Friday, April 5, 2013

Business Class ... all 35 hours of it!

 I’ve travelled by plane for 60 years. Pretty much always ‘in the back of the coach’.  When there was a back, that is.
When the ‘first and second class’ system of the ‘60s was varied by the off-puttingly called ‘business class’ (ie the boss is paying for it), Ian and I tried it a few times out of London. Qantas and BA. On the expense account, of course. It was OK. About 10 percent dearer than ‘economy’ and about 20 percent less uncomfortable.
Then, as time moved on, ‘business’ became something more like the old ‘first’ (and so did its price), and a new first was evolved, for the excessively rich, airline staff members and travel agents on freebies. And me? I stayed in the back of the coach.

Until today.

Last year my bank manager said to me, ‘you know Kurt, you really can afford to fly ‘business’. (I wish it were called something else). And when that time came when I wanted to cross the world again, I bethought me of those words, and I took the plunge. I bought a ticket, at round about four times the cost of those before, and here I am. On flight EK416, my favourite Emirates airlines, heading to Berlin, via Sydney, Dubai and Munich. And already – hardly started -- I’m not regretting those extra thousands of dollars.

I missed the first bonus. If you live 25k from the airport, you get chauffeured in. Alas, we are thirty-something. Never mind: North Canterbury Shuttles squired me in, and I waddled up to the special window—no queuing! – where the charming lady fixed all my cards, arranged a wheelchair for Munich (where my change is too swift for legs) and directed me to the Manaia Lounge.

Next bonus. A lovely comfortable chair. A help yourself buffet (just nice little things, not over the top) and bar … and if the décor is not exactly thrilling, the loos are! An hour and a half passed very quickly. I couldn’t find a plug socket (though there was wifi available) so I spent my time surveying my fellow passengers, trying to guess who were the ‘firsts’ who the ‘travel agents’. I think I mostly got it right. The blonde Germaness with the Alain Delon husband who put away three flutes of champagne and the most elegant of the finger food in no time was always going to be a ‘first’ (they are, and she’s been to the loo thrice already), the mousy little lady with the magazines who wolfed ALL the cheese plate was either a travel agent’s mother or Imogene Coca in disguise… the ladies with crossword books, the boy with gadgets (he turned out to be a first), the more than several orientals…

But on to the ‘plane. Oh goodness. I’m in the front row, with loads of space, a comfy seat and noone next to me! The lovely Gina finds me a socket, and I’m typing in no time. Champagne? Can one say no? (That makes 2 whiskies and 1 champagne and we havent even taken off yet!). Four paragraphs, and its aperitif time. Oh heck. But who can say ‘no’ to Gina? Does Bloody Mary mix with the previous…?

Dinner. Airline food is famously nasty. This was not. The 3 slices of duck and 2 of beetroot which made up our entrée were very nice. Endive a fine accompaniment. Just wish they’d left off the scratchy rocket. I turned down lamb chops (rightly, I think, the ones across the aisle looked very beige to brown) and had oriental chicken. A good breast of chook, just about moist enough, topped well, with rice which would have tasted better had it been fluffed up just a silverfoil-less bit … and finally, and best, a really good cheese selection. Not just the usual brie, cheddar and blue, but a bit o’ Zieger and not just a grape but apricot, celery and carrot … and not frig temperature!

I virtuously refused the port. And then ruined it by weakening into a second Bloody Mary!  And we’re still an hour out of Sydney!  But that was the most edible flying food that Ive had since the seafood stew on American Airlines 30 years ago.

And .. I know what makes it a bit blissful! No yowling babies! No muzak. Just golden silence….!!!!

So my adventure has begun well. But however will I make it at 77.9k to Germany at this rate. What? Do I want another drink … oooohhhhh!


Well, I’m here. Berlin. Greeted by tiny kisses of snow twinkling from the grey heavens on a perfect autumn day. Yes, I know its spring, but Europe has got slightly confused.

The rest of my trip was pretty much as good as the first bit. Just … bigger. The plane, an airbus, was much bigger, The airport lounges were bigger, better decorated, with smarter staff, and much more populated. But the chairs were just as comfortable. And wifi, food and drink everywhere. It changes your feelings about the agony of travel.
There ARE babies/children, but they don’t howl and shriek like Economy babies, and if I was momentarily disconcerted by a group of teeenyarabs on a spree (too much makeup, dyed blonde hair, too much bijouterie) who – horror! – ended up seated next to me: they turned out to be just exuberant and really rather sweet.
The seats/beds in BC are an invention of a God. I actually slept six hours between Sydney and Dubai (all time record). Likewise, the service is utterly impeccable. Even with over 100 customers to take care of, the cabin crew make you feel you are their only care. Food and drink? A lot. Too much for me, but it doesn’t come in foil and plastic on an airline tray and it is mostly edible and sometimes even enjoyable. That’s the food. The drink is unlimited, of course, at your seat or in the bar. I allowed myself 2 bloody Marys a leg and NO wine (there is the danger), which appeared like spicy lightning once ordered. The only trouble is one of logistics. It takes the staff up to 2 hours to serve everyone a meal, so you see row one getting their brandies before you, in 21, have got sight of an aperitif! I went to sleep after my entrée on leg two, so never saw my main course. Too long to wait!
Entertainment? Don't need it. My brain is my entertainment even when too languid to type. And I never watch films. Anywhere. I’m known for it. But I let The Hobbit and Quartet play, with no sound, just to stop me being attracted by the flickerings other folks’ screens. Further than that with the machinery I did and could not go. And I dozed through most of it.
For I managed to lie back and enjoy the trip – yes, enjoy! – even though I had lurking in my head the ghastly change to be accomplished at Munich. Arrive 13.00h. Immigrate. Check in at Air Berlin. Go through the familiar stripping and furrowing and get to my gate I time for a 14h55 departure. I had fretted about it for weeks.
Emirates were equal to the task! A wheelchair awaited me on landing, and Frln super-Franzi whizzed me through all sorts of back alleys – people are so nice when you jump the queue, I suppose just thankful they have working legs! – to arrive at my gate at .. 13h30!  And I and my neighbour, a young Rumanian student named Alexandru (yes, we’re on first name terms now),  got to sit for an hour watching the automatic doors opening – closing --- opening, a metre from our noses, as a hundred local passengers crowded the desk to be first on to the plane which didn’t load for 60 mins!

The domestic economy flight and plane seemed awfully dowdy after the airbus, but it got us in on time and ... oh dear, the efficient staff had arranged another wheelchair for me for the last 400m. I felt a right fraud. I had my stick and Alex to help me, and then … I was there!
In the arms of the two Pauls …
The day-and-a-half voyage was over!

Summary. I will NEVER travel economy between Europe and Australasia again. I mightn’t be a businessman, but I’m a converted businessclassman!

Worst moment of the trip? Security at Dubai. As I struggled to divest myself of bag, stick, computer, overcoat, suit-coat, watch, papers into the little grey boxes  .. the 'workers' just stood and chatted gigglingly to each other. No help. No chair. No return of my stick. Or, as in civilised countries, a wooden stick temporarily to replace it. Just 'take off your shoes' (I can't bend that far) 'take off your belt'. Last straw. I let my trousers fall gracefully to the ground. No, I can't bend down to pick them up, I proclaimed. But did anyone help? No. Not until the wheelchair attendant of the lady behind me came to my aid. 
So next time I travel, business class, I may have to avoid Dubai... which is a shame ...

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