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Sunday, May 3, 2015

TRUE STORY: I got a ticket once for speeding along at 1,300 mph!

The Concorde

Oh, it's true! The headline is supposed to suck you in, but it actually happened. I did go that fast and the $1200 ticket was for my airfare to fly in the Concorde from Paris to New York.

So here's an earthly comparison: In Finland recently, a man was caught going 64 in a 50 mph zone. His ticket cost $58,000. That's also a true story.

A speeding fine there is proportionate to your wealth, the theory being that if it hurts for the little guy, it should hurt proportionally for the wealthy. A few years earlier, a very rich Finn was speeding through Helsinki on a Harley. His world record fine: $103,600.

So the take is that if you are very poor, you could almost speed for free. Those poor... they get all the breaks.

But let's go back to the Concorde because it really is/was impressive. The ultra sleek supersonic jet airliner that first flew passengers in 1963 made its final landing after a sad disaster and plain old economics forced the issue.

The plane, built for British Airways and Air France was an amazing aircraft that could get you from Orly to JFK 90 minutes earlier that you left... sort of like a time machine.  My flight left Paris at noon and arrived in New York at 10:30 am same day. It was a short 3 1/2 hours in duration. Because of its premium cost for an all-first-class cabin and the lure of the exclusiveness of the day, this was a most popular transport for the 'beautiful people'... ergo, me.

Boeing's 2707
Oddly, at the time, Boeing was competing for bragging rights to be the first and best supersonic transport... and it should have won on merit alone.

The Boeing 2707 would hold more people--up to 300 vs. 99 for the Concorde--and was faster--2,000 mph (at mach 3) vs. a mere 1,300. It was designed to serve a larger, more lucrative market--from America to the Far East. The Concorde, built by an English/French consortium got there first. Boeing deemed it impractical to pursue it's sleek, moveable swept-wing concept that used fuel faster that a mobile home pulling a heavy car uphill. (Trust me... I know this.)

My Air France Concorde flight experience was a story in itself. This was my first trip to Europe. I was in Brussels on business the week before and having a day and a half left before my flight home, I took a trip to Paris. Oui, oui!

When I arrived however, my suitcase was caught in an impromptu baggage handlers' strike and all luggage was simply delivered at the curb and dropped without regard to where it came from or where it was to go. So, after spending a fruitless half-hour looking,  I gave some official-looking airline person my bag tag and said that if found, please route this bag home. I had no time to waste for my own short grand adventure.

I went back to Orly early Monday morning for my return to Brussels to catch my booked flight home. When I checked in, I saw my flight was cancelled because of ice and snow! So I, an American in Paris, was stuck, or as we say on the Continent, colle. But because I needed to get back for an important meeting (to justify my actions), desperate measures were called for.

Gosh, there was a noon flight that would allow me to do it... but it was the Concorde. And, miracle of miracles, there was just one seat left, probably next to some really exciting movie star, I was sure. So I grabbed it! (This was way before 9-11 when flying was more glamorous and restrictions were almost non existent-- but that's another great story.)

After a few hours wait in the very exclusive boarding area with plenty to see, do and eat, we boarded. My seatmate's movie star persona may well have been Lassie, but the thrill was still there for me. After we de-iced, we taxied for take-off and I could feel all the eyes in the terminal were on us... and I was so cool.

The lift-off was impressive as the Concorde has a drop-nose for this phase of the flight. Once at cruising altitude after an incredibly sharp, fast climb, passengers were told that we could watch the "Mach Meter" at the front of the cabin to monitor our subsonic speed until we reached the ocean. (No sonic booms over land.) Then the Captain announced "Ladies and Gentlemen, please be seated as we are about to accelerate to our cruising speed of mach 2.1 (about 13,000 mph). And accelerate we did, being pushed hard back in our seats with grins on our faces--except for my seatmate 'Lassie' who probably did this three times a week.

Do you know that at 58,000 feet, you can actually see the curvature of the earth from those tiny windows? As I relished my lobster and steak with the proper wine accompanying, I enjoyed the view inside and out. (The Concorde had a smallish all first-class cabin with 2x2 seating.) After dessert and coffee with an appertif, we were invited in small groups to visit the cockpit and visit with the Captain.

Then, as perfect trips often end, after arriving in JFK and walking through an almost empty baggage area with half-dozen luggage carousels idle, one was turning slowly and it carried only one bag--mine! I have no idea how or when it got there but I picked it up without breaking stride and caught my home-bound flight.


FYI: The Museum of Flight in Seattle (of course) is is a great experience for the airplane lover. It has one of the remaining Concorde aircraft an you can walk through it. It also has the SR-71 Blackbird and a walk-through replica of the International Space Station and so much more, most fully accessible. 

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