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Concorde & the QE2

QE2/Concorde: a unique air/sea program teamed the world’s fastest jet liner with the world’s most famous cruise liner – Trans-Atlantic Tandem -QE2



Peter Shanks, Cunard’s Senior Vice President Europe, made this statement on April 10th 2003. This was following the announcement from British Airways concerning the retirement of Concorde

“This is the last opportunity to cross the Atlantic in this legendary fashion, combining two sixties icons, QE2 and Concorde, both of which fly the flag for Britain in an unsurpassable way”.

The announcement from British Airways in April 2003, concerning the retirement of Concorde in the October of 2003, would mean that there would only be 12 further opportunities left to combine the two great icons of contemporary travel: QE2 and Concorde. For the last 20 years, at the top of the list of people’s dream holidays was been able to cross the Atlantic one way on board QE2, and cross the other way on the supersonic Concorde. For those still wanting to make that dream come true, Cunard was offering nine-night holidays with fares from £4,499 per person – that was less than half the cost of a Concorde ticket.

Cunard’s ‘Grand New York’ package combined a six-day transatlantic voyage on QE2, a three-night stay at the Waldorf Astoria, a half-day sightseeing tour, transfers and a one-way flight on Concorde. Departure dates were 26th May; 19th and 22nd  June; 16th  and 19th  July; 11th , 14th  and 29th  August; 22nd  and 26th  September and 1st  and 16th  October 2003

For a six-day Atlantic crossing on QE2, with a return on Concorde, fares started from £3,694 per person.

Cunard Line, which had seen its future as a transatlantic carrier threatened in the early sixties by the advent of cheap aircraft travel, turned adversity to its advantage in 1983 by chartering Concorde – the ultimate in jet aircraft – for the first time as part of a QE2 Concorde package.

Later Concorde was chartered to take passengers to join QE2 during her annual World Cruise; Concorde’s record-breaking flights to Hong Kong, Cape Town and Sydney in 1985 were all when she was chartered by Cunard.

Since then Concorde and the QE2 had enjoyed a close relationship with passengers having the option of sailing one way on the QE2 to New York and returning on Concorde.

However on the 10th April 2003 this unique partnership of two 1960s icons came to an end when British Airways announced the retirement of Concorde in October 2003.

As a result there were only a few occasions left when people could combine these two great icons of contemporary travel: QE2 and Concorde. For 20 years now at the top of the list of people’s dream holidays has been to cross the Atlantic one way on board QE2, and cross the other way on supersonic Concorde. The 16th October 2003 was the very last occasion.

In 1983 Cunard inaugurated the combined QE2 and Concorde package on the transatlantic crossing whereby you ccould travel one way on the QE2 and return on Concorde, thus combining two 1960s transatlantic legends. This unique travel package continued until 2003 when Concorde was retired from service. In 1985 Cunard chartered Concorde to take passengers out to Sydney, to join the QE2 and Sagafjord – both in port together. The Concorde trip broke the record in 17 hours, 3 minutes and 45 seconds.

Walking along the Queen Elizabeth 2’s Boat Deck in mid-Atlantic, you could sometimes hear a sharp boom-boom and while looking up into the skies, see nothing at all, you were too late. The Concorde, flying Mach 2 at 61,000 feet, is already 23 miles away. Then just under 24 hours later, you could hear it again, but still have no luck spotting the airplane–or even her jet stream.

When the QE2 took the Great Circle Route between Bishop’s Rock off Cornwall, England, and Cape Race, Newfoundland, the Concorde’s sonic boom, following a path 32 miles wide, could be heard over a period of three days–28 minutes earlier each day when the ship was sailing westbound and the Concorde is flying east. To actually see the Concorde flying overhead, you would of needed a warning (available when a former Concorde pilot was sailing as a guest lecturer), the direction in which the aircraft was flying and, of course, a cloudless sky.

