Trip Report with Photos by The Travel Scholar (Page 2 of 8)
After boarding, I turned right to find my seat. The first thing that I noticed about Concorde was her narrow body, low ceiling, and elongated galleys. Seats were 2x2, with 25 rows of 4 seats separated into two cabins: 10 rows in the forward cabin, and 15 rows in the aft cabin, and rows are numbered 1 through 26 with row 13 omitted. It was already a markedly different plane to the typical "long-haul" wide body aircraft in which I'd flown before.
I made my way back to row 11, seat D, the starboard window seat in the aft cabin bulkhead row. I had specifically asked for a seat in row 11 at check-in for a clear view of the bulkhead information displays, which show the Mach airspeed, altitude, outside air temperature, and MPH ground speed during flight. Overhead lockers were relatively small, but most passengers were carrying relatively small carry-on bags. Any pieces that did not fit in the overhead lockers were happily stowed by flight crew in the valet closets.
Party on Concorde
I'd like to take a moment now to describe a bit more of the atmosphere onboard Concorde. Concorde provided not only a departure from everyday aircraft, but also from everyday travel experiences. What was evident from the excited conversations of first time Concorde passengers in the lounge continued throughout the entire flight. New Concorde flyers, like myself, were eagerly snapping photos here and there and talking happily about how this flight was in celebration of this or that, or how they've always wanted to fly Concorde and this was the realisation of their dream, or how they needed to fly her "just once" before her retirement. I remember overhearing one passenger seated a few rows behind me tell a flight crew member, "I've wanted to fly her since I was four, and this is it!" Even the "regulars" seemed very content and happy to be on the flight, and the cabin and flight crew were all caught up in the excitement as well, volunteering to take photos for passengers, talking about how much they love working on Concorde, and some even getting a bit teary-eyed at the mention of Concorde's retirement. There were no complaints that I heard, but plenty of conversation, laughter, fun, and enjoyment. I've heard others describe some Concorde flights as "one big party," and I agree with them--all the way!
The Concorde Takeoff
We pushed back from the gate on-time at 9:00am and began our taxi to our runway for takeoff. During the taxi, the captain made a few announcements about the flying time, weather in London, and how the Concorde takeoff was different than that of other aircraft. The flight attendants also passed through the cabin to take after-takeoff drink orders and provided a hot towel service.
I've recorded bits of the captain's announcements for you to hear. Due to the 60 second limitation of my digital camera and the time it takes to write the files to the memory card, I was unable to capture the announcements in their entirety. I hope, however, that you will still be able to hear some interesting points. The following files are in .wav format:
As we pulled up to the end of our runway, I could sense the anticipation of my fellow passengers. The takeoff, itself, was exhilarating. The afterburners were switched on and the Concorde raced across the ground at a much higher speed than other aircraft before she actually left the ground. Once in the air, the afterburners were cut, and there was a significantly noticeable reduction in noise and thrust as the aircraft flew toward the clouds at a steep incline whilst performing a hard left turn. The best way I can describe it is as a normal jet takeoff with the G-forces exaggerated to the point where it's actually FUN! :-) As we rocketed down the runway, slightly pressed against our seats, video cameras of some passengers were rolling, anticipation turned to excitement, and smiles on many faces grew from one ear to the other. I could tell that everyone was very pleased with this speedy start to their Concorde flight.
I was able to shoot a 60 second video clip of the Concorde takeoff by pointing my small digital camera out the small window. The runway was bumpy, and it shows in the footage, but hopefully this will give you some idea of what the experience looked and sounded like. Here's the movie in QuickTime format:
A few minutes into the flight, the cabin information displays were activated. Here are a few photos during Concorde's subsonic climb.
After we cleared the coastline and were flying over the Atlantic, the captain announced that we had been cleared to switch on the afterburners for a second time to achieve supersonic speed. He explained that the afterburners would be switched on in pairs and that we could expect to feel two bits of extra thrust when this happened. At an altitude of just under 28,000 feet, we broke the sound barrier and achieved a speed of Mach 1.0 (i.e., one times the speed of sound).
At this point, I also took notice of the clever branding of Concorde. The characteristic British Airways "speedwing" logo appeared on the seatbelt buckle and the backs of the seat headrests. Drink glasses and mats were all branded as well. As a design-oriented person, I appreciated this attention to detail.
Once into our supersonic cruise, the flight attendants passed through the cabin to distribute menus for brunch and to serve our drinks, along with champagne and canapés. The menus were quite stylish--blue embossed card stock covers and heavyweight paper pages bound with a blue binding string fastened with a silver ball. Here are the menu selections from my flight:
Shortly after champagne service, we achieved our maximum cruise speed of Mach 2.0, or twice the speed of sound. The captain here explained that Concorde was most fuel efficient at this speed, and that "the worst thing you could do for Concorde's fuel efficiency is to slow her down."
Here are some photos of meal service at 49000 feet and Mach 2.0, followed by some additional comments:
Let me start by saying this: Don't fly Concorde for the food. Fly Concorde for the experience, and enjoy some pretty decent food and a satisfied stomach when you land.
The meal service was friendly, efficient, and fairly good when considering the time and space constraints on board. The canapés were a good accompaniment to the champagne. I found the appetiser to be okay, but not wonderful, and the same could be said of the sea bass. For what they were, I thought they could have been a lot more flavour-intensive. Passengers sitting across from me chose the lamb fillet, and it looked and smelled significantly better. Given a second chance, I would try the lamb over the sea bass. The selection of breads was quite good, and the dessert and chocolates were very tasty.
Even though Concorde is British Airways' flagship, the meal service on Concorde didn't compare with that on traditional long-haul international flights when flying in first class, and arguably, some business classes. Serving a premium meal service to up to 100 passengers within a short amount of time has it's limitations, one of which is the use of already prepared meal trays rather than individual service on place settings. And, whilst post 9-11 security measures have forced many airlines to use plastic knives in their cutlery, British Airways have chosen to present all utensils in plastic. For any premium service, and especially a flagship service like Concorde, this was a bit disappointing. If it weren't for the bone china plates, silver napkin ring, and nifty salt and pepper grinders, one might have mistaken Concorde meal service for an airborne picnic.
Whilst the food and service was far from what one might expect as part of "The Ultimate Experience," I did find them to be adequate for such a brief flight when combined with the other joys and perks of Concorde. The party vibe (which I described earlier), the positive mood of passengers and crew, the thrill of supersonic travel, and the view from fifty-five to sixty thousand feet all picked up where the meal service fell short. Speaking of the view, after the meal service we had climbed to 55,000 feet where it was well worth having another look out the window...