How Many Pandas & Innovators Does It Take To Fill A British Airways' Plane

'Pandas' and 'Innovators' were British Airways' only passengers this week on a couple of their historic flights. In two unprecedented promotions, giant pandas boarded one flight on Tuesday, June 11th to announce BA's first new route to China since it launched flights to Shanghai in 2005. The very next day, 100 innovators took part in the airlines' "UnGrounded" initiative, enlishted as a think tank hackathon team.

Panda-monium broke loose when BA's flight crew was put to the task of servicing a dozen or so oversized pandas en route to Chendgu, China. As we all know frequent fliers can be so hard to please -- but the flight attendants on this particular flight had no problem in stepping up to the challenge.

“We’re all very excited about starting this new route and being the first and only airline to offer a direct link between London and the home of the giant pandas,” said a crew member.

All tickets for the panda fliers featured the number eight, which is regarded as lucky by the Chinese. The new route has also been given the same lucky flight numbers; the BA88 and the BA89.

Special pricing on the new route is available from its launch Sept. 29 through March 31. Fares for customers flying in Club World are £1,888 (about $3,000),  40 percent off the standard fare. Flights   in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus are £508 (about $800) and £808 (about $1,300).

Ungrounded (aka 'Innovation Lab in the Sky') was the brainchild of BA's EVP, Simon Talling-Smith. “Great innovation happens when you bring people together face to face,Simon Talling-SmithSimon Talling-Smith not when you have people sitting alone in rooms."

Hatching an idea of this magnitude is genius for a transatlantic airline that works hard to maintain its market share in a very competitive business milieu.

Tiffany ShlainTiffany ShlainSilicon Valley, as home of tech entrepreneurship and excellence in innovation, was chosen as a geographic resource in which to select many of the passengers. However others like the celebrated "cloud filmmaker" and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain, actually hailed from New York City.

 It will be a test bed for how British Airways can foster connections that accelerate global innovation for the global community. The curated group are some of the most exciting and original innovators at work today, and as a collaborative group, they will attempt to inspire one another to take on a challenge set by the United Nations as part of their mission to achieve 'digital inclusion for all'.

Just prior to the take-off of the UnGrounded flight, interviews were held with two of BA's on-board innovators: Mashable contest winners Sheel Tyle and Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code. They both offered their thoughts before embarking on the groundbreaking trip.

Since this transatlantic flight out of San Francisco to London is only 11 hours, the big questions remains whether there is enough time and will the chemistry of these 100 innovators be enough to come up with the "big idea" to present to the UN.

So can a single transatlantic flight help change the world? We'll continue to follow this story to let you know what develops. In any event it's another small step for man, and hopefully a larger step, erh flight for mankind!

UPDATE: TechCrunch ~ June 14, 2013 - British Airways’ In-Flight Hackathon Spawns Solutions To The Engineering Crunch: "We need more engineers to bring about tomorrow, and the next generation can’t afford that understanding to vanish into thin air" Read more here.