All told, Concorde flew in commercial service for British Airways for something like twenty seven years, between 1976 and 2003. Mainly used on the Heathrow to New York route, it was the first- and only-supersonic jet to maintain a regular service.
The plane carried 135 passengers in all, and flew at a height of around 58,000 feet. At that height, the curvature of the Earth was quite clearly defined. Such was the pace of the plane that an early morning Concorde, departing from Heathrow, would arrive in New York some two hours earlier.
Of course, this beautiful plane- more truly bird like in appearance than any other- was fabulously served, staffed by the cream of BA cabin crews. Only Concorde could offer champagne and fillet steak at Mach 2, as the rich and famous of five continents lounged in soft, specially contoured, grey leather seats.
What surprised many people was the actual small size of the plane. British Airways staff nickname for Concorde was the ‘pocket rocket’; anyone over six foot in height would have found the confines of the plane a bit trying. And even the thirty-eight inch seat pitch of those premium priced Concorde seats was no greater than that of the current BA World Traveller Plus.
And, of course, the plane was hideously expensive to operate. Concorde guzzled precious aviation fuel like so much cheap table wine. Only on the lucrative North Atlantic flight path could the plane ever hope to make a viable living. For many years, the Concorde operated a joint transatlantic service with the QE2, that other troubled child of the late sixties.
This unique partnership was incredibly successful, and lasted until the end of the Concorde scheduled services in 2003. By then, a number of factors had already combined to doom the plane.
The crash of an Air France Concorde at Paris in 2000 led to a painful grounding of all services until the cause of the crash could be established, and corrective action enabled. While this was in truck, the horrific events of 9/11 literally took down the demand for luxury air travel. And, though BA resumed Concorde services to New York that same November, nothing would ever be the same again.
Also working against the plane by this time was its own avionics. When Concorde was brand new, all its systems had been state of the art but, by 2003, these were hopelessly out of date. The fastest commercial aircraft in history had a flight deck that was almost antiquated compared to the newest generation of wide bodied 747’s. And, with passengers numbers still light following the fallout from both the Paris crash and 9/11, the costs of upgrading Concorde would have been unrealistic.
Both BA and Air France announced the inevitable end of their Concorde services in April 2003, with the last flights taking place that same October. All fourteen surviving craft from both airlines have either been mothballed, or opened as static museums. Despite the lingering hopes and ambitions of many, the prohibitive cost of reactivating the planes makes it unlikely that they will ever fly again.
Just as with the demise of the far more luxurious Hindenburg, the withdrawal of Concorde marked a watershed in the history of commercial air travel. And, just like that doomed airship, the stilled, supersonic paragon that is Concorde will always remain a highly romanticised high point in the story of elegant, exclusive passenger travel. We will never see the likes of it again in our lifetimes.