Concorde and myself go back a long way, it used to roar over my school en route to New York at 10.50am on the dot every morning and over my house at 5.15pm each evening on the way back. As that special aircraft went over I always wondered who was onboard and was always slightly envious about the experience they were embarking upon. As I went back to class to study the nuances of advanced calculus, men and women in lounge suits were sipping vintage champagne perhaps preparing for a meeting, a premiere for their latest film or some other lavish and prestigious event.
In 1996 a friend who was a Concorde captain took a book of mine about the history of the aircraft to New York and back and got the crew to sign it for me. Not only that but he gave me a vast array of other objects from duty free magazines, to Jeppesens to passenger folders all about the Concorde experience. This peaked my interest and I was just looking to find an appropriate time to fly her. In 2002 that time came, I was approaching the end of school and my father, who was well aware of my interest asked if I was interested in going to New York as a leaving present, oh and I've bought you tickets on Concorde. I couldn't believe it, and there he handed me the tickets! I kept them in their neat British Airways ticket wallet as if they were the winning lottery ticket I had to wait to claim. Claim day arrived....
Route: London Heathrow (Terminal 4) - New York JFK (Terminal 7)
Airline: British Airways
Flight Number: BA001
Aircraft: Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde 102
Seat: 16A (Supersonic Class)
Distance: 3451 miles
Duration: 3hrs 19mins
Date: Thursday 5th September 2002
Photo © Matthew I. Smith
Photo © Art Brett - Photovation Images
My mother was joining me for the trip to New York City, however, she wasn't as enthusiastic about paying the premium for Concorde only to be cooped up in a smaller seat. However, we all travelled together to the airport making our first trip of the day to Zone E. With mother checked-in and off through to airside my father and I sat at the Costa coffee shop right at the other end of the terminal. We supped on some hot chocolate watching a BAA chap in a flourescent jacket chase some pigeons, a pretty futile effort analogous to chasing a deflating helium balloon around a cathedral!
I opted not to take advantage of Concorde's 30 minute minimum check-in and at 8.15am just over two hours before pushback we walked the length of Terminal 4, back to the Concorde & First passengers alcove. A small queue had formed just behind a British Airways member of staff. 'And where are we flying to today?' Without trying to crack too much of a smile, 'New York, on BA001'. The lady took me to the front of the queue and just afterwards a man was escorted past me by Special Services and taken right to the next waiting agent.
I was up next and I retrieved my ticket and passport and plopped my bag on the scale for weighing. My bag handle was wrapped with a thick grey and silver Concorde baggage tag and I was given one other for my hand luggage. I cheekily asked whether it was possible to get a couple more baggage tags for some friends of mine who knew about my trip and were eager for a little souvenir. I was told not to let on to any other staff
Having just checked in for BA001
With my silver boarding pass for seat 16A in hand my father took a photo of me in front of the check-in area and I gathered my belongings together ready for the passage airside and to the Concorde Room.
I stopped off at the duty free shop on the way to pick up aftershave and then headed for the Lounge Pavilion opposite Gate 10. The wooden doors of the Concorde Room ahead of me and a flash of a boarding pass to the 'Lounge Pavilion warden' and a subsequent swipe by the ladies on the front desk and I was through. I took a seat with a great view of the aircraft on the tarmac below. A gentleman approached me in a waistcoat, offering me drinks and breakfast with a smattering of 'Mr Davidson' this and that in there too. This was quite a way to start breakfast! I realised that after years of waiting I was here, in an hour I was going to board the aircraft on the stand, and in five I was going to be across the Atlantic and in New York City. A quite remarkable thought! I sent a friend of mine a text message letting her know that in a couple of hours I was going to be buzzing her house I decided to go and fetch my own glass of champagne from the bar and whilst at it snapped a couple of pictures of the recently refurbished Concorde Room.
The Concorde Room at Heathrow. (The top two pictures are from other visits)
I went back to my seat near the window when an elderly gentleman who seemed to be fairly deaf asked what flight I was on. He remarked he was also on BA001 and asked me to wake him up when the flight was called. I flicked through the paper and a couple of the magazines that were out on the racks, I was surprised by the wide range of magazines, quite an impressive selection. Supping on a glass of vintage champagne, reading the newspaper waiting to board Concorde to New York. That's the life!
Enjoying the view of G-BOAD on the tarmac below
With boarding imminent I was taking a couple of pictures of Alpha Delta on the apron below when one other passenger asked if I'd like my photo taken with the aircraft below. I accepted the offer and returned the favour for him. Right on time the initial boarding announcement for 'Supersonic Service BA1 for New York' was made, noting that storage space onboard was limited and that if anyone wanted to store any coats for the flight that they should bring them to the Concorde boarding gate with their boarding pass.
