I could not take my eyes off her

Steve Jackman | 11 Aug, 2014

My wife and I had the very great privilege of travelling back to London on Concorde in December 1999 after a long weekend in New York.

I remember being so excited at the prospect of flying on the most iconic of all aircraft, that we arrived at JFK so early in the morning to find the check-in wasn't even open!

Having eventually checked in we made our way to the Concorde Lounge, which was when we caught our first sight of the aircraft, parked up directly outside. Even in the first light of the day we were in complete awe of it. She was just beautiful and I think I just stood at the window for at least half an hour, not wanting to take my eyes off her.

I was tempted away as the first of several glasses of Champagne was offered…even though it was only around 8:30am; it seemed rude not to sample the fare!

We boarded and took our seats in row 8. I am normally adamant that I sit in an aisle seat but I broke my own rule this one time and sat by the window (my wife didn't mind that much!).

My first impression inside the cabin was how narrow it was and how small the windows were. Having travelled out to New York in the upper deck of a 747, this was a complete contrast, but in no way did it lessen the experience.

We obviously knew that many celebrities travelled on Concorde but weren't necessarily expecting anyone to be on our flight. However, just as we were about to close up the doors, Donatella Versace came aboard and sat herself in row 1.

As we pushed back and started our taxi, the Captain welcomed us and even though there were probably many frequent Concorde travellers on board, he still explained about the take off and that shortly after lifting off, the engines would be throttled back to conform with the noise abatement rules when departing JFK.

The main thing I remember about the take off was the acceleration from a standing start; it really did push you back into your seat. And, once we were airborne, there was no worrying looks or thoughts when the engines were reduced.

As we climbed to cruising altitude, the inevitable glass of bubbly was taken and we were then treated to a magnificent meal as we hurtled across the Atlantic. It did seem a little strange eating a meal of this type at around 10am but I certainly didn't care!

It was a moment to savour when the Mach indicator went to the magical 2.0 but the best moment for me was when I was able to pay a visit to the cockpit to spend 5 minutes or so in the company of the amazing men who were piloting the aircraft. I had always wanted to be an airline pilot but being colour-blind prevented me from even getting through a medical. I have remained jealous of these guys ever since.

Unfortunately, the flight was over all too quickly, (even though that is the whole point I guess!) and we were touching down in the December darkness of a late afternoon at Heathrow.

We thanked the crew as we disembarked and we said goodbye to Concorde but that wasn't the end of our story. When we arrived at the baggage reclaim, we were told that there was a problem getting our luggage off the aircraft and we had to wait over an hour before they eventually arrived! This was all caught on camera as the BBC were in the middle of filming a documentary series about Heathrow called Airport. Having an irate Donatella Versace pacing up and down telling everyone she had a private jet waiting for her to take her to Rome was just the kind of material they were looking for. We taped the episode when it aired early the following year and I can be seen in the background of one of the shots so if anyone refuses to believe we actually went on Concorde, I have the evidence!

We were returning to my wife's parents in South Wales that evening and I remember it took us longer to get there from Heathrow than it did for us to cross the Atlantic on Concorde!

It was to be the only time we ever flew on Concorde but when I think back to the moment when we were deciding whether we should book it or leave it for another couple of years, I am so glad that we said, 'come on, let's do it' as I doubt we would ever have done it prior to retiring.

The phrase 'once in a lifetime' is all to easily banded about these days, but for us, travelling on Concorde mid-December 1999 was certainly one of those moments and one we will never, ever forget.

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