A number of times I have been lucky enough to fly business, mainly for long haul. Still, wearing a suit, a tie, a shirt and tight shoes while trying to sit as comfortably as possible on an inclined – or even flat – seat, is something I would not normally suggest. So, after my first 1-2 trips that the time I accumulated sleeping properly was not even that of a football game, I decided that the dress code to follow was a T-shirt, trainers and loose summer trousers.
At check-in I would get some funny faces either from my fellow (sic) co-business travellers or from the girls and boys at the check-in desk. You see, my dress code was so not business class. I was stared at like a small child that lost its way and accidentally bumped into the business class queue, like a guy who wishes to enter a VIP club dressed like a tramp, like somebody inferior or more generally somebody who was at the wrong time at the wrong place. Of course, I may exaggerate, but at some instances these that were vibes I used to get.
The funny looks did not stop there and would continue in a number of other occasions, like…
…having my Boarding Card (BC) checked when entering the plane and watching the “face down/face up–face down/face up-…-face down/face up” process of the flight attendant, as if I were in passport control and it was required to quadruple check if what they were reading was properly stated on my BC.
… after having my BC checked when entering a 747 (normally you have business class on your right and upwards) and while walking the alley, looking over my shoulder and still seeing the flight attendant puzzled on how on earth such a loosely-dressed guy could afford a business ticket.
… after having my BC checked when entering a 777 (normally you have part of business on your left) and while walking left in the alley, looking over my shoulder and still seeing the flight attendant puzzled if he/she let me in business class by mistake without having checked properly my BC.
… after being sited, having avoided previously stated BC checks, and the flight attendant rushing – mildly though – to my seat and enquiring, politely though, to check my BC, as if I sneaked in uninvited into paradise.
…after having my BC re-checked and still getting the vibes from the passing by the flight attendants after take-off that even though my BC said so, it was more probable that I had embarked into forgery rather than having paid 3.000 pounds for my ticket.
A loosely dressed guy just could not deserve to fly business.
So, you can imagine my surprise when…
…after a semi-tiring weekly meeting in Japanese soil, a relaxed Friday afternoon with some night drinks in an Irish bar and a short Saturday walk around the hotel, I made my way to the airport accompanied by some colleagues and a good friend and there, while entering a 747, I was asked, after…flashing my business boarding card, to step …left.
“Left” on a 747 airplane is the no man’s land. No mortal has been there and those who have, keep the experience to themselves as a well-kept secret. If you enquire them, you get the “Either pay and taste the experience or I will never tell you about it” looks. Even if you listen to comments about the flight experience at the “left” part of the airplane, they are usually contradictory, difficult to believe or usually at the level of a myth – not to mention the fact that they set fire to a man’s fantasy.
Is there “Left” on a 747? I thought it was reserved for Bono, Donald Trump or oil tycoons (I really don’t know if they travel first … and mind you, all these probably have their Gulfstream and never bother with…”left”).
Is there such a thing as “left” on a 747? As you turn right to the alley (when travelling business or … much more often economy) you just sneak your eyesight to the left and see all the luxury happening just a couple of feet away from you and yet you only manage to get a glimpse until they hastily draw the curtains after take-off as if something top secret is happening in there and we mortals must in no way see. Next time remind me to bring them some hanging notices “Nevada, Area 51- Keep out”
As I think I spent a good three seconds digesting what I was asked to do, I started getting a couple of funny remarks from the guys behind me.
“You lucky bastard, … you kept it secret.”
“You must be joking. It is surely a mistake – Get him off the plane”
“He forged the Boarding Card.”
On hearing these and while I was conveying in the air my childish and naïve looks as I just could not believe what I had just heard, the flight attendant asked for my boarding card again.
“Damn! What if he realises his mistake? What if he asks me to walk … “right”? Damn I missed the chance of a lifetime to walk “left” and touch the almost end of the fuselage…touch the impossible and be one of the first passengers to arrive first at a place, even if that were only for a few meters or seconds”, I thought.
“Sir”, he continued in a humble and polite Japanese way after checking for a second time my boarding card, “Please step to the left”. And he bowed as if I were a Japanese Emperor.
Well, I thought, they must have business on the left. Nobody pays more than 4000 GBP for First and they have altered the “Left” compartment to accommodate Business Class.
With my foolish looks on my face, and while looking behind me and seeing my colleagues turning “right” and doing all funny gestures, sounds and noises I hesitantly walked to the unknown, the land that no man had stepped.
It was dead empty. I looked all around and I was alone. I smelled the air, breathed deeply, touched the seats, looked around in awe as if expecting to see a Jackson Pollock canvas hanging on the fuselage’s sides, … and don’t ask me why. At some moment, I thought belly dancers would spring from underneath the seats or from inside the toilets and start dancing in a sexy and delicate way. I thought that I would greet Cameron Diaz and get to exchange phone numbers before arranging Sunday drinks at Oxo Tower or dinner at The Ivi. I thought of everything and just like on other occasions, a number of weird thoughts flashed through my mind.
I secured humbly my laptop on the overhead compartment and relaxed on my cosy seat. It was only then I realised where I was. I was flying “First”…
PS1. If you are eager to find out, none of my wild thoughts materialised, I was all alone in the compartment, and the service was no different to that at business class. The difference was primarily the seats. And by the way, it was either an error or, most probably, I was upgraded.
PS2. Splashing more than 1500 pounds for a business ticket for long haul is slightly too much. (I always tried to talk our secretaries out so that for the same amount of money to just fly me economy (normally 1/3 of the business ticket), give me in cash the other 1/3 and keep for them the other 1/3). It is true that Business Class makes a difference, primarily and for the sole fact that you have a proper bed where you can sleep (and free drinks if you intend to get stacked up with alcohol) and that’s it, but anything more than that price and it is really too much. So anything in the area of 3000-5000 pounds (that was a rough estimation of a First ticket) is just not acceptable. What is more, if you normalise the service over the price, Business Class is definitely more value for money.
PS3. I have not been lately in business or first class (especially on a A380), but what a traveller is after is not just exquisite food, but innovative thinking of what to do with his time up there. A bar to socialise – I flew once Upper Class in Virgin– did make a difference on the whole flight experience and it would be much more appreciated by me compared to, let’s say, flying Gordon Ramsey himself to cook on a A380 first class. But then again, I am not a regular at those seats with single numbers so nobody would bother with my views.