Sunday, July 9, 2023


I never could say that I flew Concorde but, courtesy of the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, I can say I have sat in British Airways G-BOAD, which flew from New York to London in a record time of two hours, fifty-two minutes and fifty-nine seconds.

However, this record was achieved on 7th February 1996, a long time for such a record to go unsurpassed. Once capable of travelling at twice the speed of sound, this plane’s wing was used by me earlier that day as an awning from the summer heat.

Having previously written about the idea of “the future” having ended with the withdrawal of Concorde from service in 2003, with supersonic passenger travel having turned back into a goal for another generation, I am guilty of believing that speed equals progress. Taking seven hours cross the Atlantic feels like a compromise, the ability to travel faster having now passed, no matter how expensive the flight on the most exclusive of aircraft had been.

Tour groups could sit in the front few rows of G-BOAD, with the remainder of the cabin, galley and toilets roped off. After hearing about the history and technical feats of Concorde, a few of us at a time could look into the tightly-packed cockpit while the guide answered our questions. Developed in the 1960s and using manual, analogue controls, a separate flight engineer sat with the pilots to manually control the fuel from the thirteen fuel tanks across the aircraft, and crucially maintain its centre of gravity. It was explained to us that two people were required to fly the plane, while the third ensured there was still a plane to fly.

What passed for luxury seating and space on Concorde following its final 2001-02 refit is equal to Premium Economy on a Boeing 777, plus leather seats, and minus the in-flight entertainment. But with Concorde being its own attraction, having your meals served on fine china, and receiving a certificate to commemorate your flight, more than balances out having a few stereo music channels available to listen. 

My question to the guide concerned not speed, or the pressure exerted on the plane during supersonic travel – the tiny windows being the alternative to having none at all – but the luggage space. 

It turns out that cabin luggage allocations were the same as for a regular flight, although the overhead bins were quite shallow, while only one 12kg suitcase was allowed in the hold, located at the rear. This followed an initial period of the luggage being delivered on a separate plane, negating the time saved by the supersonic journey, but outside of those taking the weekly trips made by Concorde to Barbados, you were most likely an executive on a business day trip to sign contracts, and carrying hand luggage only. You could still get a bag under the seats.

This confirmed to me that speed was the only advantage Concorde really had. Its prohibitive development cost, and the luxury level at which it was sold to recoup that cost, meant it was never developed any further, leaving reinvention as the next step. The online realm also eliminated the time advantage it offered for business customers, meaning new reasons must be found for needing to travel so fast, other than expecting it to be an option.


They say never to meet your heroes...

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