NEW YORK British Airways' last Concorde flight for fare-paying passengers landed in New York on Thursday, a day before scheduled supersonic service ends.
Most passengers who walked off the needle-nosed jet at Kennedy Airport described the flight as wonderful but said it marked a bittersweet end to a great chapter in aviation history.
"I feel like we are kind of taking a step backward technologically today," said Dennis Toeppen, 39, a freelance pilot from Champaign, Ill. "It's kind of like a railroad that has been torn up to make a carriage path."
For David Winslow, 42, an airline executive from London, the $6,000 one-way ticket for the flight was worth it.
"It's very sad really," he said. "It's historical, and that's why I did it. Money was no object."
Thursday's London-New York flight was full, and Friday's final trans-Atlantic return was expected to be as well. Friday's passengers will be invited guests of the airline, including actress Joan Collins and Concorde frequent flier Sir David Frost.
Thousands of planespotters were expected to gather near Heathrow Airport on Friday to watch the near-simultaneous landing of the flight from New York and two other Concordes one carrying competition winners from Edinburgh, the other taking guests on a circular flight from Heathrow over the Bay of Biscay, west of France.
With that, the era of supersonic commercial flight will be over, at least for now.
The Concorde, which began commercial service in January 1976, was a technological marvel, flying faster than the speed of sound up to 1,350 mph and crossing the Atlantic in about 3 1/2 hours.
But it was ultimately a financial dud. The British and French governments hoped to sell hundreds of Concordes around the world, but in the end only 16 were built. All went to British Airways and Air France, which grounded its fleet for good in May.
Concorde never made back the millions of dollars invested in it, even with fares of more than $9,000 for a trans-Atlantic round trip. The July 25, 2000, crash of an Air France Concorde near Paris, which killed 113 people, grounded the planes for more than a year. Concorde returned to service just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which spawned an aviation slump.
Last April, both airlines announced they would be retiring Concorde.
British Airways said it would make an announcement next week about the fate of its seven Concordes. Most are expected to go to museums.
Virgin Atlantic Airways chief Richard Branson, whose attempt to buy the remaining Concordes was rebuffed by British Airways, said it was a shame the plane would not be allowed to continue flying.
"Concorde is capable of flying for (another) 20 to 30 years, and it should continue to fly," he said.