The jet was a beautiful sight to see approaching an airport as she drops her nose to improve the pilots’ visibility, making her look like an elegant bird gliding in for a landing–on the runway at JFK, not on the waters of Jamaica Bay (that’s for the birds)! Once the airplane was the ocean liner’s arch enemy, at first slowly eating into the trans-Atlantic market. Then in October 1958, regular Boeing 707 European air service began, and ships as transportation took a sharp dive to virtual oblivion by the 1970s.

Yet Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth 2 had successfully soldiered on, and remained in trans-Atlantic service through to 2008. Rather than adversarial, the subject of sea travel versus air travel soon became a much needed partnership, where planes deliver many millions of passengers for pleasure cruises to Alaska, Caribbean, Europe, and indeed the world. Without doubt, the most spectacular air/sea marriage occurred when British Airways and Cunard Line joined forces to create the Concorde/Queen Elizabeth 2 package, matching the world’s fastest passenger aircraft with the world’s fastest and most famous ocean liner.

The combination became available for sale in 1982 when Cunard began chartering a BA Concorde on a regular basis for the next 10 years. Various air-sea-hotel packages spread out the flight demand, as a single Concorde flight carries just 100 passengers while one QE2 sailing can take up to 18 times that number. When the Cunard-chartered Concorde filled up, overflow passengers were booked on regularly scheduled BA supersonic flights between Washington, New York, and London and also on the Air France Concorde to and from Paris. Pricing for the Concorde/QE2 combination has varied considerably during the last 20 years, from being included in the fare for the higher cabin categories to being available at a surcharge. The one-way add-on for 2003 is $2,995, still an almost 50 percent discount on the regular one-way Concorde fare if bought separately.

When flying Concorde in the westbound direction, BA 001 left London Heathrow at 10:30 a.m. and arrived in New York JFK an hour earlier at 9:25 a.m., taking into account the flight time and the five-hour time change. The Concorde is popular eastbound because the flight to England is by day, while most eastbound subsonic schedules are overnight, save for a handful of daylight departures from some East Coast cities to London. Eastbound, BA Concorde 002 left New York at 8:30 a.m. and arrived in London at 5:15 p.m.

Concorde passengers had a separate check-in counter and lounge at both JFK and Heathrow, reducing the boarding time, and a high-speed luggage delivery after the flight.

The cabin interior seemed narrow compared to wide-bodied jets, but the two pairs of seats flanking a central aisle are plush and spaced well enough. Tall people prefer the aisle seat because of the inward curvature of the cabin. The arrival at Mach 2, reached at 51,000 feet, takes about 40 minutes. A sensation of speed is hardly present except when passing through clouds, and the only way to determine speed is via a video monitor on the forward bulkhead. (Mach 2, about 1,350 mph at 60,000 feet, is twice the speed of sound.)

For regular flyers used to subsonic air travel, the Concorde flight was over all too soon, making the journey a delight rather than an endured experience. Flying the Concorde was a throwback to an earlier more elegant era of air travel, but there was no need to dress up–save the tux for evenings aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2.

When you are making the trans-Atlantic crossing on the QE2, one of the daytime speakers may have been a former British Airways Concorde captain or Campbell Pritchett, aviation educator and lecturer. You can have all your aviation questions answered, and if you flew over, you could share your experiences with a professional. Sailing aboard the QE2 westbound, had an advantage of a 25-hour day for five of the six nights, because of the time change, while eastbound meant just 23 hours

The world’s best known ship was also the fastest large passenger vessel, and she could make up to 32 knots, compared to most cruise ships’ 18 to 22 knots. For the better part of three decades, the QE2 steamed at about 28.5 knots to maintain a tight five-night/four-day schedule, but in the last half-dozen years, she slowed her pace a bit to 25 knots to achieve a reliable on-time arrival and departure schedule in case of heavy weather. 


Concorde fly past of the QE2 with the red arrows in formation. 

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