Concorde
Flight BA001
London - New York
Friday 7th February 2003


I started things moving the day prior to my trip. As I had a (scabby old Blue) BA Executive Club Card, I checked-in via the ba.com website 24 hours before my trip. I was flying from Edinburgh to London and then London to New York, so it allowed me to check-in to both flights at 6:30am the previous day (I was up for work anyway!). I'm not sure, but I guess this gave me a 2hr head-start on those with Executive Club Cards just travelling from Heathrow.

Anyway, up popped a seating plan for Concorde, and my pre-assigned seat - 8A. This seat was okay, but I noticed I had someone next to me. I like a bit of elbow room to eat, so I changed my seat to 11D. Although this was in the noisier rear cabin, the seat next to me was empty, and it gave me a nice uninterrupted view of the displays on the bulkhead. Incidentally, regardless of where you sit on Concorde, you are in Supersonic Class - there is no distinction between the forward and rear cabins.  I counted about 20 empty seats, so a fairly full flight.

The next day, at Edinburgh Airport, I asked a check-in woman for a couple of baggage tags, and she got all snotty with me for not joining the queue (well for heaven's sake, I wasn't going to queue to ask for a couple of tags! They should leave them out for you to help yourself). After tagging my bags, I got in the short queue to check in. I got a pleasant young lady who was thrilled to see I was taking Concorde. She had a look for some Concorde baggage tags for me, but explained that they don't get many Concorde passengers checking in at Edinburgh, so there were no tags to hand. With this, she told the snotty lady I had encountered earlier to go and fetch a couple of Concorde Tags for "this gentleman"! What a laugh. She also apologised for not having special Concorde Boarding Cards at Edinburgh, but told me I could exchange my standard one for a special one at London.

I had just purchased a standard economy ticket for the Edinburgh to London part of my journey, so didn't think I would get into the Terraced Lounge, but she said I was to take myself up there and present my BA001 Boarding Card to get in, and in I got! What a thrill to be treated so well. Don't get me wrong, they are usually very pleasant at Edinburgh, but today they were going out of their way for me. Nice touch.

While landing in London I noticed Concorde being towed along the taxi-way. This is the first time I have seen it while at Heathrow (and I have been a few times recently). What a coincidence that I should see it the day I was flying on it. That said, I think the one I saw was the back-up aircraft should there be a last-minute problem with ours - but a nice treat just the same.

I made my way briskly to Terminal 4. The monitors invited passengers on BA001 to wait in the Concorde Lounge. I followed the signs through a short corridor to the large fancy wooden doors with "Concorde Room" written in mirrored lettering to the side. Inside there is a reception desk to the right, where I handed over my bog-standard Boarding Pass, and was immediately issued with a special Concorde Boarding Card. A little souvenir. I had a good look round the Lounge and was surprised to see how full it was. It was a good hour and three-quarters before the flight, and yet the lounge was packed. As I understand it normal sub-sonic First Class passengers (the riff-raff!) were allowed to use the Concorde Room. Then I took a look out the window to see G-BOAD sitting right outside looking splendid. There were catering vans and engineers tending to it as I watched. I took a couple of photographs, as did some other people. To my great relief it appeared that there were other passengers for whom this would be their one and only trip on Concorde. They seemed to be enjoying the whole experience much more than some of the business types. No movie stars to be seen, but plenty mutton dressed up as lamb! At one end of the lounge were phones, faxes, and internet access, and at the other was the food area. You can fetch your own food, or the many "waiters/waitresses" will tend to your every need. As I understand it, the Molton Brown Spa was on the next floor down for you use if you wish. I didn't.

Twenty minutes before boarding, a call goes out to Concorde passengers who wish to have their coats taken on board and hung up to present them at the boarding doors. Then at 10am the call came for the first passengers to board. "BA Concorde Supersonic Flight Zero-Zero-One to New York", they say, "Would passengers sitting in seats 14 to 26 please come forward for boarding.". They then board seats 1 to 6, followed by 1 to 10 and FINALLY, 10 to 16 (I was in row 11).

