On the Concorde, a supersonic ride to the land of reindeer. Trips to Lapland on high-speed jet guarantee a white Christmas
Phyllis Beacon-Lambert, of Campden Town, London, spends a lot of her time wishing her friends a supersonic Christmas. On Christmas Day a couple of years ago she was one of 96 passengers to fly by Concorde from London to Finnish Lapland. Now ``I recommend it everywhere I go,'' she says.
This seasonal day trip, a two-hour flight each way, 12 hours in toto, is pure fantasy. The Concorde travels faster than sound and climbs so high that (as she recalls it) ``through the windows you could see the complete curvature of the earth - just like a round ball, and you were on the edge of this round ball.''
Once in Lapland, Mrs. Beacon-Lambert and the other passengers were driven through ``Oh, beautiful wonderland scenery with all the log cabins, and all the log fires alight on the snow.'' (Nine times out of 10 you can be sure of a white Christmas in this part of the world.)
They drank hot reindeer milk and had their faces and necks rubbed with ice during a special crossing ceremony at the Arctic Circle. They went for rides down ``a large river'' on sleighs or snowmobiles. They had a meal with a choice of ``50 dishes,'' including reindeer meat. And they were given presents made of Lapland silver: ``cuff links for my son and all the men,'' and for Beacon-Lambert and the other women, silver necklaces. ``It has a dove on it which I presume is for peace,'' she says. (Jan Knott of Goodwood Travel, Canterbury, organizers of the flights, says it actually represents the Concorde.)
Best of all, Beacon-Lambert says, was the fact that they met ``the real Santa Claus.'' At least she was convinced that his beard, which she ``held onto,'' was genuine - though official sources deny this. With typical journalistic skepticism, I asked Boris Taimitarha, head of the London office of the Finnish Tourist Board, if he could tell me the true identity of the man who - year round - is the official Lapland Santa Claus. He phoned Rovaniemi, Finland, where the Concorde lands, to ask. The answer: ``They say they wish to keep a certain mystery about him and so cannot reveal his name.'' But he confirmed that he has his own post office from which he replies to the children who write to him throughout the year.
The Christmas Concorde flights, now in their fourth year, cost 1,195 ($2,199) a seat - not as expensive as might be thought when compared with the cost and journey time of ordinary flights on the same route - up to 631 ($1,161) and 14 hours round trip.
The flights are always fully booked, and Goodwood Travel has a long waiting list. To the enthusiastic Beacon-Lambert, ``It was worth every penny we spent on it. ... Mind you,'' she adds, and her voice does not suggest ostentatious wealth, ``we're not rich people.''
Mr. Knott expects the Laplanders will turn out, as at previous Christmases, to welcome the plane. ``The first time about 20,000 Laplanders came to see us arrive - something like 90 percent of the population of Rovaniemi,'' he says. ``And they still come.''
Mr. Taimitarha confirms Concorde's great welcome in Lapland. Nobody seems to object to the aircraft's notorious noise, he says. ``That might have been the question, maybe - and I only say `maybe' - in Helsinki, but up in Rovaniemi you are really in the middle of the wilderness.''
Beacon-Lambert was warned by friends that Concorde would be noisy and claustrophobic, but neither she nor her son, daughter, nor son-in-law, who were on the same flight, found either criticism valid.
Jackie Bassett, organizer of the Concorde Fan Club in Bath, agrees wholeheartedly. She has spent many years persuading detractors of Concorde that it is not noisy and dirty. She says she also feels strongly that it should not be only for the very rich. She has been in the field of offering charter flights on the aircraft longer than anyone else, and regrets that cutthroat competition is now creeping into the business.
This year she organized a Christmas special on Concorde with a Christmas dinner on board, but ``no Father Christmas'' at 369 ($678) a seat.
``I cater for Mr. and Mrs. Average,'' Mrs. Bassett said.
This early Christmas flight did not land anywhere, but for added excitement the passengers were to have Christmas crackers (noisemakers) to pull (security officials permitting). They pulled them last year, all together, with one loud bang, just as the plane broke the sound barrier.
But it seems that Goodwood Travel has the lion's share of Christmas Concorde flights. The pity is that they are too expensive for most people to take children. Knott estimates that only ``10 to 15 percent'' of the passengers are children, although ``on one flight we had three generations of a family.'' On another, the grandparents treated their grandchildren, who didn't know they were going along until they were handed their tickets at the airport. They thought they had just come to see their grandparents off.
I asked Mrs. Beacon-Lambert, who sounds quite youthful on the telephone, how how old her son was when she took him on the flight.
``How old?'' she sounded puzzle. ``Oh, he's 54,'' she answered, laughing. ``And I'm 76.''