Final Concorde Flight Lands at Heathrow
By Jill Lawless
Associated Press Writer
Friday, October 24, 2003; 11:14 AM
LONDON –– Three Concordes swooped into Heathrow Airport Friday, joining in a spectacular finale to the era of luxury supersonic jet travel.
The last regular passenger flight from New York arrived with every seat filled, a feat that had become increasingly rare for a plane that was a technological marvel but a commercial flop.
Flight 002 landed just past 4 p.m., minutes after two other British Airways Concordes. One flew from Edinburgh, Scotland, carrying winners of a competition, and the other had taken off from Heathrow an hour and a half earlier and carried invited guests on a loop over the Bay of Biscay.
Thousands of enthusiasts gathered at Heathrow to watch the landings, but not everyone loved the Concorde. Over the years, many criticized its enormous roar and almost everyone found its fares of $9,000 and up for a trans-Atlantic round-trip too high.
Spectator Julia Zuk, 50, who lives near the airport, said she enjoyed her daily glimpses of the elegant jet and hadn't minded the noise.
"It's like wearing stilettos," she said. "They hurt your feet, but you know they look a lot sexier than ordinary shoes."
BA and Air France, the only carriers to fly the Concorde, announced in April that they would retire the jets, citing ballooning costs and dwindling ticket sales. Air France grounded its supersonic fleet in May.
The flight from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport zoomed 11 crew and 100 passengers, many of them celebrities and aviation boosters, across the Atlantic in about three hours and 30 minutes, at nearly twice the speed of sound.
The delta-winged plane made a stately final approach west along the Thames, granted a low-altitude approach for a last look at Big Ben and Buckingham Palace among the sights of central London.
It was a bittersweet end to nearly 28 years of commercial supersonic travel. Many Britons expressed pride in the technological achievement the Concorde embodied but sadness that its days in the skies were ending without a supersonic successor to take its place.
The thousands who gathered outside Heathrow's perimeter toting cameras and binoculars said they saw it as a day to celebrate, not mourn.
Marilyn Payne, 55, lives under the Concorde's flight path, said that after 20 years she still rushed out to her garden to watch it.
"When Concorde flies over, a lot of people are covering their ears and complaining about the noise," she said. "I'm smiling. We're going to miss it a lot."
© 2003 The Associated Press