Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



August 1, 1989 -- The Concorde is an aging miracle—and therein lies a tail. But the passage of time has not diminished the allure of this supersonic jet, with its now-familiar and piercingly slender profile. Since 1976, Concorde has flown commercially and swiftly on over-water routes, mostly across the Atlantic between New York and London (British Airways) and Paris (Air France). Flying time runs about three-and-a-half hours each way, enhancing the dimension of speed in air travel and making Big Pond commute a lot easier for executives with enviable expense accounts.

Recently, I had the opportunity to fly this mythic bird over untried waters from New York to Acapulco in a record two hours and fifty-eight minutes, and from Acapulco to Oakland, California, in a record two hours and eighteen minutes. Unlike my previous SST flights, which were of the scheduled variety, this one involved two early segments of an unusual air tour: a twenty-four-day global itinerary spiced with exotic ports of all linked by supersonic flights over ocean or sea.

Sold out months before departure, the British Airways jet carried 95 passengers at $39,000 per person double, with a single supplement of $1,500. This spiffy delegation was led by none other than William F. Buckley, political commentator, TV host, and novelist. It was reassuring to have Buckley and his wife on this capitalist adventure; you knew there’d be no left-leaning fellow travelers, maybe not even any democrats (with a capital D). Buckley filmed a number of his "Firing Line" TV shows on this trip, and he also gave lectures to his fellow passengers. These were your typical next-door neighbors with maybe one slight difference: They had $80 G’s per couple to shell out, just like that. A look at the manifest gave you a good glimpse of where t he wealth lives. California drew twenty passengers, Florida sixteen. New York almost made it into double digits with none; Connecticut (seven) and Michigan (six) were also strong. The Aussies and the United Kingdom each checked in two; Canada, one. At least one divorcee (U.S.) shelled out $40,500 in the hopes of netting a husband. The originators of this tour, Lorraine Travel of Miami, who plan to do this again next spring, worked closely with airline consumer activist Donald L. Pevsner, a Miami attorney, who also went along for the ride. Nice duty, Don. (You can call Lorraine at 800-892-8911.)

Our Concorde would eventually cover some 38,215 miles in a flying time of 35 hours and 33 minutes and 59 seconds at average speeds of 1074.5 miles per hour, usually cruising at heights in excess of 40,000 feet. (We were as high as 57,500 feet New York-Acapulco.) A good deal of the time we cruised at Mach 2 (1,350 miles per hour, twice the speed of sound), but you might as well have been sitting in your living room. Where the food probably isn’t as good as it was on this pampered journey. The hotels along the way weren’t too shabby, either: The Savoy (in London); Las Brisas in Acapulco; Mauna Kea in Kona, Hawaii; and Keekorok in Kenya, to name a few.

After I got off in Oakland, the plane went on to Hawaii, then to New Zealand and Australia. On the Christchurch-Sydney leg, a section of the tail dropped into the ocean, making a global media splash. This was not an intentional part of the program. Fortunately, the craft landed without incident in Sydney, and the tour continued without a hitch.

The Concorde, a joint British-French venture, made her debut in 1976. There are now fifteen such planes (eight British Airways, seven Air France) in service; projections call for a flight life beyond the year 2000 for these frail-looking, but extremely stable, creatures. There’s never been a fatality.

There are no other commercial supersonic jets currently on the horizon; a Concorde II, mostly fantasy at this time, is at least 20 years off. (A real pity—getting there fast at least half the fun.) In 1976, each Concorde cost $55 million; it’s anybody’s guess what the next generation would require.

The Mandarin oriental Hotel group, which makes Hong Kong its home base, is justifiably famous for its properties. The Oriental in Bangkok, to name just one, has been cited frequently in recent years as the best hotel anywhere. The mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong remains one of the three or four best in that hotel competitive community. The Oriental in Singapore is a super facility. And now there’s the relatively new Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco, a small but elegant and expensive 160-room hotel that occupies the top eleven floors of a forty-eight-story office building. The views of the Bay Area from the rooms are spectacular in every direction.

It’s nice to welcome the Mandarin Oriental Group to the U.S. side of the Pacific.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.