As 21st century travellers, it's easy to take for granted how simple it is to just jump on a flight that'll take you to the other side of the world. And now, thanks to the boom in international travel, we don't even have to travel too far to get to our closest airport, with more and more international flights departing from regional airports.

But where did this all begin and how far have we come?

Well, it began in Croydon

The south London town of Croydon was where wealthy Brits first congregated to take to the skies. Established in the early 1900s, Croydon airport's first flights carried passengers, mail and freight to Paris, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, before adding flights to Berlin in 1923.

After the formation of Britain's first national airline, Imperial Airways, in 1924, Croydon became the new airline's operating base, and was where it first developed European and long-haul routes to India, Africa, the Middle and Far East, Asia, Africa and Australia. Croydon remained the country’s main airport long before the arrival of Heathrow or Gatwick Airport. 


The 1930s travel boom

The 1930s saw a huge increase in airplane travel, with the number of people flying as passengers rising from 6,000 a year in 1930 to 1.2 million by 1938! As the British Empire's only international airline in the 1920s and '30s, Imperial Airways was solely responsible for flying rich and famous Britons around the globe.

While airplane travel undoubtedly made the world feel smaller for those who could afford it, flights were often a long and gruelling experience. A flight from London to Australia (the longest route available in 1938) would have taken 11 days and included over 12 scheduled stops!

 Vintage Imperial Airways travel poster


From Croydon to Heathrow 

During World War II, Croydon airport was closed to the public and became a military field. Although it was returned to civilian flights after the war, larger plans were already being built and larger airfields were needed.

Heathrow airport (or London Airport as it was originally known) opened in 1946 at a cost of £20 million. After only a decade, capacity at the airport grew to two million passengers a year and by 1952, Croydon was earmarked for closure. The last scheduled flight from Croydon departed at 6:15pm on 30th September 1959.

Heathrow is now the second busiest airport in the world by international passenger traffic, as well as the busiest airport in Europe with 78 million passengers annually.


Meanwhile in Manchester...

In 1938, Manchester Airport (originally known as Ringway Airport) officially opened to the public. KLM was the first airline to operate from the airport, and the first international flight was to Amsterdam-Schiphol.

During the World Wars, the airport closed to the public and became an aircraft manufacturing centre and a training centre for parachutists. Business as usual resumed in 1946, and today it's the third largest airport in the UK, handling over 27 million passengers a year!

 Vintage KLM travel poster


It's all up from there

As the 20th century ticked by, international air travel in the UK only grew in popularity, naturally leading to the planning and development of more and more airports.

Gatwick became London's second airport in 1958, closely followed by Stansted in 1965. The advent in the mid-1990s of ’no-frills’ carriers, such as easyJet, had a huge impact on air travel in the UK, particularly from regional airports.

There are now over 40 commercial airports across the length and breadth of the UK with hundreds of international destinations now available from many regional airports. The use of regional airports has soared in recent years - with Newquay airport now considered to be the fastest growing airport in the UK!

At Solos, we understand that many people prefer to fly from an airport closer to home, which is why we offer you the opportunity to fly from over 30 local regional airports across the UK and Ireland!

For more information about our regional flying, please click here.


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