Where have all the Concorde flyers gone?

Today is the first anniversary of the last commercial flight of Concorde. You may recall the howls of anguish that greeted British Airways' decision to ground its ludicrously expensive supersonic toy. Yet on the day when BA's boss, Rod Eddington, announced the death sentence, only one in five seats on that day's supersonic flight to New York were filled with paying customers.

Today is the first anniversary of the last commercial flight of Concorde. You may recall the howls of anguish that greeted British Airways' decision to ground its ludicrously expensive supersonic toy. Yet on the day when BA's boss, Rod Eddington, announced the death sentence, only one in five seats on that day's supersonic flight to New York were filled with paying customers.

Between the announcement and the sentence being carried out, the plane was filled with folk who realised this was probably their last chance to travel at twice the speed of sound. Sir Richard Branson campaigned to keep the jet in the air. But no one else was to be allowed to play with BA's toy, which is why the airline's supersonic star went from flagship to museum relic overnight.

Commercially and environmentally, the Concorde circus had to close. But what has happened since then?

"I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms", confesses the television presenter and contributor to The Independent, Jamie Bowden. He flew on Concorde 39 times. To help wean himself off the habit, he says, he attended the auction when BA's supersonic silver was sold off. Mr Bowden bought four blue Connolly leather Concorde seats for £2,000. He is also the proud owner of 500 glasses designed for supersonic champagne (now that'll be a party worth gatecrashing).

EVEN CONCORDE enthusiasts without Mr Bowden's enviable flight log are still angry. Rosemary Greig was in London on the day one of the dismantled jets was towed past in a barge. "I was very sad to see G-BOAA in her coffin on the Thames", she says.

Where have all the flyers gone? For the people who were lucky enough to travel at twice the speed of sound, life has slowed down considerably. So how are the likes of Sir Cliff, Sir Elton and Joan Collins travelling between London Heathrow and New York JFK? This is, after all, the world's busiest international air route, but well-heeled passengers have no choice but to share the plane with hundreds of us in the sub-£200 cheap seats. Manhattan parties may be emptier now that it's no longer possible to nip over to New York on a whim. And some people are staying at home, according to Mike Platt, the managing director of BTI UK - Britain's biggest business travel agency. "Most of our very senior business travellers used to fly to New York and back in a day. Sometimes they don't have more than a day, so they might use video-conferencing instead." But most have switched to BA's First Class, he says. A spokesman for the airline concurs: "A lot of the regular Concorde flyers have remained with BA, travelling on the premium First or Club World services".

Virgin Atlantic's chief executive, Steve Ridgway, disagrees. He says many Concorde passengers have migrated to his airline. "We know we've got some top BA fliers who used to be routinely upgraded from First Class to Concorde. They're now travelling in Upper Class with us." The supersonic jet's other destination was Barbados, and Virgin Atlantic has smartly chosen this weekend to launch its upgraded "Upper Class Suite" on the route from Gatwick to the Caribbean island, to grab the ex-Concorde clientele.

A great attraction of Concorde to its customers was exclusivity. Since the jet's demise, Lufthansa has been doing very well with its business-class only transatlantic flights, using small aircraft fitted out with luxurious seats. That sounds like a Virgin venture, if ever I saw one, but it's a non-starter at present. The reason: slots. "You need the top slots out of the top airports", says BTI's Mike Platt. Yet 13 years after being given the right to fly from Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic still has fewer than two per cent of the airport's slots. Steve Ridgway says: "Any slots we have are like gold dust and we have to fill them with big aircraft".

Big, safe and cheap: that is the future of aviation, and that combination inevitably means slow. Mike Platt says he was personally saddened by the closing of the Concorde era: "It gave an immediacy to travel".

The value of time has diminished - as has the value of our travel heritage. "I never got the chance to fly on Concorde", says Rosemary Greig. "Now it's too late."

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