I really have been a very lucky man in that I have flown Concorde at least a dozen times. During those flights I encountered many strange and downright surreal moments but none that had the same impact as one flight from Barbados to London.
We were coming towards the end of a two week holiday when the phone call came. It was BA and they asked us if we would possibly mind flying back two days early as one of their jumbos had technical problems creating an enormous backlog of passengers needing to get home. They had decided to offer ‘selected’ travellers the chance of returning earlier using spare seats on their daily Concorde service.
My wife Judith was not amused by the proposed shortening of our holiday but Anna (our daughter) rightly realised that this might be the one chance in her lifetime to fly on this beautiful aircraft so we agreed. Our decision was also helped by the fact we were on agent discount tickets which meant it was practically certain we would be the first to be chucked off our booked flight anyway!
Having decided to make the most of it we arrived at Bridgetown airport in plenty of time to enjoy the lounge and board the flight. At the risk of sounding snobbish we could not believe the state of the people in the departure lounge who were presumably waiting for a charter flight. They were noisy and mainly drunk with numerous wild kids that were left to run amok throughout the building. It was one of those groups you sometimes see and thank your lucky stars they were someone else’s problem. We retreated to the first class lounge and hid until our flight was called.
Finally they announced boarding and off we went to the aircraft. The place was still bedlam as the rampaging hordes had been tanking up on duty free spirits but we got through most of them by the time we found our gate. We stopped and waited but felt more and more uneasy as the near rioting holiday makers started lining up behind us. We then realised that these folk had received the same phone call from BA and were coming with us. It seems the only folk prepared to give up a day or two of their holidays were those on the cheapest packages and agency/airline staff.
The looks on the cabin crews faces was a picture. There was Concorde, the ultra first class flagship of the BA fleet. The aircraft of choice of film stars, diplomats, and captains of industry. And it was filling up with drunks, delinquents and rapacious souvenir hunters that were totally committed to wringing every last benefit of their once in a lifetime trip.
We roared off into the sky and the fun started almost immediately. Practically every stewardess call button was pressed simultaneously and all you could hear above the engines was the staccato calls of drinks orders and the yells from children as they ran up and down the aisle. One of the stewardesses started crying saying she had been groped and the bonafide Concorde passengers squeezed themselves as far forward as possible abandoning two thirds of the aircraft to the mob. There they were being taunted by a bear of a man with a huge stomach and a torso decorated by tattoos and a string vest with no armpits. He was waving a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne by the neck whilst demanding they sing with him.
The next parts of the plane to be hit were the toilets. Some small child started a trend by graffitiing the walls with rude drawings and badly spelt words . He had a huge imagination. They and the rest of the cabin were stripped of anything that was not firmly attached including some seat upholstery and life jackets. It was an absolute nightmare that was only slightly relieved when the captain threatened to have them all arrested on arrival. It was something I have never witnessed before or since but I found out afterwards that they were not a random crowd but in fact a large wedding group returning home. No wonder they all looked like each other and gelled so well! I understand the aircraft had to be taken out of service after for a few days.
My other trips on Concorde were far less eventful. The only thing I particularly noticed was the slightly inquisitive and smug way passengers used to look at each other. Almost like a very exclusive mainly new money club. I did have one more funny moment when I was waiting outside one of the small toilets. They really were tiny and I could hear someone manoeuvring clumsily inside. Finally the door opened and a man came out. I was halfway in when I noticed there was a woman still in there arranging her clothes. I had heard of the ‘mile high’ club before but not the ‘stratosphere’ version.
It was a wonderful aircraft and I wish it was still flying