Immediately after World War II, a pressing need for transport aircraft arose. The quick solution was to convert existing military bombers and transports for the role. This led to the sideways seating on board the Avro Lancastrian, an adaption of the famous Avro Lancaster bomber.
The first conversions took place in Canada from 1943, with nine produced for Trans-Canada Airlines. BOAC took delivery of 30 of them from 1945, with a demonstration flight taking three days and 14 hours to get from England to New Zealand. Very fast for the time!
What Does An Avro Lancastrian Look Like?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Lancastrian looks almost exactly like a Lancaster with its armament removed and passenger windows added. With its four engines and twin tails, it’s hard to mistake it for anything else.
With the advent of proper transport aircraft entering service, the Lancastrian was quickly retired, with final services in 1960. However it did have some firsts, such as a British South American Airways (BSAA) example operating the first scheduled service from London Heathrow Airport.
The BOAC Seating Plan
For long flights with BOAC, seating was provided for nine passengers and everyone sat right next to each other. Since you faced the windows, you were probably guaranteed a pretty decent view.
There are also three berths, located directly above the seats and the nine seats below could also be converted to three additional berths. While that provided people with a place to sleep, whether they did or not is another matter as the plane was likely very noisy inside.
Sitting Sideways In The Lancastrian Cabin
My first thought when seeing these pictures is that it reminded me of being on the London Underground. Tube trains have sideways seating like this and while it’s fine for a quick ride, I can’t imagine sitting for hours on end like this.
The colourised picture really makes things look incredibly gloomy. However, needs must, and I am sure those who absolutely had to be places quickly weren’t too concerned about the austere interiors. I imagine people ate food off their laps, since there are no tables to eat from.
The Other Avro Lancastrian Cabin
Of course, other airlines operated the aircraft with a more conventional layout. BSAA aircraft featured seating for 13 passengers, all facing forward as you can see below. There were 18 built in this configuration.
Interestingly, Alitalia operated the Avro Lancastrian too. It had the honour of operating their first intercontinental flight in March 1948 from Rome to Buenos Aires with stops in Dakar, Natal, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. All of this took a speedy 36 hours!
My guess is that the requirement for sleeping berths is what influenced the BOAC design with everyone seated sideways facing the windows. Hopefully flights weren’t too full, as you could literally be touching another person for hours on end.
I’m glad that Austerity Airliners on Twitter tweeted about this. Without me seeing that, I would not have had the inspiration to write up this article. It’s always fun learning something new!
What do you think of the sideways seating on the Avro Lancastrian? Is it something you would be okay with, or not a chance? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please let me know.
Colour interior images via British Airways and colourised by Benoit Vienne.
BOAC Avro Lancastrian via Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives.
Qantas Avro Lancastrian from Qantas via Business Class.
Cabin with no people via Science and Society Picture Library Prints.
Black and white cabin with people via Science and Society Picture Library Prints.
BSAA interior image via Heathrow Airports Limited.