Beautiful Bird

Concorde was like a beautiful bird when she took off… and noisy, but that was part of the thrill. If there had been frequent flights taking off I’m sure the novelty would have worn off and there would have been plenty of complaints about the noise. Teachers in local schools automatically stopped talking at 11am when the morning flight left for New York. Once, I was taking the children to the police Christmas party being held at the BAA club on the airport side of the Bath Road. As we got off the bus Concorde landed on the northern runway and my youngest burst into tears. That close the noise made your breast bone vibrate.

Our last home at Heathrow was the nearest to Heathrow and on the edge of Harlington Village with fields and skylarks on the other side of the hedge. Our daughter had the end bedroom and her wardrobe vibrated when Concorde took off. On winter evenings at 7pm I would abandon the cooking and dash outside to see her afterburners, bright in the night sky.

Concorde was the future.

A Puffin children’s book!

Air France Flight 4590 was an international charter flight, from Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris to John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, flown by an Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde. On the afternoon of Tuesday, 25 July 2000 at 16:44:31 local time, the aircraft ran over debris on the runway during take off, blowing a tyre, and sending debris flying into the underside of the left wing, and into the landing gear bay.  A terrible omen perhaps that the 21st century was not going to be what we hoped for.

Following the accident, all Concordes were grounded for almost a year with the introduction of new safety improvements such as Kevlar-lined fuel tanks and better electrical controls. But spiralling maintenance costs for the 30-year-old aircraft, led to British Airways and Air France’s joint announcement on 10 April 2003 that the planes would be retired that year.

The last French plane touched down in Toulouse on 27 June, while BA’s fleet left service on 24 October, with three aircraft landing in sequence at London Heathrow.

Concorde was about to become history and we remembered the proud and happy times.  My younger son says there was a lot of pride in having your windows rattling and everything falling off the shelves when Concorde took off.

Cyberspouse spent his entire thirty years with the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow Airport. One time when he was on the Airside Traffic Unit they visited Concorde in her hangar and he asked the pilot if he could take  pictures of the cockpit. He was invited to take a seat.

In 1996 Heathrow Airport celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a flypast that included Concorde. The planes had to take off from Stansted Airport and children from local schools were invited to have a ride on Concorde to Stansted, but home by coach, they were not allowed to stay on board for the flypast. One child from each year at each school was chosen and our older son got the lucky ticket. Parents were told they were not going supersonic, but they did. These are his impressions of the flight.

I remember it being a lot smaller on the inside than you would think. The windows were tiny. And when it takes off, it goes really steep and then they cut the afterburners and it feels like your belly drops about 100 ft. Apart from that it was very smooth and pleasant. Going supersonic was not like anything really, it was just a number going up. The only jumpy bit was the take-off.

One time Cyberspouse and I decided to cycle to Windsor and we were just cycling through Colnbrook Village when Concorde took off right over our heads – that was the closest I ever got.

In Concorde’s last years I was working in a British Airways Business lounge with a perfect picture window view of the southern runway and the highlight of the morning was of course the 11am take off. Raymond the cleaner, our resident grumpy old chap, loved Concorde, said she was his baby and the only time he came to life was at 11am. As soon as he heard her he would race across the lounge to the window, sending passengers flying… But we never tired of seeing her take off.

Heathrow Airport 50th Anniversary Flypast 1996 (Full programme) – Pt 4 of 5 – YouTube

Au Revoir or Adieu?

Whether you jet set on business or love going on cruises, you can’t have failed to notice there are more hazards to travel lately. Your cruise ship may weigh anchor and keep all the passengers hostage – in quarantine because of Coronavirus, which we now have to call Covid19, though that doesn’t slip as easily off the tongue. If you’re lucky you may get to have your own videoblog as self appointed spokesman to your national television channel and the folk back home. If you’re unlucky you will have a cabin without a balcony, a government that will not evacuate you and test positive for the virus.

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Is flying any better? You may not be allowed on the plane if you have a temperature, you may not be allowed off the plane until you can be hermetically sealed and sent off to a quarantine centre; though that could be the start of a pleasant fortnight’s holiday if a nice hotel has been commandeered. World wide plague is not the only hazard for fliers. Storms hurling themselves across the Atlantic to Europe have caused mass cancellation of flights, but that is better than the Ryanair passengers on a flight from Prague, that in hindsight should have been cancelled. Thrice, pilots attempted to land at Bournemouth Airport as passengers screamed and hyperventilated. They abandoned the attempt and with petrol running low were diverted to Brussels from whence they returned to Prague…

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Although I hardly ever go anywhere outside this kingdom I can give advice on ocean liners and airliners. Cyberson 2, builder and pyrotechnics expert, has often worked at Southampton, sending up fireworks to farewell passengers on their trip of a lifetime, or often their twentieth or perhaps their last… The first time he worked there, one of the regular workers on the docks described the arrival of an ocean liner ‘The first thing that happens, they bring all the bodies off.’ Whether this is due to the age of the passengers, the vast amount of food provided or terminal boredom, I cannot say, but it sounds like a good way to go. Perhaps if you pay extra you can have a burial at sea. My longest voyage was on ‘The Pride of Bilbao’ from Portsmouth to Bilbao and back again on an off season excursion, where the only hazard was the live entertainment.

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Storm Dennis was not the only problem at Heathrow Airport on Sunday as ‘technical issues’ created chaos. Whiteboards, marker pens and extra staff were drafted in to ensure chaos continued. When I worked at Heathrow I won’t pretend I was not occasionally envious of passengers jetting off somewhere exotic, but mostly I was glad I could go home and would always advise DON’T even THINK of flying at Easter or Christmas. One Christmas Eve, working in Singapore Lounge, the evening flight was delayed, putting Christmas on hold in Singapore and Australia for those who celebrated it. I cringed as a young colleague said in a loud voice in front of the passengers ‘That’s ALL I need.’ We would be late finishing, but she only had to get home to Osterley Park and none of us were going to miss Christmas.

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Singapore Airlines treated their customers with oriental respect and had letters printed out and delivered to them explaining delays. When we worked in British Airways lounges catering staff were left to soothe disgruntled passengers. The huge lounge in Terminal 1 catered for the many short haul flights, very different from the serene atmosphere of quieter business lounges. There was an endless  surge of passengers, the buffet bars constantly replenished, platters of sandwiches devoured instantly. I only worked there a couple of times, but one weekend a story came from our colleagues. There was a strike on; passengers kept coming in, but none went out. Then the British Airways staff abandoned the desk leaving the catering staff to deal with the ever increasing braying mob; in the end they called the police.

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What were your worst travel experiences? You can tell us about your good journeys, but that might not be so amusing…