining the company's largest aircraft. Cabin crew have a structured pay scheme with bonuses for extra duties, and graduate trainees start at about pounds 16,700. Staff typically get five weeks' holiday, plus cut-price stand-by travel bargains after a year with the company.

Training: Potential pilots are sponsored through flight school after completing A-levels or a degree, then sent to BA's Cranebank aviation centre for three months. The company's in-house degree course is run in conjunction with the University of Lancaster; staff training includes everything from basic IT to advanced technical engineering.

Canteen: Waterside has a canteen set on a scenic lake where staff can loiter during lunch breaks, and coffee bars are located in one of the building's connecting corridors.

Who's the boss? Sir Colin Marshall is chairman, with the splendidly titled Lord King of Wartnaby as president. Chief executive Robert Ayling, an under-secretary at the Board of Trade in a former life, takes most of the flak.

Rachelle Thackray