Ah, the pleasures of vintage aircraft…

Always a delight to get a ride in a genuine vintageaeroplane. The smell richly redolent of aviation from an earlier era, theupholstery shabby in a faintly distinguished sort of way, and the seatingquaintly intimate. Yes, we’re in a British Airways Boeing 737 Classic ofcourse, enjoying an experience now largely denied to most Europeans….

The route is London-Toulouse which, for reasons I’ve nevermanaged to fathom, is some sort of network-planning Cinderella. Only BA and, inrecent years, Easyjet serve it, both from Gatwick and offering a sparse handful oftimings between the inconvenient and the very inconvenient. A substantialportion of the traffic is Airbus-related – perhaps Airbus leaned on BA to keep737-400s on the route just to ram home their marketing point.

“Smells like the ’80s”, is a London DJ’s catchphrase, but itapplies nicely to our aircraft today. It’s actually 1991-built G-DOCA, but the interior positively reeks of the ’80s. Nosubtle pastels or greys here – just acres of Thatcherite deep blue leather, abit the worse for wear.

And definitely no curves. Well, the top of the luggage binsis sort-of chamfered off but, as befits a decade not famed for its subtlety,the décor is pretty uncompromising. The passenger service units in particularare to be honest a throwback to a period even earlier. Solid red bricks forcall-buttons, proper punkah louvres, 48-point tabloid font messages, and allset in industrial grey rectangular panels – about 10% of which allow a goodview of their innards as they fit so badly.

My window shade is bust in the ‘up’ position (which is fine by me) and outside there is the reassuring sight of a wing that’s flowna zillion miles, triple-slotted Fowlers tucked more or less snugly away, asprinkling of neo-brutal vortex generators on the outboard portion, and thosefin-illumination lights housed in rather racy fairings on the tips that give usa slightly military air. Precious little load-alleviation going on here as wepunch our way through today’s “light chop” as my American friends would say.

The ride home comes about three hours after I was physicallyin the interior mock-up for the A350 XWB at Airbus.Even putting aside the obvious widebody/narrowbody differences, the gulf isastounding.

No doubt the 787 is just as impressive – though I haven’thad the pleasure – but the A350 is pretty stunning. The very wide fuselage,fiendishly clever lighting, and cunningly curved contours generate an overalleffect that it’s hard to associate with aircraft at all. Even in economy.The huge 787 windows are already famous of course, but even those on the A350are pretty cool.

But writing this, I’m still in the 737-400 – and the messageto BA is that it’s really time to move on. I mean, I feel great affection forthe Cambrian Airways Viscount that I took my first ever flight in, but Iwouldn’t suggest putting it back into service. Not seriously anyway.

(I’m publishing this using our new Movable Type v4 software that has been installed while I was away. Much nicer – but I’ve still got to learn it. If you’re reading this then I’ve cracked it.)



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