Flying Concorde (Trip Report)

Almost a decade ago, I had the pleasure of being able to fly on one of the most incredible aircraft to have flown passengers around the world… Concorde. After the flight, I wrote the trip up for an aviation discussion group in which I’m still a member, and I stumbled across that trip report in my files yesterday. It didn’t take me long to dig up a few of the old photos from that trip, so I scanned them in (these were old school prints from a negative) and thought I’d share with you all today.

My Concorde

This trip was on the legendary flight BA001 from London/Heathrow to New York/JFK in December 2002, less than a year before the end of Concorde’s life as a passenger carrier. At that time, British Airways had started to get more liberal about letting employees and their friends fly on the aircraft at a heavy discount. Since I had a friend who worked at BA, I was able to take advantage of the opportunity. I don’t remember the exact amount, but I was able to fly in Club World (business class) from LA to London with a return on Concorde for under $2,000. It was worth every penny and more to get such an incredibly unique experience.

Here is the trip report I put together back in 2002 with only minor edits for clarity.

Unfortunately, December 26 is Boxing Day in England. I don’t know what this holiday is, and to be honest, nobody else does either. I must have asked a half dozen different Brits and nobody could explain it to me. I’m pretty sure Harrod’s invented it as a national shopping day, but I could be wrong. All I know is that this meant the tube opened later than normal and the Heathrow Express train service was downgraded to a slower coach service. So though I wanted to get to Heathrow very early to enjoy the lounge experience, it was not to be.


December 26, 2002
British Airways 001 Lv London/Heathrow 1030a Arr New York/JFK 925a
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate in Lounge, Runway 27R, Depart 2m Early
New York/JFK (JFK): Gate 1 (?), Runway 31R, Arrive 7m Early
G-BOAF, Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde, Union Jack Tail, ~60% Full
Seat 2A
Flight Time 3h30m

I arrived about an hour and a quarter early and went straight to the Concorde check-in desk. They checked me in quickly and asked if I was okay with sitting in seat 14D (the seat I had pre-reserved). I said I would prefer a seat further forward in the window if they had it. The agent told me they didn’t, but he would put my request in the computer in case something opened up. After stealing an extra Concorde bag tag, I headed to security. BA First Class, Business, and Concorde passengers can go through the “Fast Track” line which had no waiting. This was helpful, because the regular security area had very long lines. Once I made it through security I headed to the lounge.

Upon arrival at the lounge, the agent at the front checked my boarding pass and told me that if I went to the gate (which is in the lounge), they would be happy to take my coat for me, so I did just that. After, I put my bag down and got a small sandwich from the restaurant area, which had the sound of birds in the morning being piped in through the speakers.

Neighbor Concorde

They had a full menu of breakfast foods, hot and cold, and of course a full bar. The lounge had big panoramic windows which looked out on two Concordes parked side by side. I don’t know where the other one was going, but it was at the adjacent gate to ours. I checked my email in their business center which also had fax machines, printers, and anything else you could possibly need. The bathrooms were also very nice… they had only one faucet for both hot and cold water. This is apparently something the rest of the UK has yet to figure out. There is also a spa for Concorde passenger use, but I did not have time for that.

An agent announced boarding at about 10a, and everyone slowly wandered over toward the gate. I didn’t see anyone famous, though there was a family that had the same odd inbred look that many of the royals have. I walked up to the podium and they took my boarding pass and informed me my seat had been changed to 2A since those people had not shown for the flight. I was surprised that a request in the computer actually turned into results, because that always seems to be a black hole. I walked through the jetway with several people wishing me a pleasant trip along the way down. I don’t know if that was their only job, but if so, then they were very good at it. I turned the corner and there she was… Concorde.

Interior

First thought? Damn that door is small. You really have to crouch down to get inside. If you turn to the left, the cockpit is there, but there is a huge galley area along both sides before you reach the first passenger seats. There is not much headroom in there, and anyone taller than me would likely have to duck. The new interiors are very attractive.

I grabbed a couple of things out of my bag and then squeezed my carryon into the small overhead bin. I sat down in the small yet somewhat comfortable blue leather seat which had cradle seat tendencies and looked out the extremely tiny windows, noticing how high we were off the ground.

There were no pre-departure drinks offered onboard, probably since we had just come out of the lounge, but they did take our drink orders for once we were airborne, and they did give us hot towels on the ground. As everyone settled in, the captain came on and welcomed us on board and told us about the weather in London (showers, of course) and New York (friggin’ cold and windy). Then, with his most perfect British accent, he said “the weather enroute doesn’t concern us. We’ll be well above it.” So cool.

[Editors Note: I later found out from a pilot friend who flew the Atlantic that day that it was a rough one with the seatbelt sign on much of the crossing. We, however, felt nothing at our lofty altitude.]

