Lonely Planet (UK) - - Globetrotter -

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

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