SOMETHING TO DECLARE
The pointy end of the plane may seem like a forbidden oasis of unparalleled luxury, but the reality can fall somewhat short – and could ruin flying for you forever after.
When you’re crammed in economy on a long-haul flight, with your knees around your chin and a five-year-old treating the back of your seat like a piñata, the front end of the plane seems like an airborne Shangri-la. A mystical world of peace and decadence, where champagne flows and passengers recline like Roman emperors, being fed grapes and gently fanned by comely attendants. Unfortunately, for those without a trust fund or a ritzy corporate job, this world is off limits, its perimeter ferociously guarded by curtain-swishing stewards. But there is one way in – when fate plucks you from the check-in queue and grants you access with that most magical of terms: ‘upgrade’. My own transformational experience occurred on a flight from London to Sydney, when I was bumped up to the hallowed preserve of business class. While it didn’t quite reach the heights of my cattle-class fantasies (no silver platters or foot massages and nary a chocolate fountain in sight) there were scrupulously attentive staff, scoops of real ice cream, complimentary pyjamas and, of course, a seat roomy and reclinable enough to banish any memory of hyperactive toddlers. But this taste of luxury came with a price: on my next trip, I had to fly economy. Suddenly, the seats seemed narrower, the staff were indefinably surlier, my neighbour’s annexation of the shared armrest verged on the openly hostile. I spent hours gazing forward through the crack in the curtain, a sense of injustice raging through me. ‘I belong in there now, don’t you see?’ I silently cried. Then my senses returned, along with the feeling in my legs, when I stepped off the plane and into the real world. For all its exclusivity, the front of the plane is not a place of unbounded luxury: if I received one of those meals at a restaurant, I would hardly be raving; if I slept on a bed like that at a hotel, I would not return. In fact, the greatest thing about gaining access to the upper classes lies not in any of its perks. It’s in the knowledge that even if the flight is uncomfortable or tedious, you can rest easy in the knowing that there are hundreds of people having a far worse time of it just a few feet behind you.
CHRISTA LARWOOD is a regular contributor to the magazine and a seasoned veteran of long-haul flights