We pushed back a bit early and on our taxi out, the menu for the inflight breakfast was handed out to each person. Then the captain came on again and explained to us that he uses the “reheats” on takeoff, but soon after, he cuts them off to reduce noise, so we should not be alarmed when we hear the engine noise decrease dramatically.

The takeoff roll on this bird is phenomenal. I felt and heard the power right away, but it doesn’t seem to get going very quickly. It’s a long roll, and when we finally were airborne, we seemed to hover above the runway only climbing slightly for the first minute or so. Then, it was like Top Gun. Nose up, steep climb into the clouds, and then finally he cut the reheats off and we settled back down to a shallower climb.

At about 10,000 ft, he turned on the Mach meter in the cabin. This had Mach speed, MPH, outside temp, distance to JFK, and altitude. At that time, we were going Mach .93. We stayed between .93 and .96 until we reached about 26,000 ft. At that point, we cleared the coastline, and it was show time. The reheats came on and it was an odd feeling. It’s like little boosts of power, so you feel a surge forward and then it comes back a little.

Only a few seconds later, we broke the sound barrier.

It was a rapid climb to about 35,000 feet and then a slow creeping climb beyond that. We hit Mach 1.5 at 40,000 ft and then Mach 1.8 at 45,000 ft. We finally hit our cruise speed of Mach 2 as we passed through 48,500 ft. Of course, until this point, I had been staring alternately out the window and at the Mach meter with a drink in my hand. Once we hit cruise, it was time for the meal, so I switched my focus.

Lunch appetizer

The meal service was phenomenal, even if I had no idea what the things on the menu actually meant. Here is my best translation of what they served me. (Yes, I’m frighteningly unsophisticated.) Surprisingly, all utensils were plastic, not just the knives:

  • “Canapes” – little round things with lox and other stuff on them
  • Appetizer “Carpaccio of pineapple with greek yoghurt, fresh berries and honeycomb” – fruit with cream, also served with caviar and toast and fresh bread
  • Main Course “New season lamb with a thyme and herb pancake wrapped in brioche served with ginger and redcurrant compote” – great meat in the form of a hot pocket – there were 3 other choices, but this looked best
  • Dessert “Chocolate and caramel tart with Earl Grey tea creme anglaise” – awesome chocolate death

Finally, I finished with some tea and I was a happy man. Just staring out the window of this plane is awe-inspiring. You can see the deep, dark blue thin atmosphere overhead and the curvature is noticeable. Unreal. Of course, the ride is completely smooth up there and while it’s loud, you don’t feel the speed in any way.

View From 55000 Feet

While I don’t usually mention the lavs onboard, I think this time it’s worth a mention. The lavs on Concorde are very nice. Of course, they’re small, so a mile high club encounter would have been very impressive. There was a red rose and bouquet of some other flowers near the sink. In addition, there were cloth towels to wash your hands.

I started talking to one of the flight attendants. Everyone on that plane loves what they do. I noticed that they did not sit down the entire flight to take a break. It must be a tough 3 1/2 hours, but then again, it’s only 3 1/2 hours. The flight attendant brought me a couple of certificates that the Captain would sign for me upon landing saying that I flew Concorde. Nice touch, especially for an airline dork.

A couple of hot towels later, it was sadly time to descend. The inital descent was rapid as we dropped speed and altitude very quickly. At about 32,000 ft, we came back down through Mach 1 and we leveled out. At 14,000 ft, we were down to Mach .72 and we were getting ready for landing. The coat that I had dropped off at the gate now appeared at my seat as we passed through 10,000 ft and 420 mph. At 5,000 ft, they turned off the Mach meter and we bounced our way down through the howling winds.

Enjoying the Ride

Though I’ve heard that Concorde is not very stable on approach, I didn’t find it to be uncomfortable at all, even with the strong winds. We touched down at about 225 mph (according to the flight attendants), and that was a odd sensation to be going so fast. That ended quickly when our friendly captain slammed on the brakes apparently trying to set the world record in the “Unbelted Passenger Toss” event. Fortunately, there were no contestants on our flight.

It was a slow taxi with all the snow and ice on the ground from the previous day’s storm, but we pulled into the gate, and I stayed back until everyone deplaned. I walked around a little, talking to the flight attendants, and then I went up to the cockpit and had a look around at the vintage dials and gauges.

I was very sad to step off the plane into the bitter cold NYC air, but it was a phenomenal trip. We hit a max altitude of 55,000, a max speed of 1280 mph, and it took 3:30 flying time. I will never forget this experience.


34 Responses to Flying Concorde (Trip Report)

  1. From a Brit…

    Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradespeople would receive gifts from their superiors or employers
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day

    If you want to understand the text on menus, you need to take your wife out to some posh restaurants occasionally, or buy her a fancy cookbook and hope she gets the hint !

