BY GEORGE BANKS
George Banks won the 2016 Onboard Hospitality Lifetime Achievement Award following a long career in inflight service including time overseeing F&B on Concorde. Here he remembers the style and detail that made it so iconic
The Concorde was the ultimate in sophisticated supersonic travel for the elite flying from 1976 to 2003. Serene, smooth, stylish and the epitome of elegance and élan in design and detail, it flew faster and higher than any other passenger aircraft up to 60,000ft.
Only Air France and British Airways operated Concorde and for BA it was the flagship aircraft, given the highest priority with menus changed weekly. I was responsible for the food product and also produced recipe cards to inspire crew knowledge of the dishes.
BA services began from the UK to Bahrain and Singapore in 1976, with Air France operating from Paris to Dakar and Rio de Janeiro on the same date. Services to Washington and New York followed and soon royalty, including Her Majesty the Queen; statesmen such as Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger; and celebrities from Diana Ross and Mick Jagger to Joan Collins and Robert Redford were regulars onboard this 21st century icon.
The BA Concorde had 100 seats in a consistent layout of two x two across the aisle and had many interior re-designs. The last upgrade in November 2001 saw £14 million spent on fabrics, furnishings, new catering equipment and a new tilt-cradle seat with hand-stitched Connolly leather upholstery with adjustable head and leg rests. Sir Terence Conran consulted on the new interior and lounges, and designed beautiful white china, futuristic cutlery and glasses to support lighter menus.
Passengers expected not only superlative F&B but choice. Beautiful bespoke lounges offered a full meal or snack pre-departure at Heathrow and JFK and onboard quality made up for quantity as there were challenging weight and space restrictions. Arriving in New York before you left London (due to the time change) meant passengers had the option of dining in the many Manhatten restaurants on arrival. The finest wines were offered from the famous Concorde ‘cellar’ and warm rolls were offered from a linen lined silver tray.
Menus cards and contents changed but early menu cards featured high gloss, navy blue card with a luxurious tassle, and the Concorde crown logo. They were written with French subtitles. Visual exclusivity in 1976 was emphasised through branding on the china which featured a dark blue edging band dressed with a continuous gold stencil of a Concorde. This was the menu of the final flight.
In later years lighter options included luxury main course salads with lobster or shrimps, or sandwiches – as requested by many captains of industry travelling onboard weekly and expecting to dine out on arrival. Sandwiches were loaded in six portion sizes and dressed by the crew onto a china plate. By 1991, the option of an express meal service was offered.
Seat pocket literature featured a leather look folder and magazine, and before the end of every flight beautiful gifts were offered such as a piece of Wedgewood china, exclusive Smythsons stationery, a branded grey leather Concorde diary, a silver picture frame or a luxurious pure cashmere scarf.
End of an era
As Concorde services came to an end, there was an outcry of sadness. Suddenly every flight was full. The last flight – BA002 – operated from NYC to London on October 24, 2003 and carried the late Sir David Frost and actress Joan Collins, among many. BA said farewell in style with three wonderful champagnes and a beautiful silver grey menu card with luxurious double grey tassle. Ticket wallets and souvenir packs were tied in grey silk ribbon, and a much praised brunch menu included lobster fishcakes with Bloody Mary relish.