£3,000 for a business ticket?


Posted by in November's Magazine

The indignity of flying is one of the main reasons why many people are opting for staycations. Pockets emptied, shoes removed, belts and wallets in the box. Now, at some airports, you stand with your hands above your head while your whole body is scanned. There is the metal-detector wand and the pat-down and all liquids in a polythene bag. Forget it! Let’s go to Scarborough.

Whatever happened to the glamour of flying? The white-gloved air hostesses, the complimentary cocktails… The days when flying was an occasion and you got dressed up to travel are gone. Or are they? I discovered another side of flying when, returning from a visit to friends in the States, I got a huge surprise.

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“I’ve got some good news for you,” said the woman at check-in. It could mean only one thing. OMG I’ve been upgraded!

In the current climate all airlines want to maximise profits. This means flying with a full passenger payload no matter what. To do this airlines constantly overbook the aircraft and that inevitably means upgrading passengers who have paid for extra legroom in ‘premium economy’.

My flight had no first class cabin but the benefits of business class are welcome. First, business class passengers are called to board before everyone else. One can feel the darts of envy as you make your way to the podium. On this occasion I boarded at the front of the aircraft while the plebs entered further down to avoid any contamination. The cabin crew in business is more senior and hugely pleasant. Nothing, it seems, is too much trouble.

There is a scene in one of those Titanic movies when the potato-munching peasants from steerage are making their way to the lifeboats. They encounter one of the first class lounges and stand transfixed by the luxury and indulgence. This is how I feel on seeing the seats in business. They are little space-age pods – some side-by-side some arranged like a Victorian loveseat so that you are sitting almost opposite your travelling companion. And, in between you, there is a screen which, at the touch of a button, rises up for privacy when the company gets too boring.

There’s a drawer for bits and bobs, your own flip-out video screen, a cushion and blanket of significantly better quality than you get in premium economy (or, in my case, at home), a footstool and you just know that (at the flick of a switch) the seat will go flat so you can have a proper kip should you choose. Before take-off there is bucks fizz served in real glassware and once airborne there’s that all-important aperitif.

I opt for a gin & tonic (a range of brands are available). My steward talks me into a gin martini instead although I could have had a glass of Taittinger champagne. When she comes round again I’m offered “menu and wash bag?” Menu and what? Whatever happened to “chicken or pasta”? The wash bag turns out to be a toilet bag full of free goodies – moisturiser, revitalising gel and even a truncated toothbrush and doll-sized tube of Colgate.

The menu is a treat and perused over my second martini. The wine is served out of a full-size bottle. I’m told that at 30,000 feet your taste buds are shot but the wine and the food are delicious. The choice this evening is, for starters, pork rillettes & pickled vegetables or tomato tartar. For the main dish, seared fillet of beef, pan-roasted Maine jumbo scallops or black truffle tortellini. For dessert: lemon meringue pie, cheese or fruit.

Afterwards I’m offered a glass of port but I decline. Any more booze and they’ll have to carry me off the aircraft feet first. I see from the menu that passengers are welcome to come to the galley if they’re still feeling peckish to help themselves to snacks and drinks including handmade shortbread, luxury ice cream and artisan pastries.

It’s time for a movie. The seat goes down. The TV screen pops out. There’s a huge range of movies on demand – current ones, classic ones – too many to choose from. Halfway through I pause the film and stretch my legs and nip to the loo (where I find a real flower in a little vase mounted to the wall).

By the end of the film the food and booze have kicked in so I hit the button and the seat goes flat. Normally I can’t sleep on an aircraft but here I doze off almost straightaway and wake up three hours later just in time for a refreshing glass of orange juice, coffee, a warm blueberry muffin and a bowl of diced melon.

I settle in for another movie. Then five minutes into a third I discover that it’s 20 minutes to landing. How did that happen?

I suspect neither Einstein nor Stephen Hawking factored in constant pampering in ‘booze-on-demand’ as ways of collapsing time, but travelling business class is the closest I’ve come to that ultimate traveller’s dream that begins with the words… ‘Beam me up Scotty’.

 – Kennedy Wilson

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