British Airways offers North American flight discount to entice US travelers

british airwaysMany of us have been yearning to visit our neighbor across the pond since The Royal Wedding (capitalization intended). Great Britain is in celebration mode, there’s no doubt. They’ve capitalized on the trend and embarked upon a four year multi-million dollar marketing campaign to their most valuable overseas market – the US, just in time for 2012, a year when

Britain is hosting the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, World Pride and hundreds of festivals that will make up the Cultural Olympiad.

To celebrate, British Airways is offering savings of up to $150 when flying from any North American gateway to anywhere in the UK in British Airways’ World Traveller Plus, its premium economy class. The offer is available for tickets purchased by October 31, 2011 and is valid for travel until March 31, 2012.

We’re sure they’ll be offering many additional similar promotions, so we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.

[Flickr via BriYYZ]

Cockpit Chronicles: Hitching a ride to Kentucky in Concorde

Occasionally, when pilots are together, the subject eventually will come around to airplanes. Specifically, just what airplane we’d most like to fly.

While I have a rather long list that includes the Ford Tri-Motor and the Spitfire, solidly at the top of the heap lies Concorde. An airplane so special, you’re not even allowed to put ‘the’ in front of its name.

Since there was no possibility of ever flying this airplane at my airline, I knew I had to do the closest thing. Even though my wife and I were very recently hired at our respective airlines, we both agreed that we’d have to pay for a non-revenue (slang for employee reduced-rate) flight in Concorde before it was retired. This was in the mid ’90s and the one-way tickets were still a relatively steep $600 per employee.

At the time, my wife was a flight attendant for United, based in Newark. She was working in the aft galley when a gentleman came back for something. He happened to mention that he worked for British Airways at JFK as the director of Concorde charters.

My wife told him of our plans to purchase a pass on the airplane for a flight to London in the future, just for the experience.

“Don’t do that.” He said. “We have a charter flight from New York to Cincinnati in two weeks. Come along on then. No charge.”

He even extended the offer to the other flight attendants riding that day, but they all passed on the opportunity.

Two weeks later, Linda and I arrived at the Concorde lounge early enough to watch the inbound supersonic jet taxi to the gate. There was a tremendous amount of activity by the staff, with everyone even more frantic than what would be typical for agents eager to ‘turn-around’ an airplane quickly.

We soon discovered what was happening.Princess Diana was arriving on the airplane to sell some dresses for charity in New York. The Princess of Wales was escorted off the jet and down to a waiting car on the ramp, and unfortunately we never actually saw her. But soon afterward, our hero, the director of Concorde charters, came upstairs carrying a large plaque featuring the princess with a warm thank you message written on it given to him by Diana. Needless to say, he was beaming.

While waiting to board, I spotted the co-pilot in the lounge making his way to the gate. I approached him and mentioned that we’d be one of the 14 passengers that day to fly with him to Cincinnati. I explained that I was currently flying the 727 and showed him my ID, hoping that just maybe he would invite me up to the cockpit at some point.

“Let me check with the captain, maybe we can get you the jumpseat.” He said, taking my I.D. and license with him.

As we stepped on board the airplane I took a quick picture of my wife in front of the Concorde sign.

The co-pilot came back to where we were sitting and asked my wife if she would be upset if I rode in the jumpseat. I turned to her with my most buoyant look.

“No, not at all!” She said, as a flight attendant handed her a pre-departure champagne.

Concorde, just like many airplanes of the ’60s and ’70s had a cockpit where the major systems were operated by a flight engineer. At the time, I was an FE on the 727, so I was rather interested in this panel aboard Concorde.

The flight engineer panel on Concorde

The flight engineer showed me the jumpseat, but I was amazed that my perch was well behind the captain. It wouldn’t even be possible to see out the front from that far back, I thought.

As I began to sit down, the FE explained, “No, no, no. The seat slides up forward.”

Sure enough, in what had to be the most unusual cockpit seat, I found my place just behind the captain with the chair locked into place.

The cockpit jumpseat is tucked in just behind the captain seat.

We taxied out with the nose drooped down for better visibility looking forward. As we lined up on runway 31L at JFK, the co-pilot said that this was the lightest he’d ever flown the airplane.

In a scene reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, we blasted down the runway and rotated far sooner than I expected.

The captain reached over and flipped a three inch switch under the glareshield that raised the nose. As the nose sealed into place, I was shocked to see just how bad the visibility was. It was like looking through two sides of a humid greenhouse. It seemed like the first pane of glass, in front of the pilots, was a full ten feet from the retracted windshield that maintained the smooth, needle like appearance of Concorde.

Jumpseating is usually just a method for pilots to get to and from work or where they needed to go. But that day, it was how I confirmed my supposition that the Concorde would be the ultimate airplane to fly.

Climbing through 10,000 feet, I couldn’t hold my enthusiasm any longer. “Guys, you don’t fly an airplane. You fly a rocket!” I gasped.

They explained that even on a lightly loaded airplane they still used ‘reheat’ or what us Yanks call ‘afterburners,’ which essentially injected fuel downstream of the turbine section of the engine for added thrust, producing a glow on the four Olympus engines that could be seen for miles.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly supersonic over the continental United States as sonic booms are generally considered annoying for groundlings. Still, flying at .95 Mach, or 95% of the speed of sound may have set a commercial speed record between New York and Cincinnati. (The CVG airport is actually located in northern Kentucky).

