By now you’ve probably read my recent post and saw the photos of my 2003 flight on the Concorde. Well, believe it or not, I’m one of the lucky few who actually flew that needle-nosed bird twice.
(Here’s a link to the Concorde Trip Report from 2003 posted last week)
The first time was in 1999. At the time I was writing a travel column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and just starting my first gig at CNN. I was asked to participate on a media panel at the World Travel and Tourism conference in Berlin, and part of my compensation was one leg across the Atlantic on the Concorde.
I jumped at the chance to fly on British Airway’s flight 001 from London to New York. Get this: The flight departed London at the very civilized hour of 10:30 a.m. and arrived in New York three hours later and just in time for the start of the business day at 9:30 a.m.- on the same day!
Regrettably I don’t have any photos from that flight, but my story from 1999 paints a pretty cool picture. And I still have the hefty silver cross pen that every passenger received to commemorate the flight.
(November 1999) Last month marked a milestone in aviation history, as well as a milestone in my life as a business travel writer. Last month the Concorde turned 30. And last month I flew on it for the first, and perhaps the last time in my life.
A couple of months ago I was asked to appear on a media panel at the World Travel and Tourism Council meeting in Berlin. The WTTC is a club of CEO’s of the world’s top travel companies—like American Express, British Airways, Hertz and the like—the type of people for whom a journey on the Concorde is a normal part of doing business. And lucky for me, part of the deal for appearing on the panel was a transatlantic leg on British Airways’ supersonic Concorde.
I chose to return from Berlin via London to New York on British Airways flight #001, leaving Heathrow at 10:30 a.m. and arriving at JFK at an unimaginable 9:30 a.m. the same morning. How’s that for a speedy trip?
One of the most exclusive parts of the Concorde experience is how you board. After passing through airport security with the riff-raff at JFK, Concorde passengers head straight for BA’s Concorde Lounge. This lounge did not appear too different from any other airport lounge, but it certainly FELT different than say, the Crown Room at Hartsfield’s Concourse A! Once there, you never have to leave. The jetway extends from the lounge straight to the plane.
About 20 minutes before take off, two frosted glass sliding doors part, behind them are two polished wooden check in desks staffed by friendly BA attendants, who politely announce back to front boarding. Although the flight was full, all 100 of us boarded briskly and civilly.
The Concorde is built for speed, not for spaciousness. After ducking through the door to enter, the interior felt about the same size as a good old sub-sonic DC-9. And since the plane is a rather ancient 30 years old, I was expecting some reminders of the 70’s– kind of like what you’d expect to see on an old DC-9.
Not on this bird. The interior of the Concorde is as updated as any plane just off the assembly line. Clean as a whistle (as it should be, right?). My guess it that the interior is ripped out and replaced on a rather frequent basis.
The 100 seat cabin is split into a front and rear section, divided by a block of bathrooms in the middle. However, all seats in both cabins are first class. Each row is spaced comfortably in front of the other; a few inches more than you’d see on a domestic first class section.
Settling into the gray wool and leather trimmed seat was like getting into the seat in a European sports car. It’s rather sturdy, and holds you and supports you, and let’s you know that your in something special. Each seat has two windows, which were surprisingly small– about the size of a passport.
Once seated with the doors closed, the pilot introduced himself, and clearly explained the sounds, thrusts and pitches that we’d feel as we reached our cruising altitude of 60,000 feet and speed of 1500 mph.
Take off was rather hair raising because the plane must reach 250 miles per hour before it lifts off the runway (this is why insiders call it “the rocket”, my seatmate explained). After a slow and (by law) quiet glide over the green meadows of England to the Atlantic, there is a slight rumble as the after-burners are turned on, and only a mostly undetectable acceleration as we break the sound barrier—and there was no audible “boom.” Soon the clouds below look like something out of a satellite weather map, and the sky turns an incredible cobalt blue.
By now flight attendants were cheerily pouring champagne and orange juice for this brunch flight across the Atlantic. Then came a nice small plate (Royal Doulton china and crystal, mind you) of smoked salmon canapes, some nice cheese and crackers, dried fruits. I chose a salade nicoise with freshly grilled tuna, and a tasty glass of white Meursault from France.
After brunch, I dozed off for a while, awakened by flight attendants passing out gifts to passengers—in our case a nice fat chrome Cross fountain pen. Then the pilot announced that Nantucket Island was just off to the right, and that we’d be slowing down for our approach to Kennedy.
Wow! We were already on approach and I hadn’t even had time to read the magazines, or listen to the sound system. All the way across the Atlantic in a mere three hours—kind of like flying to Salt Lake City from Atlanta. Jet lag? Not a trace.
Throughout the flight I was studying this crowd of 100—each of whom had paid in the neighborhood of $5,000 for the one-way flight. I was expecting superstars, kings, and princes, but it was a pretty normal crowd. Mostly white businessmen in suits, a few women in traditional middle eastern and Indian garb, a couple of turbans, a few retired couples, and a male model.
And despite a studied nonchalance among all this elite group of travelers, it was clear that everyone was looking at everyone else and just DYING to ask: what are you doing on this plane, and why?
(Here’s a link to the Concorde Trip Report w photos from 2003 posted last week)
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