Concorde business fliers count time, not dime
NEW YORK - A duchess. A baron. A CEO.
All three flew the supersonic Concorde last week.
Launched 20 years ago as a luxury travel service for the rich and famous,
Concorde still carries its share of celebrities.
Last week, the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, made the 3-hour, 20-minute
flight from London to New York on the "Conc," arriving in half the time a
subsonic jet would take.
Elton John, Diana Ross, Margaret Thatcher, Bruce Willis, Princess Diana,
Madonna and Julia Roberts also are frequent Concorde passengers, say Faye
Franco and Eleni Mountanos. They assist British Airways' VIP Concorde
passengers at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
But most Concorde passengers are business travelers taking advantage of the
time savings that faster-than-a-speeding-bullet Concorde offers.
"It's really become a business person's tool," says British Airways'
spokesman John Lampl, who estimates 80% of Concorde fliers are businessmen or
"There's nothing that compares to the Concorde," says Richard Egglishaw, a
British businessman who's flown the Concorde about 20 times.
British Airways runs twice-daily flights between Kennedy Airport and Heathrow
in London and flies the Concorde between London and Barbados on weekends in
the winter. Air France has daily Paris-Kennedy Concorde service.
T.J. Dermot Dunphy - chief executive officer of packaging maker Sealed Air,
who recently took the 8:45 a.m. flight from New York to London - is a frequent
Concorde traveler. "I can get there and still make my day useful. It's rather
expensive, but it also allows me to spend more time with my family when I get
back," he says.
The fare is steep at $4,509 one way, nearly twice the cost of a first-class
ticket between New York and London. But Dunphy says it's a myth that flying
the Concorde is a luxury.
True, passengers dine on first-class meals such as Maine lobster, fillet of
veal and seared striped bass. There are classy souvenir gifts, such as Cross
pens and leather-covered datebooks. But the 100-seat jet is cramped. When a
6-foot-2 man stands inside, his head nearly touches the ceiling. The windows
are small and the four-seat rows are no wider than those in a regular
airline's coach class. But passengers say they don't mind.
"If I took any other flight, I couldn't get a good night's sleep and be ready
to roll for work at 8 a.m.," says World Bank financial adviser Adil Marghub
before he boarded an 8:45 a.m. flight that arrived at 5:30 p.m. London time.
"It's a wonderfully short flight and minimizes the jet lag," says Steven
Bentinck, a Swiss baron who has flown hundreds of Concorde flights. Bentinck,
reading a Financial Times newspaper in a private conference room British
Airways provides for Concorde fliers, says he looks to the day when a
supersonic jet is developed for trans-Pacific travel.
Currently, the Concorde can only fly 4,200 miles and because of noise
restrictions, only flies supersonically over oceans and desert.
But there are no plans for a second-generation Concorde.
Aircraft makers are reluctant to spend the amount of money it would take to
develop a new supersonic jet and aviation analysts say manufacturers are more
likely to focus on building a super jumbo jet, rather than a son of Concorde.
And the Concorde jets, built by Aerospatiale of France and British Aerospace
from 1975 to 1979, have a 25- to 30-year life span. Although neither airline
has announced plans to retire the Concorde jets - and both say their Concorde
operations are profitable again after a slump in the early 1990s - the
Concorde's future is uncertain.
The possibility that the Concorde will be phased out has prompted some
travelers to get on board. "The Concorde may be out of the flying business, so
we wanted to fly it at least once," says Alexa Weissenberger. She and her
brother, Gerhard, decided to fly the Concorde to London on their way home to
Germany after a weekend trip to New York.
The Concorde still attracts first-time passengers eager to fly a supersonic
plane. But for many first timers, the steep fare means the Concorde is likely
to be a one-time event.
"I want to tell my kids and grandkids about it," says Robin Neil Oliver, CEO
of a British industrial door manufacturer, just before he boarded his first
Concorde flight. "But once I pay my 5,000 pounds, I don't think I'll do it
By Donna Rosato, USA TODAY