You walk through the glass doors with Concorde and the BA logo etched on them, and down a flight of stairs, giving more marvellous views on the aeroplane. You are then guided round to the ramp for the aircraft. It would have been nice to have boarded via the stairs in the open to provide a photo opportunity, but it was a freezing cold wet day, so I can understand why they do it this way. I gave a quick pat to the fuselage before stepping through the door.  You are welcomed aboard much like any BA flight, and make your way back to your own seat. Of course, you don't have the indignity of having business-class passengers looking down their noses at you as you walk to the rear section of the aircraft! I was on-board by about 10:15, and the doors were shut at approx. 10:25. The stewardesses came round and took our drink requests to be served after take-off, and we were given a hot towel to freshen up after settling into our seats. I noticed G-BOAF sitting to our right – the back-up aircraft should ours have a fault.

Our Crew was Captain C. Norris, First Officer D. Byass, and Engineer Officer A. Walker. Push-back was at 10:28. Captain Norris gave us a brief overview of what to expect during take-off, moving through to supersonic speeds, and landing. As we taxied to runway 27R, he explained that we would fell the full force of the reheat (or after-burners as he interpreted for the Americans on board) during the initial stages of take-off, and that they would be switched off to keep the noise down for the locals as soon as possible. He went on to explain we had an expected cruising altitude of 59,000 feet, and our journey time would be approximately 3hrs 29mins. It took over 15mins to manoeuvre to the runway and wait our turn for take off. This was quite fun as it was a thrill to see all heads turning to look at us as we moved around the airport.

At 10:47am we hurtled down the runway at 250mph. It took just 40 seconds from starting position to the wheels leaving the ground. As we passed over the traffic jams on the motorway, I wondered what it must look like from below (I have never seen Concorde take off). I could only see the beginning of the wing from my window, but it was enough to see the condensation forming in the low pressure on this damp morning.

No sooner were we off the ground than we were through the clouds. No views to be had over the UK! We soon got to 0.95 Mach (11 minutes), and remained at that speed until we cleared land. At this point drinks and canapés were served. What a way to break the sound barrier - not at all what Chuck Yeager experienced just 56 years earlier. It was 22 minutes, and we were at 26,000 feet before breaking the speed of sound. People say they feel a nudge as you go through it, but I didn't feel a thing. If it wasn't for the Marilake display on the bulkhead, I would never have known.

After passing through Mach 1, I did feel a slight push as we accelerated towards Mach 2. The reheat was switched off at Mach 1.64, and I felt a drop in our acceleration, but we were still increasing our speed. The moment we reached Mach 2 (at 11:27) the tablecloths appeared, as Brunch was about to be served.

What a display the food was. It was served on fine elegant white crockery (forgot to peek underneath to see who made it), and not a bit of plastic wrapping or pre-packaging to be seen. No silverware since Sept. 11 2001 of course, but the plastic cutlery was wrapped up in a light green cloth napkin, and held with a brushed stainless steel napkin ring with the BA logo carved out of it.
You are brought your Appetiser (this week it was a “Carpacchio of pineapple with Greek yoghurt, fresh berries and honeycomb”) on your Brunch tray along with your wine (or champagne, or other drink), Caviar, toast, and a roll.

When you have finished your appetiser, the tray is left with you, along with the toast, and drinks, and your appetiser plate is replaced with you Entrée choice (I had the “New season lamb with a thyme and herb pancake wrapped in brioche, served with ginger and redcurrant compote”). More drinks, of course, should you wish.

After the entrée, you are given some time to digest you meal before dessert (about 45mins between the two). Some people used this time to walk forward to the bulkhead displays and have their photograph taken. Quite a number did this during the flight. The cabin crew didn’t mind at all, with the notable exception of our poe-faced Purser (you know who you are Ms Spiers). I think a smile would have caused her face to crack! I wouldn’t normally let it bother me, but throughout the whole Concorde experience, everyone from the ground crew, to the crew on the flight deck and in the cabin, made a huge effort to make you feel comfortable and welcome. I felt they had all been let down somewhat by someone at the sharp-end who just didn’t seem to want to make the effort. Never mind.

