Simon Calder: Didn't enjoy the flight? Demand your fare back
The man who pays his way
Saturday 16 October 2010
Alpha Bravo is brilliant white – a white elephant, say those who lived through the financial fiasco that was Concorde. Yet even on a misty October morning at the scruffy end of Heathrow, the slim, sleek body and extravagant plumage of the airport's sole surviving supersonic jet breathes style. Seven years after Concorde was grounded, G-BOAB is still idling in BA's backyard.
A newspaper claimed this week that the last Concorde waiting for a permanent home could be destined for the Thames, displayed on a floating platform beside the London Eye. An appealing notion. But RHWL, the architecture practice that came up with the project a year ago, told me the plan was dead in the water. To see the capital's last example of a jet that was as beautiful as it was ruinous, you need Envoy Way.
This is not a Foreign Office manual for ambassadors, but the eastern perimeter road at Heathrow airport – just a little north of Hatton Cross Tube station. Appropriately, the road is named after an unsuccessful British aircraft; the Airspeed Envoy was a 1930s attempt to emulate the DC-3. When I went there this week, Heathrow's sole surviving Concorde, still immaculate in BA colours, was parked beside the fence. A free bus service – the 285 or 423 – will drop you off beside her. Stand in awe of this beautiful machine, which took passengers to the edge of heaven – and onward to New York. Then look across to a couple more BA planes that are also parked up awaiting a new home. Remarkably, these old Boeing 757s were supposed to take up where Concorde left off.
ppp You probably know that British Airways runs a "son of Concorde" service – a business-class-only jet from London City airport to New York. But you may not be aware that BA also emulates the Concorde network from Paris through its OpenSkies subsidiary. This premium service connects the French capital with New York and Washington DC.
According to the original plans, OpenSkies should by now have gone beyond its Paris home and be flying BA's old 757s (like those parked beside Envoy Way) from "Brussels, Milan, Frankfurt and Amsterdam to New York". A link from Amsterdam was tested, but it lost heaps of cash and soon closed. The airline is now focused on Paris, and in a bid to entice new customers, has come up with an unprecedented proposition: "Try OpenSkies. If you are not 100 per cent satisfied, get your money back. Love everything or pay nothing."
Dale Moss, chief executive of OpenSkies, says the offer "mirrors the image of our company: innovative, exclusive and charting new courses for the industry".
ppp As you would expect, the money-back guarantee is not without its terms and conditions. It applies only to journeys booked to start in the US, from either New York or Washington, between now and the end of November. To get your money back, you must write in with a "clear explanation why the onboard travel experience was unsatisfactory". If the airline accepts your account, you end up paying slightly more than nothing, as taxes, fees and charges are not refunded. And the offer does not apply to flights disrupted by strikes, acts of God or weather.
Most reasonable travellers are happy when the plane touches down safely, in the right place at roughly the right time. But if thousands of dollars are at stake, might an OpenSkies passenger lower the threshold of irritation, and cite unhappiness about how long the drinks trolley took to reach row 12 or how well the steak was cooked? Apparently not. Since the scheme started last month, only three passengers have asked for refunds – which were promptly granted.
Passengers today, parcels tomorrow
The clock is ticking for anyone keen to test the OpenSkies money-back guarantee. Here's how to try it before the end of November. Fly on Kuwait Airways from Heathrow out to New York for under £300. For the one-way OpenSkies flight from New York to Paris, choose between a "Biz Seat" (around £1,100) or "Biz Bed" (£1,550) – those adept at finding fault may well opt for the latter, in anticipation of a larger refund. Then stump up all of €26 for the hop from the French capital to Luton on easyJet.
Time is also running out for anyone keen to fly on BA's remaining Boeing 757s. The final flight of the long-serving twin-jet will be from Edinburgh to Heathrow on 30 October. The jets that were intended by now to be shuttling across the Atlantic for OpenSkies are being sold off. Not to another airline, mind, but to a cargo company: once the last passengers are off, the seats come out and the parcels go in.
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