I gathered my belongings and awoke the gentleman beside me who was most grateful. A small line had developed at the frosted glass Concorde doors (Photo from TravelScholar.com) which were now open with a gate agent processing passengers. As I stood I struck up polite passing conversation with the lady standing in front of me, it wasn't until afterwards that I noticed she was a rather well known young American actress en route to New York.
I handed my silver boarding pass to the gate agent and fortunately was left with the whole boarding pass, a much better souvenir than a lousy stub! I walked down the steps and along the corridor towards the jetbridge. I was pulled out of the line and given a full bag search and asked why I was flying Concorde today, 'well to get to New York of course!'. My belongings were placed back into my bag and I was on my way down to the aircraft. At this time it was beginning to hit me that I'd finally made it onto a scheduled Concorde flight. I showed my boarding pass to the flight attendant at the door and was directed to my seat in the rear cabin. I'd specifically wanted an 'A' seat so I could see my school, from where I'd seen Concorde so many times, however, at telephone check-in the night before the furthest 'A' seat I could get was 16A. I walked through the surprisingly full cabin, grabbing a copy of a golf magazine from the racks behind 10A and B. I found row 16 and squeezed past my seatmate who was already well into his crossword. I got my camera from my bag and settled in for the flight.
The view from the rather small window at seat 16A
I took a peek out of the window and was surprised to see how small it was. The window pane on the inside was actually quite large but within the thick fuselage it tapered inwards and the actual 'porthole' was only about the size of a passport!
Welcome to Concorde
I was interested to see who else was onboard and so took a peek round, my neighbour was all suited and booted as were a number of others. A young couple dressed down to T-shirts were cradling a baby a couple of rows away and the rest seemed to be a mix of all sorts. After around fifteen minutes we pushed back and the experience proper began! What struck me about the seats, apart from the fact they were rather comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, was how much they smelled exactly like those in my father's car! It was quite uncanny!
Our standby aircraft G-BOAE on hand just in case Alpha Delta went tech
As we taxied out sister aircraft, G-BOAE was on stand beside, just in case Alpha Delta went technical. An announcement was made explaining the somewhat unique takeoff procedures involved with flying Concorde, noting for 'virgins' that takeoff was a little sportier than normal. I was quite surprised to hear Mike Bannister make this voluntary announcement bearing in mind a significant amount of Concorde passengers are regulars. Either way as the new guy I was grateful! During the taxi one of the flight attendants came round asking what drink we'd like to have post takeoff. After a couple of glasses of champagne in the lounge I went with orange juice.
We taxied across Heathrow's active runway to depart from 27R, at this time due to resurfacing of the southern runway Concorde operations could only utilise the northern runway. As we sat the noise of four Rolls Royce Olympus 593 engines filled the cabin, and then the brakes were released. What began as a relatively normal (though noisy) takeoff roll became one that increased so rapidly I didn't know where to look; a very long, very noisy, but incredible takeoff roll that felt like a slingshot in fast forward!
A few minutes after takeoff, accelerating towards Mach 0.95 over West Berkshire
Unfortunately due to thick cloud I wasn't able to see my old school and as we climbed out towards the Bristol Channel I monitored our Mach speed, groundspeed and altitude. As we hit Mach 0.95, the fastest we could before going supersonic the seatbelt sign was switched off and I dashed for the bathroom. Several others had the same idea and I really didn't want to break the speed of sound for the first time whilst I was taking a pee! What was quite noticeable was how hot the mid cabin galley was, I wouldn't have wanted to wait there too long! After waiting a couple of minutes it was my turn to play contortionist. Bathrooms on aircraft are rarely spacious at the best of times but this was plain ridiculous! Anyone who claims to have joined the Mile High Club on Concorde was either two foot tall or found a quiet row of seats! The bathroom itself was exceptionally old fashioned, it appeared as though it hadn't received a renovation of any kind since it entered service! The presence of a lone rose in a vase was the only positive point, it certainly felt a world away from the vintage champagne and Connolly leather feel of the cabin itself!
Travelling faster than sound...
