In the '80s and '90s, jet setting around the world came in true style aboard the storied supersonic passenger flights on the Concorde. Not only did it fly higher (five miles above the average 747) and faster (twice the speed of sound), but the service aboard was unimaginably luxurious. Think: bottles of Dom Perignon alongside blue lobster, with menus curated by Michelin-starred chefs like Alain Ducasse and Anton Mosimann — the latter who served up meals for the British royals for four generations. So it’s no surprise that it was the transportation mode of choice for Princess Diana and Prince Charles.
One of their most iconic journeys aboard the fast plane — was also one of Diana’s first rides, a short-haul trip, leaving London bound for Vienna, Austria, in the spring of 1986 for British Week.
Prince Charles was recovering from a broken finger during the outbound flight
Of the 20 Concorde planes that were built, only 14 were used on commercial flights globally — and they were split between British Airways and Air France, both state-owned carriers.
On April 14, 1986, British Airways Chairman Lord King and British Airports Authority’s Norman Payne greeted the Princess, dressed in a reddish striped ensemble designed by Catherine Walker, on the tarmac before she headed up the open-air stairwell to the British Airways Concorde flight. Since the distance was relatively short, the plane reportedly stayed at subsonic levels.
After a quick stop to pick up Prince Charles, the couple arrived in the Austrian capital, where the prince’s finger injury on his left hand was still on display from a reported gardening accident. “It was a damn great hammer,” he said. “I missed the stake, but my finger came down on it. The end of the finger came off — that was the trouble. It did not completely drop off, but was hanging by a bit.”
Austrian President Rudolf Kirchschläger and military officials greeted the British couple, but security was tight at the Vienna airport, perhaps a marked reminder of the terrorist attacks that had happened both there and in Rome just a few months prior in December 1985.
Diana’s fashion was showcased during the whirlwind three-night visit
Like most royal visits, the schedule was packed from the time they landed on April 14 until the left on April 17. Without even stopping for a wardrobe change, the first stop was over at City Hall, where, after the event, Diana and Charles were spotted in the streets, greeting the many locals hoping to catch a glimpse of royalty. That night, they attended a gala performance of Love for Love at Vienna Burgtheater, where Diana stunned in a sequined sea green Catherine Walker gown.
The next day, the Prince and Princess of Wales joined the crowds again in a walkabout through the Old City, as Diana wore a pink suit by Victor Edelstein and hat by Frederick Fox, also hopping into a horse-drawn carriage at one point. The young princess then switched back into another Catherine Walker design, this time a navy and white suit, for the opening of the British Design exhibition at the Kunstlerhaus. They ended the evening at another musical performance after a state reception, where Diana wore a midnight blue velvet gown by Victor Edelstein.
On the third day, Diana went on her own to see the famed Vienna Boys Choir (Franz Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert are among the famous alumni) who sang the English madrigal “My Bonny Lass She Smileth.” In stark contrast, she then headed over to see a fashion show of bright '80s designs.
A now-famous photo of the princess was snapped on the ride back to London
The royal couple headed back to London on the Concorde ride where the famous shot of Princess Diana, wearing an electric blue outfit, was snapped by photographer Tim Graham when she leaned over one of the seats behind her, looking intently at another guest.
One interesting feature of the Concorde plane was that even though it had 100 seats, there were no separate classes. All the seats were equal — and relatively cramped and within the interior fuselage that was only about eight and a half feet wide. So despite it looking like Diana might be in a coach seat, she was definitely enjoying the luxuries of the Concorde lifestyle.
When they arrived back at London’s Heathrow Airport, the trademark British rain was pouring, but that didn’t stop them from posing for a photo with the Concorde crew, among them Captain Dave Leney, in front of the plane before heading back to their London home.
Diana flew aboard the Concorde several times
The short hop to Vienna in April 1986 was just one of Diana’s many flights aboard the Concorde. Perhaps her most famous journey was her solo trip to New York City in 1989 — her first official trip there, as well as her first official event without Prince Charles, as tensions in their marriage had mounted by that time.
Just a couple months before her tragic August 1997 death, she again took the shortcut ride— about a three-hour trip between New York and London — in June 1997, where she met up with Mother Teresa and the two famously walked hand-in-hand around the Bronx.