Airlines court new passengers for Concorde

November 28, 1993|By Chris Barnett | Chris Barnett,Copley News Service

At 1,350 mph, the supersonic Concorde is the ultimate thrill ride, and now the "First Lady of the Skies" is courting new passengers with new comforts, conveniences, even a few bargain fares.

British Airways and Air France are the world's only airlines operating the 100-seat, needle-nosed jetliners today. The British are pouring on the perks; the French are wheeling and dealing. The passengers -- mostly businesspeople who make every minute count -- are reaping a bonanza of benefits.

Meanwhile, for travelers who want to impress their friends or customers, both airlines are now chartering Concorde for custom, exotic tours. You buy a ticket (or rent the airplane) and bring your pals. They supply the crew, caviar, champagne and food.

With two flights a day between London and New York and three London/Washington flights weekly, British Airways can't simply stomp on the accelerator to shave time off the usual three-hour, 13-minute westbound trans-Atlantic crossing; this isn't a rocket ship, though it resembles one.

But BA has recently created a series of shortcuts for Concorde passengers that every airline would do well to emulate. For instance, travelers can check in for the flight from their car phone or a secretary can handle the check-in. Great time saver. At London's massive Heathrow Airport, British Air has invented Fast Track -- a straight shot through passport control and security, saving even more time and frustrating waits in line.

Inside, passengers go to a just-opened Concorde Lounge, where hostesses pass smoked salmon canapes on silver platters, and fresh-squeezed orange juice and champagne are poured. When it's time to board, you exit directly from the lounge (no trekking off to a gate).

Even at $4,167 one way from New York or $6,999 round trip, Concorde is usually a sellout. Occasionally, British Airways' frequent flyers who travel first class get a free upgrade, but it's a random reward for patronage, not a regular program.

Air France, which bills itself as the "Concorde Airline," has a series of discounted fares for the supersonic shuttle. Buy a round-trip business-class ticket between New York and Paris for $2,938 and you're automatically upgraded to Concorde for the trip over; you return at subsonic speed on a 747. The catch: You must charge the ticket on an American Express card.

A round-trip crossing on the Concorde both ways has also been reduced from $6,388 to $5,430, and a companion travels at 50 percent off, or $2,715. Any credit card will get you that deal, and the rate is adjusted for a departure from any city.

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