ypically, when I receive an e-mail
confirmation for an e-ticket, the subject line is about as
titillating as a luggage tag, something along the lines of "Travel
AWeissmann 10/16/03 LGA-ORD." In contrast, the hair on my neck
stood up a bit when I looked at my inbox and saw the subject line:
"Concorde Supersonic Experience Flight: BA002 on Sept. 23."
The day after I returned from my "supersonic experience, (see Paying last respects to the Concorde)" I had an
appointment with Stan Plog. It's no exaggeration to say that Plog
gave shape to modern travel industry marketing research -- for
generations, he has identified key travel trends, often devising
the very names used to describe various traveler behavior.
Plog is semiretired but is working on a project to give the
industry, and travel agents in particular, a boost. When we
finished going over the details of his new plan, I mentioned that I
had flown the Concorde. He said, "You know the machmeter [the
display that shows how fast the plane is going]? That's mine."
It turns out that Plog had been hired by British Airways'
predecessor, BOAC, in the mid-1970s to conduct passenger research.
As a result, he gave shape to what British Airways now calls the
Concorde Supersonic Experience.
"They had a huge mock-up of the plane in a big hangar near
Bristol [England]," he said. "The exterior of the model looked
terrific. They invited a group of high-end travelers to see it. I
watched their faces when they entered. Their jaws just dropped in
amazement -- the plane was so stunning, so different. They loved it
at first sight.
"I hurried into the plane so I could see their reactions when
they first saw the interior. Their jaws dropped again, but this
time in horror. The overhead bins had no covers -- they were like
[those] in a train or a bus. The ceiling was low -- only about 5
feet, 11 inches. But worst of all, the seats had been taken from
any old plane and were horribly mismatched."
At the time, Plog said, BOAC didn't see how special and
different the Concorde was. "To them, it was just transportation.
They thought that in a few years there would be dozens of
supersonic planes, and it wouldn't really be unique.
"I convinced them to cover the overhead bins, raise the roof a
couple of inches and, most importantly, understand that they needed
to market the experience of the Concorde as well as its ability to
get someone from one point on earth to another quickly.
"The machmeter in the cabin is the suggestion I'm most proud of.
When you're on the plane, you can't really feel the acceleration,
and I imagined that everyone would want to know the precise moment
when the plane broke the sound barrier. It's an event. The
passengers -- and the press -- really picked up on it."
BOAC began to understand what he was saying, but in other
regards was clueless. "They told me they were going to use plastic
knives and forks and that the plates would be plastic -- Bakelite,
actually. They were very concerned about weight on the Concorde,
and the Bakelite was considerably lighter than first-class china
and silver." Plog convinced them they were making a mistake.
Alas, the cutlery is once again plastic, but in other regards,
British Airways has stuck with Plog's suggestions. The Concorde may
incidentally be transportation, but it'll likely be remembered as a
masterpiece of design, engineering ... and marketing.