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Peril lurking in 1st class


Peril lurking in 1st class - by Leonard Radic

The inaugural service of the British Airways VC10 from Australia to London over the Pacific (part of the 'round the world' service) was flown in 1970, and did not escape the notice of the press. Leonard Radic flew 1st class to London and reported his findings for Melbourne's 'The Age' newspaper. Thanks to Stephen Wilkinson, who enjoyed this service himself on various occasions we can now read what Mr. Radic had to say about BA's first class service. Here is the full article as published on 1st September 1970.

"Flying first class is a perilous affair.


A BOAC promotional photo that provides an impression of the 1st class service aboard the BOAC VC10.
Photo BOAC

I am not referring to the safety factor. I mean the food and drink.

All those splendid dishes they keep wheeling out at what seems like ever-diminishing time intervals, and the non-stop flow of liquor that accompanies them.

They sap the will. They break down resistance. They catch you at your weakest point, which is to say the palate.

Flying economy, a man can pretend he isn’t very hungry when the tray appears, or that he’s not particularly partial to alcohol.

Since he’s paying for his own liquor (even though at duty free prices) this can be a marvellously compelling argument.

But where is the man (or woman either) who, presented with a first-class menu a foot long, can say that he or she is not tempted?

Who can really pretend that at home he dines far better?

Not when he starts off dinner (as I did on a trans-Pacific flight to London recently) with caviar from the Caspian, Sydney rock oysters and crayfish Belle vue.

The rock oysters I could believe but not the caviar.

And certainly not when he goes from there to kangaroo-tail soup and roast lamb or duckling with red-currant jelly; and from there, by way of salad, cheese and ice-cream to fresh fruit, coffee and petits fours.

The really diet-conscious traveller will make an effort. He or she might pass when it comes to pommes boulangere, or nobly refuse the sauce mavonaise.

Or, failing that, he or she will gallantly do without the petits fours or the after-dinner mints.

But, with the exception of confirmed teetotallers, who can resist the left-hand side of the menu marked “bar” and “wines”, when everything is on the house?

Friends assure me there really are people who start their dinner, as I could have started mine, with a choice of aperitifs (Martini, Manhattan, Old-fashioned or, for those with plain tastes, champagne), highballs, whisky, gin, rum, beer or sherry – or all of them.

But where is the Australian who goes from there to Oppenheimer Krotenbrunnen 1967 hock, a 1964 Chateau Haut-Marbuzet Bordeaux claret, a 1967 Cote de Beaune Villages burgundy, and (the throwaway gesture to beat all others) Mumm Cordon Rouge champagne to wash down the cassata a l’italienne?

Not forgetting, of course, the brandy, liquers and fine old tawny port that follow.

As I say, it’s fine for gourmands and gluttons, but unbearably hard for others.

But it does not stop there – not by any means. Dinner, it seems, is barely over; the Sydney-Fiji stage is behind us; and we have settled down for a little sleep when the sun appears, and so does breakfast.

The linen is laid, the silver set and hard on the track of the hot face towels comes an English breakfast.

Not just toast and coffee, gulped down on the run as happens back home, but the whole works – fresh fruit appetizer, ham steak with mushrooms, grilled lamb cutlets with eggs to suit and, should you still be hungry, a selection of fresh fruit to finish off.

After Honolulu, the onslaught begins again. Beside one’s seat is a little dish of nuts – “in case you’re feeling peckish, sir.”

The Sun is not yet over the yard-arm (wherever that may be on a VC10), but it’s high enough, in the steward’s view, to warrant a return of cocktails.

Then the silverware appears, and we’re on to lunch. This time we make do with Iranian caviar, served on a bed of ice, smoked Scotch salmon and medallions of lobster – all appetizers, I hasten to add … not the meal itself.

Then on to the chilled Vichyssoise and the grilled fillet steak or pork chop (or both) with Teriyaki sauce and Waikiki salad. Not forgetting the Hawaiian ice cream, the Aloha gateau and the cheese and tropical fruit.

Not forgetting, either, the German hock, the Bordeaux red and the Cordon Rouge champagne – as much as you want of them and more.

By now I am beginning to weaken. It’s too much of a good thing, I tell the steward. Liqueurs are nobly waved aside; so are the after-dinner mints (how’s that for willpower?). Even the Mumm champagne is given the go-by.

In Los Angeles, where there is a stopover, and we put up briefly at a hotel, I pick my way very cautiously through the menu. It’s the same at breakfast the following morning. I am delighted to find it’s Continental style. An English breakfast would be too much to take.

And so, from New York to London, where refreshments, lunch and the usual range of wines, liqueurs and pre-and-post-dinner drinks are served.

As we cross the Irish Sea and come in sight of the green fields of England my companion in the seat beside me suggests a toast. “Champagne?” No – water. Nothing stronger.

No disrespect to England or the English intended. It’s just that a man must have some willpower. Better late in the journey than not at all.

Meantime, for others contemplating first-class travel, I offer this advice: Do – but delay the first glass of champagne as long as possible (say half-an-hour) and pass up the petits fours. You won’t go hungry if you do."


Article reproduced with permission from:

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