Imagine the glamour of an old-style safari flight with a view of the Victoria Falls … it ended up being so impressive that British Airways’ forerunner, BOAC, added a stop to its UK/ Johannesburg service 68 years ago! Those on the flight were treated to one of nature’s most breathtaking spectacles.
At first, they used Solent flying boats, which departed from Southampton and – via five stops, including the one at the Falls – landed on the Vaal Dam four-and-a-half days later. Yes, that’s right, it may not have been the quickest way to travel between the UK and Joburg, but these flying boats were equipped with cabins where you and three others could comfortably sleep … plus you could pop up to the upper deck’s lounge/dining area for a relaxing round of refreshments or do a touch-up on your make-up in the lower deck’s dressing room. This was some serious luxury safari travelling!
The BOAC planners knew that their Skymaster could do the same trip in about 30 hours, but they hoped travellers would be blown away by the scenic night stop at the Falls to make the total distance of 5600 nautical miles worth it. At least they never had to worry about landing in severe weather – the Vaal Dam was the perfect pit stop for landing and taking off (think, no waiting around for hours because of a delayed flight!).
From the Vaal Dam, the flying boats travelled to Victoria Falls, landing on the Zambezi. One of the station engineers, S. Kempson, remembers what it was like seeing one of the Solents coming in to land, ‘Approaching from low above Kandahar Island, the aircraft lost height with superb grace and, scudding swiftly across the waters of the Zambezi, completed a perfect touchdown. She taxied easily towards the mooring buoy, and tied up in seconds.’
The travellers stayed overnight at the majestic Victoria Falls Hotel as no night flying was allowed. You can see a mural at the hotel commemorating this weekly service and the stop was affectionately nicknamed the Jungle Junction, which is now the name of the hotel’s buffet restaurant.
The glamour of that era has not been lost forever though. Today you can undertake the same journey from Joburg in a day with British Airways operating one of its most modern aircraft on the route. The A380 can accommodate 469 customers in four cabins – First, Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller.
Although the scenic stopover at the Victoria Falls wasn’t enough to save the flying boat service as faster, more efficient aircraft were introduced on the route, there’s still plenty of demand for the ‘flight of angels’, with various charter companies offering flights over the Falls.
Contrary to what visitors may think, the term wasn’t coined by tourism brochure copywriters, but by David Livingstone, the first European explorer to see the Falls. He wrote in his chronicles: ‘It had never before been seen by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.’ Details: www.britishairways.com