Simon Calder: Concorde's supersonic tonic

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The Independent Travel

Breakfast in London followed by breakfast across the Atlantic at 60,000 feet followed by breakfast in New York – 14 months ago, that ceased to be a possibility, following the fatal crash of an Air France Concorde in Paris. But on 7 November supersonic passenger travel will become a reality again, with the ageing beauty racing the sun from Heathrow to JFK and Barbados.

Residents of west London, Long Island and Silver Sands will get used once more to the familiar roar as the supersonic jet takes off or lands; even by British Airways' own reckoning "Concorde's noise footprint is 99 times higher than the Boeing 777" which carries three times as many people. As with implausible football result, allow me to spell that out: in noise terms, Concorde's boots make ninety-nine times more impression than the light footwork of a modern jet.

¿ In the four days since bookings began, says BA, seats have sold supersonically fast. One reason: foreign travellers cashing in on prices that vastly undercut the full return fare of £9,179 return from London to New York. If you start your journey in Bangkok, fly first class to Heathrow and connect with Concorde to New York, you pay £4,500 less despite the extra distance – no tricks, these are official published fares.

For the benefit of Windsor and Richmond residents who subscribe to the "can't beat 'em, join 'em" theory, and the rest of us who footed the bill for the supersonic dinosaur, BA has cut the London-New York fare to just £2,999 return until the end of January, if you book by Monday – undercutting its very own Club World business class.

Gordon Brown is chipping in by setting the Air Passenger Duty at just £20 for Concordistas, as I will call them – the same as on an easyJet hop from Luton to Zurich, rather than the the usual business rate of £40 that applies for anything other than the most basic charter or economy seat.

¿ To save even more cash, fly on an Air France Concorde, which takes to the skies on the same day. Through discount agents, the French are selling supersonic seats from Paris to New York – plus a business-class add-on from Heathrow, Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Southampton – for £2,700 per person return, if you travel with a friend.

Passenger's on BA's Concorde can expect better catering than ever before. Emlyn Williams writes from Milton Keynes with the hope that they will breakfast better than he did on his first transatlantic flight in 1972, when the youth fare was £72.

"I was offered, mysteriously, a 'crescent'. Fortunately, there was a helpful French translation under each item, so I knew to expect a croissant. Today it seems impossible to get off a plane without having had a croissant."

Perhaps he should travel on some of the airlines I fly with.

Mr Williams also recalls that: "I could have had champagne with my croissant for 50p (or 1/144th of the fare). The stewardess offered me a hot towel with an enigmatic 'We do like to have cool passengers'."

Twenty-first century transatlantic travellers are accustomed to the idea of seatback screens with a dozen different choices of video. In 1972, you watched Puppet on a Chain, "a film that literally wound its way down the cabin on the old film projection system. It was fun looking down the cabin and seeing the film at different stages". But space on the supersonic aircraft does not allow for films or videos. Instead, Concordistas can gaze at the Mach indicator showing they are travelling at twice the speed of sound, while they reflect that they are spending as much as £1 per second.

¿ The return of Concorde will steal the thunder of Crossair, the Swiss airline that is about to be promoted to Swissair Mark II. It calls its Saab 2000 aircraft "Concordino", even though this propellor plane seats only half of Concorde's 100 passengers and travels at one-third of the speed. And if someone tries to sell you a ticket for a "Jumbolino", be warned that this is another Crossair wheeze, and you will be flying aboard an RJ70 – capacity and range, one quarter of a real 747.

¿ British Airways is pursuing an unusual strategy to get people flying again – discounting fares on its long-haul routes, but keeping this a big secret, while telling everyone that children travel free on European routes, when they can't. The airline's website promises "Kids fly free to Europe", asserting "A child can go free with each adult ticket". Yet there is no chance of anyone flying free. Children are liable for Air Passenger Duty plus a range of other fees and commercial charges that BA pays to airports. On short flights, these add up to £23; the adult fare is £23. Two-thirds off is more generous than no-frills airlines, which charge full fare for anyone aged over one. But it is not free.

¿ Aer Lingus is being equally extravagant with the truth with its ad announcing "Fly to Ireland for £30 from Heathrow... One-way fare to Dublin, Cork or Shannon". You have to read the tiny print to see it is available only "when booked as a return fare".

¿ What previously constituted the family silver for both BA and Aer Lingus – a seat on a transatlantic flight – is now being sold off for around half the normal rates. But like the Brussels hotel I stayed in last week, BA is keeping it quiet, apparently for fear that the few people still prepared to pay full price would cash in.

This week, BA tickets from London to Boston, New York or Washington were on sale for £155, or one-sixtieth of the full fare on Concorde, for students and under-26s. Being neither of the above, I tried the name-your-own-price service, Priceline (0800 074 0000, www.priceline.co.uk).

I flew on a half-empty British Airways 747 from London to Miami, for £182 return, including £62 of those pesky "taxes, fees and charges". Miami Beach was emptier, and much more beautiful, than the Boeing. And I even ate a "crescent" on the flight home.

Simon.Calder@independent.co.uk

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