Laker, originally from Kent, started working in aviation with the Short brothers. He was a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary team during the World War II years, from 1941 to 1946. In 1960, he joined British United Airways, where he was manager for five years. It was while with British United that Laker learned the ropes in the airline managing business. So, in 1966, he departed to form his own airline, Laker Airways, using second-hand airliners from BOAC. The livery was a mixture of black and red, with a bold LAKER logo on the tailplane.
Laker Airways were committed to offering air travel as economically as possible, with passengers being required to buy tickets on the day of travel, their meals being paid for separately. In 1973 the company submitted an application to the British Air Transport Licensing Board to launch its trans-Atlantic Skytrain service, at a price almost one-third that of the major competition. The application was not granted until 1977, after much legal wrangling (there were doubts as to Laker's economic viability, and allegations of adverse pressure from a cartel involving the major airlines, who had meanwhile lowered their prices to just above Laker's level).
Skytrain was extremely popular, and Laker was popular with the public, a forerunner of Richard Branson and one of Margaret Thatcher's golden boys of industry (along with Sir Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar). In 1978 Laker was knighted for services to the airline industry. His airline became one of the first buyers of the new Airbus, and in 1981 had plans to expand into Europe. Alas, in 1982, the company went bust, owing over £250 million. There were numerous reasons for this - Britain and the world were in recession, the other airlines were making a loss by competing with Laker, Laker Airways had expanded too quickly in the late 1970s, buying a large fleet of DC-10s at just the wrong time. The fallout descended into litigation and confusion.
Laker was undaunted and almost immediately attempted to re-launch the airline on the back of a strong public following (a relief fund gathered over a million pounds, helped by endorsement from The Police, who had used Laker to tour America). It was not until the early 1990s that Laker, by now living in the Bahamas, got off the ground again, moving his operations base to Nassau, from where the airline still flies. For those of a certain age Sir Freddie Laker remains the acceptable face of capitalism, a big man who took on big business, burned brightly for a time, and failed gloriously, as all heroes eventually must.
As a tribute to Laker Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways later named one of its Boeing 747s The Spirit of Sir Freddie.