  2. What a cool trip report! Thanks for finding/posting it!!

  3. A says:

    Ha! I’ve never understood why the British don’t use sink faucets that mix hot & cold water. Sounds like an exciting trip. Would love to see the cockpit photos. In 2000 I was in Europe when the AF crash happened. Remeber seeing them grounded at LHR. Sad that supersonic travel isn’t around anymore. If only it didn’t burn so much fuel.

  4. Jason H says:

    Just walking through the AF and the test Concorde at the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget gave me chills. Heck, walking into the hanger you would think the planes were new designs ready to take to the skies for the first time. I wish I had gotten an opportunity to fly one. You are a lucky man Brett and thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  5. JM says:

    Great trip report, Brett.

    I am envious, of course– but still plan to keep reading CF anyway.

    JM

  6. When I worked for TWA BA once offered us a chance to fly Concorde for $500, a few people in the office did it but I had no interest. I thought it was odd they offered that to a group of people who could fly their own airline to/from London. They must have had a slow period and needed some extra cash….lol

    The only compments I’ve heard from people was that it was fast and that was all. People liked the cabin/service on traditional aircraft more.

  7. chinger says:

    Nice Report. Also, you look good with a beard.

  8. rc says:

    Nice report, if not current :)

    About a month before AF stopped flying Concorde, my family got a chance to experience it JFK-CDG-JFK. It was my wife, daughter (who was then 3), and me. We were the only family with kids outbound, but there was a family with teenagers on the return. Thanks to Delta, it was merely a bazillion frequent flyer miles, but so worth it for what was an ultimate aspirational trip. The speed was nice: left NYC in the am, and had dinner at a normal hour down the street from l’Arc de Triomphe…after checking into our hotel and washing up!

    Our inflight experience was similar. It was loud, but noise-cancelling headphones were provided at each seat. We marvelled at the slow-moving aircraft miles below us. And delighted when we entered/left French airspace as they broke out the Dom and caviar. We were warned about the lack of carry-on space, so, despite our natural tendencies, we checked our bags. Of course, it was my wife’s that was lost for 3 days!

    The downside of the speed came on the return. We had onward connections. Despite landing “before” we departed Paris, we arrrived after the early morning rush of international arrivals. This made immigration a breeze, but meant waiting hours to continue our trip…and the Concode lounge was open only to departing passengers.

    And, in case anyone was wondering, yes, the French can do customer service, and very well. At least they did on Concorde service.

  9. Erik B says:

    Who’s that young guy with the newspaper? Is that your friend that worked at BA? ;-)

  10. Kathleen says:

    This was always on my “bucket list” how sad that we did not know the opportunity would not always be there for us! Thanks for sharing…

  11. Giles says:

    Great story, Brett. Thanks!
    Who is the guy with the beard in the seat in front of you?

  12. malbarda says:

    Great trip report, and it could have been mine. I flew Concorde once as well, it was in 1998. I remember that the actual in-flight experience was underwhelming as, basically, it consisted of a lavish meal at Mach 2. The seat lay-out of two-two was also surprising. Concorde was not a spacious plane! There was no in-flight entertainment at all. But despite all of that it was a memorable experience none-the-less, because the flight took only 3.5 hours, and because you flew at that incredible altitude.

    Because at the time I was very concerned with being a cool dude, I declined the signed certificate which I now very much regret. I do still have the bottle opener in a small white Concorde box, which they gave all passengers as a souvenir/gift.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  13. Jeremy says:

    http://flic.kr/p/dkNNzw

    There is a Concord at the Museum of Flight in Seattle if you have never seen one in person.

    • Steve says:

      I skipped out of work the day that Concorde landed at King Co Airport/Boeing Field. The plane made a low pass to the south, then lifted off toward SeaTac, kicked in the afterburners (or something causing great amounts of black smoke to pour from the plane) made a hard bank to the east, came around and landed. As they rolled by the terminal, the cockpit crew were waving a British flag out of one side and an American flag out the other. It was a very cool experience.

      I have since toured the Concorde on display, but everything is covered in some sort of plastic/Lexan, so photos are nigh impossible from the glare even without flash. It’s still a way cool airplane.

  14. Paul says:

    Flying Concorde was really a highlight of my sales career at Air France. A lawyer/Concorde fan chartered it to make set the round the world speed record for a flight. At the last minute they’re were a couple of seats available. I got to take the flight on the stage from BKK to BAH. I only got “One Night in Bangkok” – the song plays in my head everytime I think of the trip. I believe that was the longest segment ever flown by Concorde. What a memory – thanks for bringing it back!

