1. First commercial flight

Tony Jannus piloted the first scheduled commercial airline flight on New Year’s Day 1914 for the St Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. His Benoist XIV wood and muslin ‘flying boat’ biplane made the 23-minute journey from St Petersburg, Florida, to Tampa, Florida, at 50ft. The pilot’s sole passenger was a former mayor of St Petersburg, who paid $400 for the dubious privilege of perching on a wooden bench in an open cockpit.

2. KLM takes to the skies

On 17 May 1920, KLM’s first pilot, Jerry Shaw, flew from London to Schiphol in a leased Aircraft Transport and Travel De Haviland DH-16, carrying two British journalists. In total, KLM flew 440 passengers and 22t of freight in 1920. In April of the following year, after a winter break, the airline resumed service using its own pilots and Fokker aircraft. Today, KLM runs scheduled passenger and cargo services to more than 90 destinations worldwide. It is the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name.

3. First airport lounge opens in New York

In 1939, the prestigious Admirals Club at New York’s LaGuardia Airport was unveiled by American Airlines (AA). Inspired by other prominent honourary clubs, AA’s president, CR Smith, decided to make valued passengers ‘admirals’. The list included celebrities, politicians and other VIPs, as well as frequent flyers. The second Admirals Club, which later opened at Washington National Airport, offered members fridges to store their own liquor at the airport because it was against the law to sell alcohol in Virginia at the time.

4. Chicago Convention ratified

In 1947, the Convention on International Civil Aviation – establishing the rules and regulations for aircraft, airspace and safety – was ratified. It was appended by 52 signatures and remains the legal bedrock for commercial aviation to this day. The agreement sets out the rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety, and details the rights of signatories. In October of the same year, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) became a specialised agency of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The convention has since been revised eight times.

5. Foundation of IATA

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) was conceived in Havana, Cuba, in 1945 by 57 members from 31 nations, mostly from Europe and North America. Today, it represents 240 airlines, accounting for 84% of all air traffic. The Chicago Convention hadn’t been able to resolve the issue of who flies where, resulting in the thousands of bilaterals now in existence. IATA was charged with setting a coherent fare structure that evaded excessive competition and championed consumer welfare.

6. First production commercial jet

British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) brought the first production commercial jetliner, the de Havilland Comet, into operation in 1952. However, the Comet was prone to safety problems and, although later models proved more reliable, BOAC took the aircraft out of service in 1965. The Comet featured a distinctive, sleek design, with four de Havilland Ghost turbojet engines integrated into the wings, a pressurised fuselage and large windows.

7. In-flight entertainment

In 1961, David Flexer launched his company Inflight Motion Pictures with a cleverly engineered aircraft projection system, which adapted a Kodak mechanism to fit the limited overhead space of an aircraft interior. To solve the problem of changing 16mm reels during a movie, Flexer spliced the entire film onto huge 26in reels. He also developed an ingenious ceiling-mounted horizontal-feed technique. TWA was the first airline to commercially use his invention.

8. Birth of the jumbo

Debuting on Pan Am’s New York to London route, Boeing’s 747 – the daddy of modern commercial aircraft and the first wide-body ‘jumbo’ jet – entered service in January 1970. The story goes that Boeing effectively bet the company on delivering the 747. It was expected by some to become obsolete after 400 were sold, but easily exceeded expectations. Production passed the 1,000 mark in 1993 and, by December 2013, 1,482 aircraft had been built, with a further 55 on order.

9. First budget airline

In March 1971, Air Southwest was renamed Southwest Airlines with headquarters in Dallas, from where it began scheduled flights to Houston and San Antonio using three Boeing 737-200 aircraft. The Official Airline Guide for 15 October 1972 shows 61 flights a week each way between Dallas and Houston Hobby, 23 between Dallas and San Antonio, and 16 between San Antonio and Houston; no flights were scheduled on Saturdays.

10. Flight of Concorde

Supersonic Anglo-French partner project Concorde made its first scheduled flights from London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio de Janeiro in 1976. It was coated in white reflective paint to deal with the intense heat experienced at speeds up to Mach 2.02. The ogival delta-winged aircraft had four Olympus engines based on those used in the RAF’s Avro Vulcan strategic bomber. Concorde stayed in use on commercial routes for 27 years and is often considered the highest benchmark in modern consumer aviation.

11. Star Alliance created

In 1997, Star Alliance was founded by five carriers from three continents: Scandinavian Airlines, Thai Airways International, Air Canada, Lufthansa and United Airlines. Two more global alliances, oneworld and SkyTeam, followed shortly after, introducing a range of benefits to customers based on the economies of scale achieved by consolidation. Today, Star Alliance comprises 27 member airlines; in December 2013, Air India was invited to join and it was announced that Avianca Brazil would become a member in 2014.

12. First transpolar flight

In 1998, Cathay Pacific improved connections between the US and Asia by flying from New York to Hong Kong in 16 hours, crossing the North Pole. The airline is currently the world’s third-largest, measured in terms of market capitalisation, according to IATA, and, in 2010, it became the world’s largest international cargo airline. Meanwhile, in September of the same year, Cathay Pacific co-founded the oneworld alliance with AA, British Airways, Canadian Airlines and Qantas.

13. First commercial biofuel flight

In 2011, Lufthansa became the first commercial airline to test biofuel as part of standard flight operations. The company flew an Airbus A321 between Hamburg and Frankfurt four times daily (eight flights), with one of the engines running 50% on biofuel. During the trial, researchers scrutinised pollutants in exhaust gas from the aircraft engines using a sensitive probe mounted behind the two engines. Similar levels of nitric oxide and carbon monoxide were measured in both.

14. Airbus A350 ready for service

A hundred years after Tony Jannus’s boat-plane crossed Tampa Bay at 50ft, this year will see new heights of modern aviation with the launch of the Airbus A350 for Qatar Airlines. The A350 is the first Airbus with fuselage and wing structures made primarily of carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer. It will be one of the greenest aircraft of its kind, burning a quarter less fuel than the previous generation of comparable long-range twin-engine aircraft.