The Trouble with Flying Business Class

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Us in Business Class. O, how we laughed.

So what I learnt quite recently on being upgraded to Business Class on an Emirates flight from Copenhagen to Dubai is that I’m able to literally and in real life do very many things at the same time, and while I’ve kind of known this about myself for some time because I own children I didn’t fully grasp the range of my abilities until this particular, happy occasion. And the many things I was able to do at the same time were the following, though there might even have been more that I’m forgetting: drink Moët et Chandon from a real champagne glass while at the same time signaling to the girl in the red fedora not to be casual around the refilling of said glass (because thirst); gobble a bowl of hot nuts; scan the menu and try to decide if it would be greedy to make them bring me two of everything; lie prostrate while being massaged by my chair; grin in a maniacal way at my husband; high-five my children, listen to relaxing dolphin sounds while still managing to direct scornful and disparaging glances at the steady trickle of passengers making their mournful pilgrimage past my comfortable, reclining chair-bed to the hell seats of Economy.

It was almost (but not quite because it also made me a bit happy) spoiling my fun having to witness their despair, and I wanted a little bit to say to the lady in the red fedora whilst making a dismissive gesture with my hand, please can you make the poor people not be here? But luckily she was very much on her game as far as the champagne went and it’s hard to be petulant under those circumstances. But the trouble with this thing is that, as we well know, all good things come to an end, and in my particular case which made things very much worse, our journey had two legs, and only the first (shorter) half happened in the party area of the aircraft. For the second (and significantly longer) segment of the journey – that being from Dubai to Cape Town – the people of Emirates didn’t think we were quite fabulous enough to waste any more of their fanciness on the likes of us and so we had no option but, on Boeing #2, to do the walk of shame to cattle class, with some of the very same people I had sneered at – also en route to Cape Town – now looking at us with eyes that said, oh, how the mighty have fallen. And they had. What’s more, they now had a touch of the babbelas.

You know that James song that goes ‘if I’d never seen such riches I could live with being poor?’ Our seven-year-old daughter looked around at the cramped bunker of sadness and shattered dreams which make up any airline’s Economy Class and said in a voice deeply etched with pain, ‘what happened to this place?’ What happened indeed. And the thing is, we wouldn’t have minded our little plastic cups and Barbie-sized bags of pretzels if we hadn’t been confronted with all that wonderfulness to start off with. Even the small polyester blanket that barely makes it to your feet would have been a nice touch if it wasn’t replacing a down duvet covered by one millionty hundred thread count cotton whilst beautiful, red-lipped angels swooped about bearing bottles of Voss and the toilet smelt of candy floss and had a marble sink. I remember a time, not even that long ago, when flying any class to anywhere was more fun than I knew what to do with but I suppose I’ve been corrupted since those days. And now, evermore, I must trundle past the (real) rich people and take my seat together with the lowliest of the low knowing very well what I’m missing even as I beg the steward, Fernando, for just one more tiny drink. So, the moral of the story is this: if you’re ever, for any reason, offered an upgrade on a flight say no if it kills you because it will ruin you for life.

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It’s Hard Being a Buddhist When You’ve Had Four Bottles of Tiny Aeroplane Wine

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Recently I flew to Sweden unaccompanied. I’m not a nervous flyer. In fact, by the time I’ve found my seat and am safely buckled in and people start handing out little lemon-scented serviettes is when I start relaxing because I know I am where I’m supposed to be and from here on it’s all in the capable hands of Captain van Breda. It’s the hours leading up to that part that take years off my life. I’m racked by two irrational fears: one, that somehow the backpack which is tightly fastened to my body and also the handbag containing the 34 bits of paper you apparently still need to fly anywhere will somehow cease to be and I’ll be standing in Terminal 3 with no documentation, destined to eat at McDonalds for the rest of my life like Tom Hanks.

