This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
Note many articles have been updated since they were first published.
“You leave. Arrive before”.
That was the promise of Concorde.
One of the 20th century’s greatest design icons and the world’s only supersonic aircraft, flying at around twice the speed of sound at 1,350mph and at an altitude of 60,000 feet.
Concorde was in commercial service at BA from 1976 to 2003. In that time more than 2.5 million passengers flew on the fleet of seven aircraft. It operated scheduled services principally to New York, but also at times to Barbados, Bahrain, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Singapore and Washington. It also operated charter flights to over 250 destinations worldwide, including annual flights to Lapland.
One of its most frequent passengers was an oil industry executive who notched up 70 return trips a year.
Concorde also benefited from its own dedicated “cellar in the sky” wine collection and the promise that bags would be delivered to passengers within 8 minutes of arrival.
Concorde Inaugural Flights & Routes
Concorde began scheduled passenger flights with a twice weekly service from London Heathrow to Bahrain on 21 January 1976.
In preparation for its launch BA created a dedicated check-in area at London Heathrow Terminal 3 with a check-in time of 45 minutes, a dedicated lounge and the promise of a short walk to the aircraft.
A few months later, on 24 May 1976, BA operated its inaugural Concorde service from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles.
It took some time to secure approval for Concorde to fly to New York JFK, which proved to be the last Concorde route. Concorde began scheduled services to New York on 22 November 1977.
In December of that year, the Concorde service to Bahrain was extended to Singapore, operated in conjunction with Singapore Airlines.
Flights to Singapore had to use Indonesian airspace as Malaysia refused to allow the use of its airspace on environmental grounds. Flights were temporarily suspended for a year until Malaysia allowed use of its airspace in December 1978.
On 12 January 1979, Concorde’s service to Washington was extended to Dallas / Fort Worth, with that sector operated by Braniff International crew. The service to Dallas was suspended by Braniff in June 1980, citing rising fuel costs.
On 27 March 1984, BA’s Concorde service to Washington was also extended to Miami three times weekly.
It was hoped that Concorde services would be extended to Sydney (via Bahrain & Singapore, Tokyo (via the Soviet Union) and Johannesburg (via Nairobi). For a variety of reasons, including political, these did not come to fruition.
In its 27 year history Concorde operated many charter flights.
These were not just for members of the Royal Family and senior politicians, but also members of the public.
By the mid-1980s Concorde had developed a very lucrative charter business which made the aircraft much more accessible to the public.
One notable trip took place in February 1985 when a Concorde completed a trip from London to Sydney in 17 hours, 3 hours and 45 seconds as a charter for Cunard. The aircraft landed in Sydney on 14 February 1985 having stopped in Bahrain, Colombo and Perth for refuelling. The day before, BA took out a full page advert in The Times with the message “DARLING SYDNEY Will be breaking all records to be with you on the 14th Love Concorde XX.”
Other charters for Cunard included Cape Town. On 28 March 1985, Concorde broke the speed record for a flight from London to Cape Town, taking eight hours and eight minutes with a refuelling stop in Monrovia, Liberia. This beat the previous record of 11 hours and 54 minutes, set by a Boeing 747 in 1977.
Concorde Aircraft & Liveries
Concorde was used relatively sparingly in BA advertising. Partly because of exclusivity, and partly because it’s not the sort of service that needs advertising.
Concorde was grounded in August 2000 following the Air France Concorde crash in Paris and the withdrawal of its airworthiness certificate.
It returned to commercial service in November 2001. This followed a package of improvements including new fuel tank liners to prevent leaks and new tyres that were less likely to explode if punctured.
BA also worked with Factorydesign and Sir Terence Conran on a £14 million redesign of Concorde’s interiors with the aim of “bringing the outside in”. The redesigned interior included new seats, lighting and washrooms. Sir Terence Conran also designed new Concorde Rooms for London Heathrow Terminal 4 and New York JFK Terminal 7.
Concorde’s Final Flight
By April 2003 the party was over as BA announced the retirement of Concorde.
Virgin Atlantic unsurprisingly jumped at the opportunity to demand that it should be able to buy Concorde with the claim “BA can’t keep it up. Virgin can!”
Prior to its retirement, Concorde visited a number of airports around the world including Boston, Toronto, and Washington.
On 24 October 2003, members of Concorde’s exclusive club of regular patrons such as the late Sir David Frost and Dame Joan Collins gathered in the Concorde Room at New York JFK for Concorde’s final scheduled commercial flight.
After a farewell speech from Concorde Captain Mike Bannister, they boarded BA2 for the final time, to land at Heathrow before the world’s media.
A Concorde now sits stationary on the airfield at London Heathrow, but its delta wings and imposing needle nose still have the ability to turn heads.
The other six BA Concorde aircraft are positioned around the world for visitors including at Aerospace Bristol, Manchester Airport, The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum New York, The Museum Of Flight Seattle and The National Museum Of Flight Scotland.
Whilst there are many organisations dedicated to developing a new Supersonic aircraft, with efficiency now ruling, it is unlikely we will see a return to Supersonic passenger services. Concorde will however remain an enduring source of fascination.
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