In fact, air travel is getting slower. The average speed of the most popular aircraft has fallen sharply in the three decades since Concorde was unveiled - and the world's only surviving supersonic plane is destined for the scrap heap in about 15 years, with no successor in sight.
Intuitively, it is reasonable to expect jet aircraft to travel at the same speed. After all, they all use the same basic Fifties technology, and surely air traffic control in today's crowded skies depends upon all planes travelling at the same speed?
The Jumbo passing by a couple of thousand feet above me disproved this theory. I was aboard a Boeing 767 flying from Havana to Manchester. In mid-Atlantic, we were overtaken by a British Airways 747 en route from Mexico City to Heathrow. Had a 707 slipped through a time-warp and resumed service on the New York-London route, it would have raced past us both. When the Boeing 707 was the standard equipment on the world's premier intercontinental air route, travellers got there nearly an hour quicker than on board the modern Boeing 767.
The traveller who chooses the right kind of plane can save plenty of time and all the stress associated with spending too long at 40,000 feet. On the afternoon Virgin Atlantic departure from Heathrow to Los Angeles, you will spend 25 minutes longer in the air than the noon flight. The reason: the earlier service is a Jumbo, which flies faster than the Airbus used on the 3pm departure. Only those with time to kill would consider American Airlines departure, because that uses an even more sluggish 767. And if your connecting flight at LAX uses the popular British Aerospace 146, you will find your cruising speed slipping well below 500mph.
Virgin Atlantic is beaten on the Tokyo-London route, with a Japan Airlines 747 overtaking Richard Branson's Airbus; from Hong Kong, a Cathay Pacific flight departs half-an-hour later than Virgin and is scheduled to arrive simultaneously at Heathrow.
Time is such a premium for busy travellers that some are prepared to pay 40 times the lowest economy fare for halving the time on a London- New York flight. But on many routes, there is no extra charge for cutting down on time.
As the figures here show, a clever choice of aircraft can accelerate you. So much for progress: when it comes to jet travel, the older the plane the faster the trip. Track down one of the few Boeing 707s still in commercial service, and you will get ahead in the great air race.
If there is a choice of an ageing 727 or a 146, you will travel 20 per cent faster on the older plane. Even its Soviet imitation, the Tupolev 154, is way ahead of the competition.
THE TOP 20
Manufacturer's recommended optimum cruising speeds in miles per hour (after Concorde, at 1,336)
1. Boeing 707: 607mph
2. Boeing 727: 570
3. Tupolev 154: 559
4. Ilyushin 86: 559
5. Boeing 777: 555
6. Boeing 747: 552
7. McDonnell-Douglas MD-11: 548
9. Airbus 340: 542 (newer versions
are planned at 549)
10. Boeing 757: 531
11. Airbus 310: 530
12. Boeing 767: 530
13. Airbus 300: 522
14. Airbus 320 (plus 318/319/
321 derivatives): 515
15. Ilyushin 62: 510
16. Boeing 717 (basically an MD
18. Boeing 737: 495 (some newer
models are rated at 530)
20. British Aerospace 146: 477Reuse content