And the other is that I’ll bide my time in a long queue and then arrive at my gate and the man who holds your boarding pass under that machine thing will say no, you can’t get on. This is not your plane. This plane flies to Cambodia. Your Cape Town home plane to your bed and your children took off 20 minutes ago from a terminal 10km away, so even if you had rollerblades you’d still be stuffed. So I walk around clutching my backpack which (as I pointed out) is quite unnecessary since it is attached to me by straps and gripping my handbag tightly to my chest while I compulsively check the TV monitor to make sure I’m really, really in the right place. Then when I find my gate I position myself inches away from another monitor showing my flight details and I remain glued to it, now and again averting my eyes to nervously accost strangers and random airport staff and ask them if this plane is, indeed, bound for my destination.

None of this is an exaggeration, you can ask my husband. So it’s a happiness when I find myself, shoes off and backpack safely stowed in the overhead locker, with nothing left to worry about but the announcements interrupting my movie and that there won’t be enough food. When I fly with my children the latter part is sorted. Both get bad motion sickness and spend the entire flight dry-heaving into a bag like that scene from Dumb and Dumber, leaving me with the chicken, beef and vegetarian pasta and all the tiny cheeses and crackers and salad dressings and it’s like an aeroplane party for one. When I fly alone I have nothing but what they give me and even when I eat all the condiments including the salt and pepper I’m still hungry.

On this particular flight I sat next to a waifish Japanese woman (is there any other kind?) who could have been 17 or 40. Like other Japanese travellers I’ve observed, she seemed to have a low opinion of Western food and (unlike me) zero interest in anything the nice Emirates ladies conjured from the happy recesses of their mobile kitchens. Instead, she took out her own box which contained an array of things chopped into microscopic morsels. These, with the help of tiny toothpick chopsticks, she dipped into a thimbleful of soy sauce and ate daintily before settling down for a snooze, leaving her hot little box of lamb Rogan Josh wastefully unattended. I eyed it greedily while licking the last, remaining grains of basmati rice from my tin-foil lid and while I wanted it desperately I knew that stealing it from under her nose would be risky and that she’d probably notice. Her bread roll, on the other hand, was another story and mere inches from my hand. Plus, I still had butter left. This theft, I figured (four bottles of aeroplane Chenin in) I could get away with. I watched her closely. Her eyes were tightly shut, her breathing even and a tiny trickle of soy-scented spit hovered at the corner of her mouth.

Eyeing my prey, and with the stealth of a ninja, I leant over three inches and quietly helped myself to the small, cold, cellophane-wrapped package. Only, my enemy move seemed to stir some latent Samurai survival instincts and instantly her eyes snapped open and she snatched her roll back and glared at me in understandable outrage. To say that I felt ashamed would be putting it mildly. She proceeded to re-organise her little tray so that the roll was as far away from me as possible while I apologised profusely and did that pray bow thing and said konichiwa several times in the most remorseful tone I could muster, but she wasn’t having any of it. To hide my deep humiliation at the whole of row 57 knowing I was nothing but a common thief I took out my phone and pretended to have a long, casual conversation even though everyone knows you can’t even do that on planes.

And I was very relieved when at last the captain announced that we were descending into Dubai airport and I could slink away and never see these people again and be left alone in my shame and the thermal pyjamas which seemed a good idea at the time but here in the desert were itchy and hot as the hinges of hell. Also, the water the red-lipped ladies neglected to bring me even though I  pressed my little bell like I had Tourettes syndrome (they probably heard I was a criminal and were warned to stay away) was becoming a thing of increasing urgency as the many plastic cups of wine I’d merrily imbued began to make themselves felt in my temples. Only you can’t drink the water in Dubai because it’s wee and what South African carries a Euro – certainly not this one – so I couldn’t even purchase a Voss to wash down my Gen-Payne.

I learnt some valuable lessons on this journey: just because the booze is free does not mean you have to turn your tray table into a mini wine bar; it’s not right to steal from people even when it feels justified in the moment; and lastly, that I need to spend less time watching My 600 Pound Life and more listening to Sogyal Rinpoche reminding me not to act like a crazy person every minute of every day.