  15. SteveZ says:

    There’s a BA Concorde at the Museum of Flight in Seattle— possibly the same one you flew on. I see it all the time, have been in it several times (at the museum), and regret that I’d never gotten to fly in it. It was truly the end of an era when they stopped flying Concordes. Thank you for this great article.

  16. Woofbite says:

    I rode Concorde a couple of times and it was a thrill. Once at JFK we had to go around because the plane ahead of us didn’t clear the runway. The other trip was delayed about 20 minutes departing because of an inop fuel gauge and they had to dip-stick the tank to be sure it was full! (Not exactly a sophisticated move on a supersonic airplane).
    If I remember correctly. The flights to New York and Washington may have only been about 3 and a half hours but the crew flew them as turn-arounds so they probably stood 7 or 8 hours the day you flew.
    Nobody on my flights did much sitting. When I flew you could still visit the cockpit and wander around the plane — and everybody did. I didn’t recognize any famous faces either.

  17. Jeff says:

    I got to see the Concord take off once and it was an impressive sight. It looked like it was going straight up.

  18. Roger says:

    There is some debate based on how you measure it and secret funding, but the consensus is generally that the US spent more on the cancelled Boeing 2707 than the UK/France did getting some actual flying aircraft.

    My high school maths teacher had worked as an engineer on Concorde – he mostly worked on the inlet system so supersonic air would be slowed down to subsonic for the engines. Back then they gave their work to computers to calculate. Except then a computer was a woman sitting with many others in a large room who did the calculations! He also said that the floor panels were the most heavily designed component. Every time there were any issues (money, technical, politics etc), the engineers were retasked with the floor panels.

  19. Neil says:

    Growing up on Long Island, not far from JFK, I recall seeing it flying low over the backyard a lot. Always cool to see – and I remember it didn’t sound like any other plane I’d ever heard.

  20. Ed Kelty says:

    Sorry that I missed flying the Concorde. The other regret was not flying to the moon. After the moon anding, many of us signed up for lunar flights — which of course would be on Pan Am. They seriously had a list of potential passengers before they went bankrupt.

  21. Lanny says:

    Thanks for the great report. I’ve toured Concorde at the Museum of Flight in Seattle and its impressive. Seems to be a real long airplane. Would have loved to have flown it… Maybe if I was 10 years older I could have. Thanks again for sharing.

  22. Daren S says:

    Thanks CF for bringing back those memories. I was also lucky enough to fly Concorde in 1998, the same flight 001. A friend of mine worked for BA and he was a courier on the flight and I got a special price (think it was about £600). It was just as you describe. The speed was fantastic but was kind of disappointed that it ended so quickly! I also recall the day when Concorde flew the last services to London. I was working at home and I stood outside and saw them circling over my home in SW London waiting to land. Most days it would roar over my house if it took off to east, unforgettable sound, the windows would rattle!

  23. Michael says:

    Thank you for posting this report and the photographs. I’ve always wondered what it would have been like. The cabin is smaller than I imagined, but for 3.5 hours I could definitely cope! :)

  24. Observer says:

    Thanks for the posting. Don’t want to make you feel bad but as an airline employee I once had the opportunity to fly roundtrip for about $450/USD. I’m still sick over the fact that I didn’t do it. Some coworkers did take the offer – of course with no regrets.

  25. yo says:

    I hate you…when I was at AWA there was a way to nonrev for 700 bucks OW, but I didn’t have the scratch, glad you got to go. Beats my KC135 refueling the B2 Stealth Bomber and IL62M flight…

    LOL

  26. Brett, wonderful writing and a great experience.

    Thank you for providing a wonderful story for me to end a long, but good day.

  27. Robert Wagner says:

    I love how poignant this sentence is:

    “Only a few seconds later, we broke the sound barrier.”

  28. Brian Lusk says:

    Great report Brett. I was lucky enough to fly Concorde twice. Once was in the early 1980s when I worked for Delta. BA had just started their charter program and rather than fly the positioning leg empty, they sold the flights to airline employees for $350, which included a subsonic “sub-lo” standby fare for the other leg. Amazingly, we had full Concorde service, plus a 4th Pilot who acted as a trip narrator. Because this was pre 9/11 we were invited into the cockpit after dinner. I also got to see Concorde at ramp level at DFW while with DL as we ground handled a charter. My second trip was not long after yours, and I took advantage of BA’s farewell Concorde sale. The two greatest flights of my life, and I am still sad that this magnificent airplane has been grounded.

  29. Possibly your best ever trip report, Brett, thanks for dusting off the archives!

  30. Malbarda says:

    Found this video of a departing Concorde from JFK and thought it appropriate to share here. Enjoy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nmej8LXtqrY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  31. Tim Pat McRaven says:

    A little late to the party here… but what a great story!

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