Your tray is cleared, and replaced with the dessert tray (if you chose dessert rather than cheese). My “Chocolate and caramel tart with Earl Grey tea crème anglaise” was served with a lovely big cup off coffee, and a small box of chocolate truffles.

It was during desert that the only mishap occurred (and it is something that is par-for-the-course on subsonic aircraft). At Concorde’s altitudes you are, apparently, above the weather, so there is no turbulence. However, I noticed that when we gained altitude, that there was quite a bit of shake. During dessert, we climbed form 52,500ft to 56,000ft within a fairly short space of time. Horror of all horrors, this caused some drops of my coffee to spill from the cup into the saucer!

Our maximum altitude for this flight was 56,500ft, at maximum speed of Mach 2.00. I touched the window next to me several times, and couldn’t believe how hot it was. It felt as hot as a leather car seat on a sunny day, and that was just the plastic window on the inside. The glass would presumably burn me if I were able to touch it. At 13:29 (GMT), we began to decelerate and descend. As we decelerated, the three glasses on my table slid forward. I was surprised to feel this sudden slow-down.

Due to a weather system east of New York City, we dropped out of supersonic speed a little earlier than usual to approach JFK from over Cape Cod and Boston (my final destination, funnily enough). The cabin crew started (rather franticly) handing out the coats that we checked-in before boarding. It was quite an operation! As we approached the airport at New York I touched the window again – it was freezing cold! Looking out the window, all I could see is snow. The landing did seem quite gentle (due to the air cushion under the delta wing, I believe), but when the reverse thrust was applied, oh my goodness what a noise!! So much louder than take-off. We stopped on the snowy runway very quickly.

As we taxied off the runway, I had a look up it, and saw that it was completely covered in snow. All I could see were the wee lights sticking up through the snow. I was surprised we could land in these conditions. We moved at a crawl to the gate. The Captain explained we were going so slowly for safety reasons due to the snow. Quite funny really, when you think we were just thrown onto the white runway at 185MPH!

As I disembarked I saw a sizeable crowd of people in and around the cockpit, clutching their cameras and flight certificates! Quite a party atmosphere, with the crew as the celebrity guests. What a fantastic trip of a lifetime. I couldn’t afford to do it again - I couldn’t really afford to do it this time! But, you have to treat yourself once in a while. I hope you all get a chance to fly Concorde before she is retired by the airlines. I am glad I did.

If you do go, here are some top tips:
~ Check-in online. It lets you pick your seat, and see how full the aircraft is.
~ Blag your way into the lounges if you are taking connecting flights first. Anything you ask for you seem to get when you flash you Concorde ticket!
~ Check to see if you get special transport between terminals at Heathrow. I’m sure you do if you ask. I saw it on their website AFTER I flew.
~ Sitting by the bulkhead gives you a nice view of the displays, but I think there is less leg room. Your table is quite a bit bigger, so more room for drinks!
~ Touch the windows at Mach 2 - HOT!
~ Pinch everything (within reason). I’m sure it is built into the ticket price… ;-)
~ Take plenty of photos (even before boarding), but don’t let the camera get in the way of enjoying the flight.
~ Buy something from duty free, even if it is just a key ring. I didn’t, and am kicking myself now!
~ Grab a couple of Duty Free brochures from the Lounge – one as a souvenir, and the other to chop up and fold (a-la Blue Peter) to turn it into a holder for your Concorde photos. The front and back covers are just the right size, and have a silver Concorde logo to make it look official.
~ Take you time disembarking, and stop for a visit to the cockpit – you won’t be the only one.
~ Get the BA Miles on your Executive Club card – a one-way trip earns enough miles for at least a free UK domestic flight.
~ ASK for a flight certificate. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!



© Stephen Daniels 2003