The supersonic Concorde jet makes its last commercial passenger flight, traveling at twice the speed of sound from New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport on October 24, 2003. The British Airways jet carried 100 passengers, including actress Joan Collins, model Christie Brinkley and an Ohio couple who reportedly paid $60,000 on eBay for two tickets (a roundtrip trans-Atlantic fare typically cost about $9,000). A large crowd of spectators greeted the plane’s arrival in London, which coincided with two other final Concorde flights from Edinburgh and the Bay of Biscay.
The Concorde, which was developed jointly by the British and French governments, began commercial service in January 1976. A significant achievement in aviation technology and design, the sleek, delta-winged planes could make the trip from New York to London in around three and a half hours, traveling at 1,350 miles per hour. The Concorde became a symbol of speed and luxury, although it was not without its problems. Some who lived under its flight path criticized the enormous noise it produced. And, tragically, on July 25, 2000, an Air France jet crashed after takeoff from Paris, killing all 109 people on board and four others on the ground. All Concorde flights were grounded for over a year after the incident.
Citing rising operating costs and reduced ticket sales, British Airways retired its Concorde fleet in October 2003. Air France, the only other Concorde carrier, had permanently grounded its jets in May 2003. However, the allure of the Concorde was so powerful that when the airlines auctioned off spare parts from their fleets shortly after their retirement, many items sold for significantly more than their suggested price. For example, a blanket valued at $100 sold for $2,000, a door sold for $33,000, and a needle nose sold for $550,000.
In August 2020 Virgin Galactic announced plans to partner with carmaker Rolls Royce to develop a supersonic passenger plane capable of flying three times the speed of sound. And in June 2021, United Airlines announced plans to return a supersonic trans-Atlantic airliner to the skies. The 88-seater jets, produced by the U.S. start-up firm Boom Supersonic, could slash flight times in half—making a flight from London to Newark, N.J. in three and a half hours.