The Speedbird is the call sign of British Airways. The Speedbird emblem made its first appearance in commercial aviation as early as 1932, when it adorned the fleet of aircraft of Imperial Airways – aircraft with majestic sounding names, such as the Handley-Page Hermes, the Hannibal or the Victor.
In later years, when Imperial Airways had long been merged into BOAC, the Speedbird really came into its own. It was increased in size and assumed a more prominent position on the tails of the fleet, ablaze in hues of gold against a dramatic black backdrop.
And then, many years later still, amidst the turmoil, controversy and scandal that surrounded the introduction of the World Tails, the Speedbird remained the one reliable and dependable constant of the brand identity of the World’s Favourite Airline.
Today, eighty years after its inception, the Speedbird still soars. In its current design it has become a mere stylised ribbon and is referred to officially as the Speedmarque. It is a testimony to the talent and genius of Theyre Lee-Elliott, the graphic designer who invented the Speedbird in a time long gone by, in the very early days of aviation. Over the years, the Speedbird has evolved and matured to become perhaps one of the most iconic symbols for the achievements of aviation.
Of the many aircraft that bore with pride the emblem of the Speedbird through the decades, Concorde must be, without a doubt, the one most deserving of it. Over the last few months I have researched extensively the development history of Concorde for professional reasons. As a kind of side effect, so to speak, I found myself increasingly drawn by the lure of this legendary aircraft and that mythical call sign that for such a long time had been the prerogative of Concorde – synonymous with speed and luxury – the lure of Speedbird One…
And so it came that I decided to travel to New York for the Easter break in search of any vestiges of Concorde that may remain along her signature route between London and New York. And in a way that is really what this trip is all about: to pay homage to one of the most beautiful aircraft to ever grace the skies – a technical marvel – and the people who built such an outstanding piece of engineering.
My pilgrimage would include a visit to the Intrepid Museum of course, to pay my respects to the beautifully preserved British Airways Concorde standing on the pier there near the Intrepid. And how would I get there? Yes, simple really. A Speedbird will take me there of course.
In 2009 British Airways decided to resurrect the legendary Speedbird One with the launch of direct services from London’s City Airport to New York’s JFK. To this end, the airline acquired two A 318s in a Business Class only configuration with 32 seats. Payload restrictions at LCY require the aircraft to make an intermediate stop in Shannon in Ireland to refuel. Just like the good old days really. Passengers clear US immigration in Shannon while the aircraft is refuelled, thus putting to good use the necessary interruption of their journey and making the overall journey time from door to door comparable to that on a nonstop flight from London’s congested Heathrow to New York’s even more congested and crowded JFK.
Getting to the Airport
I wake up early on Good Friday. My home for the night at Amsterdam airport is the CitizenM, which I’ve stayed at many times and always greatly enjoy. The hotel is very conveniently located within walking distance of the terminal complex. But that is not its most appealing feature, of course not. It also has rooms overlooking the apron.
Date: 6 April 2010, Good Friday
Airline: British Airways Cityflyer
Aircraft: Embraer E-175
To: London City
Class: Business Class
This is a special trip, so I decide to treat myself to something special to celebrate. Yes, today I will be old fashioned and check-in at a check-in counter, one with a real human being sitting behind it who asks you if would prefer a window or an aisle seat and, in the good old days, if you’re smoking or non-smoking.
The British Airways Lounge
The queue for passport control is short for citizens of the EU and from there it’s only a short walk to lounge 40, operated by or for BA. The interior is very typically English. Food and drinks offerings are not bad either. But like the Skyteam lounge in Zurich, this one does not have a toilet either.
What the lounge also has though, is an elderly gentlemen at reception who makes boarding announcements.
Despite the limited size of the aircraft, the cabin has a nice spacious feel about it. It probably helps that British Airways keep one of the seats on a row of two empty in Business Class, which is pretty much the industry standard on intra-European flights these days.
Departure is from the notoriously distant Polderbahn, which means we are treated to the grand tour of Schiphol airport as we trundle along on a 10 minutes long taxi. Take-off occurs some 14 minutes after we move off stand. Flying time is announced as a very short 40 minutes.
As soon as we’re airborne, the crew springs into action. That’s when I find out I have a Hindu Vegetarian Meal stored in my Executive Club profile. No idea where that came from. It will come back to haunt my on the next flight. But the cold meal I receive is very tasty, spicy and flavourful. It’s a kind of vegetarian Tikka Masala with pumpkin.