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Concorde Cabin & Passenger Experience
“We’re going to take you to the edge of space, where the sky gets darker, where you can see the curvature of the Earth, we’re going to travel across the Atlantic twice the speed of sound, faster than a rifle bullet, 23 miles every minute, we’re going to travel so fast we’re moving faster than the Earth rotates and the world will be watching us.”
Mike Bannister prior to the last commercial passenger flight of Concorde (G-BOAG) from New York JFK – 2003
During what was almost 28 supersonic years of Concorde, every flight was an occasion, an experience to savor, a chance to reflect on Man’s ingenuity, on the sophisticated engineering and breathtaking technology that could take you soaring high, into the dark blue of the stratosphere, on the edge of space, in comfort, in peerless style. Yet for all its glamour, Concorde was far more than a status symbol. Those who flew this famous aircraft were people of distinction in business, in government, in the arts. They flew Concorde because they valued their time, because quite simply it made sound business sense. The standard return fare from London to New York in 2003 was £6,636
When time was of the essence, Concorde proved itself indispensable. Taking the morning flight from Heathrow westbound to the USA, passengers reached their destination before they took off: while eastbound flights to London arrived the same day and in good time for onward connections. Priority treatment was given to the passengers on the ground as a further hallmark of the Concorde experience. Discrete check-in facilities were complemented by dedicated customer service staff, Concorde was the supreme expression of aeronautical excellence for its passengers, and has been assured of its landmark status in the annals of civil aviation.
Concorde passengers received a seamless, unprecedented quality from start to finish. Passengers who travelled with hand baggage only, could go straight through the fast track to the lounge. With the dedicated Concorde check-in decks, travelling with luggage was also made easy; indeed you could check- in up to 30 minutes before your departure with BA.
Concorde’s aerodynamic, narrow body did restricted the space for the passengers, up to 128 economy class passengers could be carried with 86 cm (34 in) seat pitch. A version with 144 passenger seats at 81 cm (31 in) pitch was available. But both British Airways and Air France configured their passenger cabin as a single class with 100 seats — four seats across with a central aisle. Headroom in the central aisle was barely six ft (1.8 m) and the leather seats were unusually narrow. The seat pitch was giving only about 6 or 7 inches more legroom than in a typical scheduled international Economy class. With little overhead storage, carry-on luggage was severely restricted.
Concorde was a costly operation; this was mainly due to the high fuel yield and the fact that the aircraft only carried a maximum of 100 passengers. Therefore passengers paid a high price for the chance to fly Concorde Class and to go supersonic. In the 1990s, features which were common in the first class and business class cabins of a long-haul Boeing 747 flight, such as video entertainment, rotating or reclining seats and walking areas were absent from Concorde. However, the flight time from London to New York of approximately 3.5 hrs compensated for the lack of those features. There was a plasma display at the front of the cabin showing the altitude, the air temperature and the current speed in both miles per hour and Mach number. With the Air France Concorde operation, the unique experience of passing through the sound barrier was less dramatic than would be expected given the turbulent history of supersonic flight. The moment would be announced by one of the pilots, otherwise the slight surge in acceleration could easily be missed. But Air France did add a single display to the passenger cabin showing the Mach number-only.
To make up for these missing “comfort” features, a high level of passenger service was maintained.
Concorde’s exclusive airport lounges offered comfortable surroundings to relax or catch up with last minute business, including telephones, fax machines and secretarial services for the passengers’ convenience. An abundance of complimentary snacks and beverages were available, while BA Concorde passengers also have the luxury of direct boarding from the lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport and New York’s John F Kennedy Airport.
The British Airways Concorde Room
The most exclusive “flying club” in the world opened in December 1998. CD partnership, Sir Terence Conran’s architecture and design practice, were commissioned to transform the Concorde Room at New York’s JFK airport for the ultimate jetsetters. The lounge was a design classic, like Concorde itself. Every piece of furniture was a celebration of 20th century design from the Corbusier chaise longue to the Matthew Hilton armchair, the Eileen Grey Bibendum chair to the Charles Eames lounger, including furniture and hand tufted rugs by Sir Terence. Seating was grouped by designer and mood. A series of photographs of Marilyn Monroe by Eve Arnold continue the theme.
Two wall drawings had been commissioned from distinguished artist Sol LeWitt. These are placed at either end of the room. Glass panels ran down the full length of the room allowing spectacular views of Concorde at the terminal gates outside. A mobile by Richard Smith shimmered in air currents behind the panels on the remaining side. There was a new work by young British artist Fiona Rae in another area of the room.
Classic and luxurious materials were used throughout including travertine marble, green marble, walnut, oak, sycamore and marble mosaic. There was a fully staffed bar which offered continental breakfast or light brunch, fresh espresso, champagne and other refreshments.
The passenger cabin of the aircraft was as streamlined as its graceful exterior; it was designed in elegant shades of grey leather and soft fabric. When a passenger flies westbound, he or she would arrive in New York before they had left London. When flying Concorde it was possible to maximise your time, and reduces the effects of jet lag. With a cabin altitude pressure maintained, you stepped off Concorde fit and ready to go. With the BA Concorde Express Suiter Service, your overnight bags would be delivered within eight minutes of your arrival.