I managed to get back to my seat just in time to get a photo of the Marilake displays announce we were now travelling supersonically. Something I'd heard before my flight was that when the afterburners on the four engines were ignited in pairs for the transition to supersonic flight that quite a jolt is felt in the cabin, I didn't even notice it on this flight! From now the Marilakes slowly inched towards Mach 2.0 and our cruising altitude into the thirty and forty thousand feet territory. As Concorde burns fuel and loses weight it climbs, almost right up until descent into JFK is commenced. It seemed an appropriate time for the meal service to begin and where Concorde provides an interesting quandary. With a 10.30am pushback and meal service pushed out about an hour or so later do you go with a lunch based on London time, or a breakfast based on NYC time? Well the menu reads as follows:
Greek Yoghurt, fresh berries, toasted muesli and honeycomb
Farmhouse brunch of scrambled eggs, pork sausage, grilled bacon, tomato and sauteed wild mushrooms
Sea bass with a leek and saffron reduction
Aubergine, red pepper torte with grilled courgettes, mushroom polenta, basil and tomato coulis
Caesar salad with free range chicken breast, quails eggs and shaved truffles
Chocolate and banana mousse on a hazelnut crust
Stilton, goats cheese and unpasteurised Kirkham Lancashire
Selection of bread rolls
Coffee, decaffinated coffee, a selection of tea with chocolates
As an alternative to the full menu, we are pleased to offer a selection of freshly made sandwiches including salmon and cucumber, chicken salad and pastrami
Champagne: Cattier, Clos du Moulin
White Wine: Corton-Charlemagne 1991 Domaine Bonneau du Martray
Red Wine: Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafite 1994 Grand Cru Classe Pessac-Leognan
Port: Dow's 1978 Reserve Tawny Port'
I went for the Greek yoghurt followed by the farmhouse breakfast, not exactly what I was expecting from a meal on Concorde but what the hell. I didn't take any pictures of the meals themselves, at the time I took the flight a trip report was an unknown entity and taking pictures of airline food seemed, well, ridiculous! Fortunately for you lot though airlinemeals.net comes to the rescue and if you want to see a picture of the breakfast look at photo 091. The meals themselves were quite alright, rather quaint and best described as bonsai meals. As for the food I'm pretty fussy about scrambled eggs but these weren't half bad, rather buttery and not like dried out rubber you often find onboard. Despite the best work of Sir Terence Conran and design team the presentation of the meals and beautiful glassware was rather spoiled by the disposable plastic cutlery, that said at the time of flight 9/11 was still rather fresh in the memory.
At cruising speed
After the meals were cleared away it was time to enjoy the rest of the ride. I chatted with my seatmate, a French businessman in his sixties that split his time between Paris and New York. He mentioned he used to fly Air France Concorde but found the BA service better and so shuttles himself up to Heathrow first thing in the morning. The crew certainly seemed to know who he was and vice versa and he certainly won blasé points by turning down food and drink, doing the crossword during takeoff and generally seeming uninterested! Then again if you're doing thirty or forty trips a year (as he was doing) then even something as unusual and exclusive as supersonic travel could be become mildly tiresome!
I made sure to get the Concorde cufflinks I was after so asked the flight attendant for a pair. Unfortunately ( ) they only had enormous bags left, about as far removed from a duty free bag as the plastic tat I'd received at Heathrow. The thoughtfully designed bag made of thick white card featured the word 'Concorde' and the Speedmarque embossed on it, both in white. As much a souvenir as the cufflinks themselves!
I listened to MiniDisc player and enjoyed the magnificent, unparalleled view from my little porthole. The deep indigo sky just within touching distance above me and the thing veil of cloud over the sea below. You really did feel as though any second from now objects in the cabin would begin to float around the cabin.
The view from almost 58,000ft
I did my best to spot the curvature in the Earth but from my vantage point I couldn't really make it out, didn't know if the expanse of cloud below me was assisting or not. The distance between the large inner and small outer windows probably didn't help me eyes adjust either. One other point of interest was how warm the windows got during the cruise, even with the gap of several inches between the two windows the outer skin temperature of 198 degrees fahrenheit (92 degrees celsius) was noticeable on the inside. As mentioned before this heating of the aircraft was really noticeable in the almost stifling temperatures of the mid galley. I read an interesting factoid that over a quarter of the power of Concorde's four Olympus 593 engines was used to power the air conditioning when at altitude. How true that is, I'm not sure!
The one thing that really did strike me about flying Concorde was how noisy the cabin was. The flight attendants did their best to keep the 97 passengers aboard BA001 fed and watered but from my window seat communicating with those in the aisle proved troublesome!
