Where the jet set sat

Barbados is now the habitat of a giant flightless bird – the Concorde. Ian Stalker went on board this iconic supersonic plane

A guide points out the nose of the plane during the light show. Photograph courtesy the Barbados Tourism AuthorityInterior cabin. Photograph courtesy the Barbados Tourism Authority

Guides at the Barbados Concorde Experience don’t wing it when they’re asked about the attraction they lead visitors through. They’re thoroughly versed in the high and low points of the Concorde aircraft, and are easily able to answer questions about the high-flying plane, now permanently grounded.

British Airways and Air France used Concorde to ferry rock stars and royalty, passengers who reached lofty altitudes that enabled them to see the Earth’s curvature, as well as larger but comparatively lumbering passenger planes well below their own. Concorde was seen as revolutionising air passenger service, thanks to its supersonic speeds – up to 23 miles a minute – and lavish service.

But Concordes, which once had to be booked months in advance, gradually lost favour with the travelling public, eventually disappearing from the skies. That disappearance was hastened by a devastating crash in 2000 as one of the planes was taking off in Paris.

Barbados Concorde Experience, which opened in 2007 next to Grantley Adams International Airport at a cost of US$3.5 million, now houses one of the aircraft. Barbados beat out more than 70 countries hoping to showcase the delta-wing aircraft and Barbados Concorde Experience is the only attraction anywhere dedicated specifically to the plane.

The island was one of four destinations that saw scheduled service from the plane, with the last Concorde flight to Barbados being in 2003.

Barbados Concorde Experience visitors are issued “boarding passes” rather than admission tickets and then work their way to a “departure lounge” modelled on the Concorde Room at London’s Heathrow Airport. Then they walk a red carpet to the plane – one of only 20 to be manufactured. Today’s visitors are invited to sit in the plane’s seats. A video about a Concorde London-Barbados flight is shown and the tour also lets visitors see into the cockpit and view replica meals – Concorde passengers were served the likes of foie gras and caviar, and their wine glasses were reportedly rarely left empty.

Brita Greaves of the Barbados Tourism Authority remembers being fortunate enough to see the Concorde landing on its first visit to Barbados in 1997, and recalls the simulation of the sonic boom – heard when the plane reached the speed of sound – when she visited Barbados Concorde Experience.

And, yes, she did make a point of getting her picture taken on board Concorde during her visit, and enjoyed knowing “that I was able to sit in a seat where the rich and the famous sat”.

 

For more information: www.barbadosconcorde.com