Whilst Concorde was pushing the boundaries of space and time, her passengers could sit back and enjoy the exquisite Concorde cuisine, where award winning menus offered light meals and superb dishes from around the world. Each dish had been created by the British Airway’s specialist chefs, often in collaboration with some of the world’s best-known names, and served on Royal Doulton bone china crockery with short silver cutlery. Canapes were served with aperitifs, and there was a selection of complimentary fine wines and vintage Champagnes, which were specially selected for the Concorde cellar. The Concorde menus change every week, and the wines list every month. Flights operated by BA were coded ‘Speedbird 1′ through to ‘Speedbird 4′.
For nearly 28 years it was a pretty good club, the cabin of the world’s most beautiful and most expensive airliner. A mere 9ft 6in wide, this was a special place where those with the wherewithal reassured themselves that they could travel the world higher, faster, more stylishly than the rest of us. The wine flowed, the menu was gourmet quality, and the clientele had international glitz. Small wonder then, that its appeal was magnetic for those world’s financiers, statesmen, captains of industry and pop stars.
The rich and famous and others able to raise the fare – First Class plus 20 per cent across the Atlantic, are unlikely to forget the excitement of seeing the curve of the globe through Concorde’s tiny passenger windows, of watching the sun rise in the west (caused by the aircraft exceeding the Earth’s rotational speed on the UK – US route), of arriving earlier than they had departed and knowing they were “younger” by one-and-a-quarter hours as a result.
Passengers could enjoy the ultimate day trip to Barbados with BA. Jetsetters could enjoy bacon and eggs at home in the UK, a dip in the Caribbean sea and a rum punch in the sun before returning home.
Leaving London Heathrow at 9.30am, arriving in Barbados at 9.45am. Returning to London on the 11.45am flight arriving at Heathrow at 8.00pm.
The experience of passing through the sound barrier was accompanied by a slight surge in acceleration, and was announced by one of the pilots and indicated on the passenger cabin Mach meters
During the supersonic cruise, although the outside air temperature was typically -60 °C (-75 °F), air compression would heat the external skin at the front of the aircraft to approximately +120 °C (250 °F), making the windows warm to the touch and producing a noticeable temperature gradient along the length of the cabin.
Concorde flew fast enough that the weight of everyone onboard was temporarily reduced by about 1% when flying east. This was due to centrifugal effects since the airspeed added to the rotation speed of the Earth. Flying west, the weight increased by about 0.3%, because it cancelled out the normal rotation and, with it, the normal centrifugal force and replaced it with a smaller rotation in the opposite direction. Concorde flew high enough that the weight of everyone onboard was reduced by an additional 0.6% due to the increased distance from the centre of the Earth.
Concorde’s cruising speed exceeded the top speed of the solar terminator. Concorde was able to overtake or outrun the spin of the earth. On westbound flights it was possible to arrive at a local time earlier than the flight’s departure time. On certain early evening transatlantic flights departing from Heathrow or Paris, it was possible to take off just after sunset and catch up with the sun, landing in daylight. This was much publicised by British Airways, who used the slogan “Arrive before you leave.”
Concorde Class was amazing and full of style – toasting the take off with caviar and champagne, followed by a five course gourmet meal. Nearly 12 miles high, above 90 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, the flight was rarely rocked by turbulence. The view out of small cabin window of the planet’s curvature, and the darkness of space was spectacular.
The toilets were at front and centre of the cabin, there was baggage space under forward cabin and aft of cabin. Passenger doors forward of cabin and amidships on port side, with service doors opposite. There was a baggage door aft of cabin on starboard side. The emergency exits were in rear half of cabin on each side. Concorde had two galley areas, one in the centre and the other at the rear of the cabin.
Planned passenger cabin upgrades
With the aircraft grounded due to the Paris crash in 2000, but with a good chance of only being temporary, British Airways even looked into the possibilities of bring forward the recently announced cabin upgrade to take advantage of the down time. The £14 million upgrade, which had been announced at the start of the year, would ensure the interior of the aircraft is as elegant as the exterior.
Interior experts Conran & Partners led by Sir Terence Conran advised on colours, fabrics and accessories working with London based consultancy Factory Design, the British Airways Design and Brand Management teams and Britax Aircraft Interior Systems
The key features of the planned upgrade were:
New seats in ink-blue Connolly leather and fabric with a cradle mechanism, footrest and contoured headrest for more comfort and support The design was inspired by the classic Charles & Ray Eames chairs, and uses new technology and materials that are per cent lighter, this BA hoped would lead to almost £1 million a year in fuel efficiencies. The interior of the passenger cabin would be lighter and brighter with different lighting filters to give a fresher look which would change to a cool blue wash throughout the cabin when Concorde flies through the sound barrier at Mach one . New more spacious Toilets in aqua green and stainless steel with opaque wall panels that are up-lit and down-lit would help give a sense of more space.
New Galleys: New lighter and more efficient galleries were to be fitted to the aircraft. The galleys, both at the front and rear of the aircraft, would feature a ‘Stainless Steel look’ similar to that found in restaurant kitchens New Mach meter: Improved Mach meters will be installed to replace the marrilite displays that have been a feature of the aircraft for many years. The stylish new display will fit in with the ultra modern feel that the new
Overall look will provide, but also still give the information that the passengers’ want to have their picture taken next to. These new interiors would the take advantage of using modern technologies which would result in a weight saving of 400Kg. This saving would largely off-sets the additional weight being added to the fuel tanks by the Kevlar-rubber liners and means that Concorde could continue to operate at the range and capacity it enjoyed up to 2001, although the main saving would be through the use of the new tyres which are 20Kgs lighter each.
Air France were understood to be considering a cabin upgrade to replace the interiors that were installed in their Concordes many years ago, but in the end no upgrade was carried out to the Air France fleet.