After so many years of waiting my first supersonic flight was ending all too fast. I watched as the 'DTG' (Distance To Go) counter slowly ticked down towards zero, relishing every second as much as possible. Then the Marilake displays began to show a deceleration from Mach 2.00, and the altimeters confirmed the beginnings of our steep descent enabling us to fall back into JFK's traffic pattern. The descent felt as though Captain Bannister had just pointed the aircraft at the ground and applied throttle. It was quite marked and noticeable, much more so than any other descent I've experienced. Then again when you are bringing such a unique aircraft from twice the speed of sound and 58,000 feet back into the operating environment of more ordinary aircraft drastic measures are required.
The end of the flight became more of a reality when the Marilake displays ceased providing us with details of our progress to the ominous 'Thank You For Flying Concorde' and then the flight attendants handed coats back to other passengers. I watched from where I was sitting as the familiar swan like shadow of Concorde was projected onto the Atlantic. There was no doubt the aircraft was beautiful from every angle, a true blend of art and science.
The Rockaway neighbourhoods became visible just ahead of us and our shadow grew larger as the final moments of our flight came to an end. We touched down on runway 4L and the reverse thrust was applied. This was no ordinary reverse thrust, deafening beyond comprehension for just a few seconds but enough to bring us from a landing speed of 160kts down to a pedestrian taxi.
We were welcomed to New York and an announcement was made for me (yes, just me!) to remain in my seat at the end of the flight. I watched as all the other passengers disembarked and a flight attendant approached me asking how the flight was and if I was looking forward to my cockpit visit. It turned out that my father's friend who works in operations at BA had specially rostered Captain Bannister for my flight . A few other newbies were milling around the cockpit getting their photos taken on the flight deck and I started talking to the Cabin Services Director. I asked him if any of the writing kits were available and was told they'd used up their stock in-flight but he took down my name and address, gave me his business card and said something would be on its way to me.
I was the last to get a cockpit visit and was given the grand tour, I spent probably a good ten minutes with Captain Bannister asking him about his career, talking about Concorde in general and the aforementioned friend of the family and charismatic Concorde captain. Just before I left I had my picture taken with Captain Bannister beside me. A great end to a very enjoyable flight!
Myself with Captain Mike Bannister
Terminal 7 was, as one would expect, very empty this early in the morning and since all the other passengers had gone through already immigration and customs took around a minute, with my cases already placed to one side. My father had booked a limousine to pick me up and take me to the hotel downtown. The driver was waiting there with a sign for me and expressed surprise that it took me so long to pass through arrivals formalities. Unfortunately the flight was all over much quicker than I'd hoped, it was one of the few flights where I'd relished every minute onboard...and wanted to go around again!
The power of Concorde was more evident than ever after the flight. I'd made no rush of getting to Midtown but had checked in to the hotel (right after Anna Kournikova! ), read the newspaper, gone for a walk and taken a taxi to the Empire State Building, gone to the 86th floor and returned back to the hotel before my mother had even arrived. I even gave her a two hour headstart at Heathrow! Amazing!
Conclusion: Well, what can one say! I've heard many people say meeting your heroes is the biggest disappoint but in my case my supersonic flight to New York was a very enjoyable experience. From start to finish I was treated exceptionally well and I do feel with the retirement of BA's flagship that some standards have slipped across the board. On recent visits to the Concorde Room it seems to have lost the refined and elegant charm it once had, almost just another lounge.
Six months after my flight I heard the news BA were going to retire Concorde and I had very mixed feelings. Part of me really wanted to do it all again one last time, part of me was sad that such an advanced piece of technology was being retired with no equivalent replacement and another part of me was glad I did my flight before the announcement was made. I was one click away from booking a second Concorde flight but decided against it. Something told me my flight was all I asked for and more and that doing it again was unnecessary.
Some final pictures:
1) My paper ticket
2) Boarding pass and ticket wallet
3) Entry that Captain Bannister put in my book, 'The Concorde Story'
4) A host of souvenirs, some of which came from the flight but the rest were sent to me by British Airways after the flight.
Related Links and Thanks:
-BA001: Concorde from London Heathrow - New York John F. Kennedy Int. Airport (Imagestation Album)
-Souvenirs from three Concorde flights and some other Concorde items (Imagestation Album)
-Concorde souvenirs from BA001 (26th May 1996) and BA002 (27th May 1996) (Imagestation Album)
-Last Concorde Passenger Flights (Imagestation Album
-Trip Report by 'The Travel Scholar'
-'Losing My Concorde Virginity' by Charles MD
-The TravelScholar's trip report
-My original trip report
Special thanks to Dad, Max, Mike and Terry for making the flight that bit special and to Mum for dragging herself to New York with me!