UK Royals Lend Name To Airport, Cruise Ship, Again

London’s Heathrow airport continues to expand and remodel to meet current demand and prepare for the future. Heathrow’s Terminal 2 (T2) will be home to the Star Alliance airlines and has United making the inaugural flights in June 2014. But rather than leave the new terminal named simply T2, airport developers took a look at the history of the facility and came up with something better.

Re-naming the facility Terminal 2: The Queen’s Terminal, will honor Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her long relationship with the airport. The Queen formally inaugurated the airport’s first passenger terminal in 1955. Originally named the Europa Building, it was later named Terminal 2.

Opening in 1946 with just 62,000 passengers passing through, Heathrow was originally known as London Airport and the terminal was a temporary village of tents. Those tents gave way to prefabricated concrete villages prior to the opening of the old Terminal 2 that saw more than 70 million passengers in 2012.At a cost of over $17 billion over the last decade, Heathrow has been transformed to a facility that consistently ranks at the top of passenger satisfaction surveys. When the work is done, Terminal 2 will boast the latest check-in and bag-drop technology to make using the airport a smooth, enjoyable and efficient journey. Similar to the already completed Terminal 5, T2 has been designed with shops and restaurants that will offer air travelers the very best of Britain.

In a similar effort to embrace and honor the past while looking ahead, The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton recently performed the duties of Godmother to Princess Cruises‘ new Royal Princess at a dockside naming ceremony.

The third cruise ship is to be named Royal Princess; the last one was named by the late Diana, Princess of Wales in 1984.

Looking for more of what the new Heathrow Terminal 2 will offer? Check out this video:

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.

When political gets personal. Reactions to Mumbai

Ever since the news came out about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I’ve been reading about people’s personal experiences and reactions. They remind me of one reason why the World Trade Center made such an impact when the towers came crashing down, as well as why travel to distant places makes the world, and what happens in it, seem so much more relevant.

When the towers were attacked and the world reacted, it reminded me slightly of the reactions when Princess Diana died. The reactions weren’t the same, or for the same reason, but Diana’s death was one that had significance to people everywhere. There was an emotional connection. The towers and Princess Diana were symbolic in a way that that most recognize their importance. There are few events that hold the entire world’s attention.

When Princess Diana was killed in that awful car crash there was a riveting affect. People tuned in for days. The World Trade Center will never quite fade away. Can’t you still see it’s shadow whenever you see the skyline of Manhattan and recognize where they should be? Then there are the people who were lost who will remain forever as a part of a shared history that we haven’t been able to set aside because how can we?

In other circumstances, when images aren’t so iconic, but other dreadful events occur in the world outside the boundaries of our day to day existence, we might say, “How dreadful,” when we look at the TV screen, but then go about pouring ourselves a cup of coffee, or wonder if we have enough clothes to last a few more days–or do we need to do a load of laundry after all?

When I heard about the troubles with terrorism in Mumbai, I felt connected somewhat because of my own experiences in India and because I have friends who are living there. They could very well be in Mumbai right now. The places that have been targeted are the very places they might have gone. But, I am still a bit distracted from Mumbai from my Thanksgiving feast and the fact that I am in Cleveland and heading to Denmark in a few days.

Others, though, have had a much more dramatic reaction because they were just in Mumbai–or they are there now. For them, there isn’t a distraction. One account is by Carl Hoffman, a contributing editor of Intelligent Travel. Hoffman was recently in Mumbai at the Leopold Cafe and Bar, one of the establishments where patrons were attacked. At the time of the attack, Hoffman was safely in New Delhi, but the news has carried personal meaning. I’m sure he can picture each table, the ambiance and where he sat. Perhaps he can still taste his drink or what he ate.

Another account that caught my attention is Steve Simms’ story. His story was told by someone else in this New Zealand Herald article. Simms is staying in a hotel across the street from the Taj Palace and was watching it burn. Normally, Simms stays in the Taj Palace, but there weren’t rooms when he arrived so he stayed across the street. From his hotel room at the time the article was written, he could see the window of the room where he normally stayed in the Taj Palace.

Both of these men’s accounts is an indication of what happens when you travel. You have a personal response to a place that does not fade easily.

When we travel, places no longer remain abstract. It becomes harder to just do our laundry or have that cup of coffee. When we hear the news in the world, every place has aspects of the Twin Towers or Princess Diana. As the world becomes smaller, disasters in the far away corners of the world feel as if they are in our own backyard.

Reading their accounts is one way that we can find out that we do care after all, and whether the laundry gets done or not is not particularly important. Right now there are places in Mumbai that may or may not be the same–ever.

Of course, there are the other people who have never been to India, but who are forever connected, even though they may never set foot in Mumbai. They are the people like those in Brooklyn who are anxiously waiting to see if their beloved Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka are safe. This rabbi and his wife are among the hostages. Their two year-old son and his nanny escaped. [see New York Times article.] For them, the connection to Mumbai is personal, although they may have no idea about the significance of the Taj Palace.

Love from London: The biggest tourist traps

I have been to London so many times, I don’t usually do the touristy thing any more. Sometimes, however, it is fun to visit the beaten path places just for the sheer humor involved.

With that premise, I attended a tour of Kensington Palace yesterday. My review? Save the £12 ($24) or spend it on beer instead. Yes, even warm beer. The tour must be one of the worst ways to spend your money, aside from–perhaps–investing in the Canadian dollar right about now. (This is, of course, coming from someone who chose journalism as a career, so clearly, my financial advice is to be taken with a grain of salt.)

I am here to report is that the Kensington palace consists largely of Princess Di stuff. And not even good stuff. Princess Di pictures, Princess Di wedding video, a few of her dresses and…that’s about it. A few of the preserved state rooms are worth seeing but overall this is a big disappointment. I don’t mean this to be disrespectful to the late princess, but I find it appalling that her personal tragedy has turned into such a great source of income for people.

Which brings me to my next point. I hear that nothing beats the London Dungeon tour in the biggest tourist trap ranking. Then again, tonight I am supposed to join the Jack the Ripper tour and I could easily see that one winning this competition. Stay tuned!