Interestingly, six years later the same airplane, G-BOAG, received special permission to fly supersonic over land to set a commercial speed record while flying from New York to Seattle on November 5th, 2003 for its last flight.

It’s fitting that today G-BOAG is now on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, since Seattle is where I met the exchange student while I was in high school who would later become my wife who landed me this rare experience.

If you have the chance, check out the museum. It’s a must see for any aviation geek.

Special thanks to the director at British Airways who made it all happen for us. I only wish I had remembered his name.

And thanks to Ruthann O’Connor for the photos.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Airlines fined for price-fixing, $1.7 billion so far

airlines fined for price-fixing
U.S government prosecutors have fined 21 airlines $1.7 billion to date in a price-fixing scheme that has cost America’s flying public and cargo shippers millions in a case that dates back to 2000.

Rather than fix problems plaguing the airline industry a decade ago, executives at global carriers scrambled to find an easy way out and avoid financial ruin reports the Associated Press. Between 2000 and 2006 airlines artificially raised passenger and cargo fuel surcharges to make up for lost profits.

“As an example of the impact of the conspiracy, fuel surcharges imposed by some of the conspirators rose by as much as 1,000 percent during the conspiracy, far outpacing any percentage increases in fuel costs that existed during the same time period,” said former Associate Attorney General Kevin J. O’Connor.

They might have not been caught either had it not been for two airlines coming forward to turn in their conspirators. Admitting their “mistake” allowed Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic to take advantage of a Justice Department leniency program for helping in the investigation. Still, the two airlines were fined over £120 million after admitting to fixing prices on fuel surcharges.

From fines to prison time for airline executives, penalties vary among individual airlines.

Gadling has been following this story all along and in 2008 told of Qantas airline’s involvement . In the case involving Qantas, the price fixing scheme had a focus on their freight division.

It was the freight division of China Airlines too that earned the airline a $40 million fine in the price fixing conspiracy just last September.

Announcing four guilty pleas in June 2008, O’Connor told the Associated Press that the cases “conservatively, has affected billions of dollars of shipments. Estimates suggest that the harm to American consumers and businesses from this conspiracy is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Airlines fined for price-fixing include British Airways, Korean Air, and Air France-KLM but no major U.S. carriers as the case continues. So far, two former executives have been sentenced to six months in prison and two others were ordered to prison for eight months.

Ongoing charges are pending against 15 executives, nine of whom are considered fugitives.

Flickr photo by BriYYZ

Related Stories

British companies roll out royal wedding packages for the big day

royal wedding

The much-anticipated royal wedding is now less than three months away. We didn’t receive a coveted save-the-date fax, so it’s safe to say we won’t be sitting between Elton John and Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey on April 29.

That’s OK, though – there are plenty of other ways to celebrate the Wedding of the Century without all the excessive bowing and curtsying. In the same predicament? Well, you could celebrate stateside with the Trump International Hotel’s royal wedding package; or, you could skip the pond for the big day and take in all of the royal excitement. Need suggestions? Here are a few of the best packages thrown together in honor of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. Oh, and don’t wait – packages are already selling out.

British Airways’ Royal Wedding Weekend

British Airways is leading the royal wedding pack with several flight and hotel options for those hoping to catch a glimpse of the pomp and circumstance. Prices start at $820 for trips between April 27 and May 1, and hotel options range from the 2-star Pembury in London’s Finsbury Park to the 5-Star Grange Holborn on the West End.
Hilton London Tower Bridge

Starting at $1600 plus tax, the Hilton London Tower Bridge’s royal wedding package includes a three-night stay for two, a bottle of Champagne, scones with clotted cream and jam, and a post-nuptial dinner with wine. The catch? You have to call the hotel directly at 011-44-20-002-300 to get in on the deal.

Superbreak Royal Wedding 2011 Breaks

This one works best if you’ll already be in the U.K. before the festivities start. The packages start around $475 and include two or three nights in a London-area hotel, return-rail travel from any East Coast rail station, a flight on the London Eye, 2 for 1 meals with the Hi-Life dining card and Smartsave vouchers.

London Hilton Park Lane

Already have your room booked and looking for somewhere to dine before the wedding hoopla starts? Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows is offering a $72 three-course lunch from April 26 to 29 complete with beautiful views of Buckingham Palace.

Podium restaurant at the London Hilton Park Lane is offering a blue-themed tea in honor of the blue sapphire engagement ring that Prince William gave Middleton. For $53, you’ll get your fill of blueberry muffins, blue macaroons and blue jam. Available April 26 to May 1.

[Photo: Getty Images]

British Airways chairman criticizes US airport security practices

British Airways chairman Martin Broughton recently spoke to a conference of airport operators, and openly criticized the way the US operates its airport security.

In his speech, Mr. Broughton suggested that the practice of being told to remove all shoes and laptops should be dropped. He also complained about inconsistent security measures – something I completely agree with.

He also criticized the US for demanding increased checks on US-bound international flights but not on its own domestic services. In his speech, he said the UK should stop “kowtowing” to US security demands.

Unfortunately, many of the inconvenient measures put in place seem like they are here to stay – and the arrival of whole body imaging machines will only make things worse. It is highly unlikely that complaints by the boss of one of the largest airlines in the world will help change things for passengers.


[Image credit: AFP/Getty Images]