Michael Dunlea  /  AP file
Sir Freddie Laker was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 as one of 400 pioneers of British life.
updated 2/10/2006 2:53:49 PM ET 2006-02-10T19:53:49

Sir Freddie Laker, who changed the face of air travel with his low-cost trans-Atlantic Skytrain service that challenged the industry giants in the 1970s, has died. He was 83.

Laker died Thursday at a hospital in Hollywood, Fla., said Mary Maino, managing director of his company Laker Airways/Bahamas Ltd., on Friday. Laker Airways/Bahamas was liquidated in August.

Laker pioneered the concept of cheap fares for the masses, and although his Skytrain venture eventually collapsed in 1982, he laid the foundations for low-cost carriers such as Jet Blue and easyJet that proliferate today.

After winning hard-fought approval from governments on both sides of the Atlantic, the first Skytrain from London to New York took off in 1977 in a blaze of positive publicity. As with today’s low-cost flights, passengers had to pay extra for food and drink.

Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, who named one of the planes in his fleet “Spirit of Sir Freddie” in tribute, said the ebullient Laker was one of Britain’s greatest entrepreneurs.

“He was a larger-than-life figure, with a wicked sense of humor, and a great friend,” Branson said.

After being a media celebrity for 20 years during his David and Goliath fight with both governments and major corporations, Laker virtually vanished from public life when his company collapsed.

He bounced back in November 1995, announcing the return of Laker Airways, flying a twice-weekly service between London and Florida, with Laker Vacations offering more than 20,000 holidays in the United States.

But the trans-Atlantic services never really got going and Laker was reduced to flying a limited operation between the U.S. and the Bahamas. Services ceased altogether in late 2004.

Laker lauded the modern low-cost airlines but said he hoped one day they would return to the trans-Atlantic flights.

Laker, who was knighted in 1978, is survived by his fourth wife Jacqueline.

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