FLY­ING HIGH

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

As fol­low­ers of th­ese A-Mus­ings might re­call, my fam­ily and I started our love af­fair with St Lu­cia in the early 1970s when we trav­elled back and forth be­tween Scan­di­navia and the Caribbean via Lu­ton Air­port in Eng­land with Monarch, when fly­ing, com­pared with the rel­a­tive com­fort of to­day's flights, was still, over forty years ago, quite an ad­ven­ture.

On the out­bound flight from Lu­ton, if I re­call cor­rectly, we ac­tu­ally re­ceived as­signed seat num­bers so we knew where we were go­ing to sit. Those of us who plied the route reg­u­larly quickly learned that cer­tain rows were to be avoided in the old Boe­ing 720 air­craft be­cause the air con­di­tion­ing tended to col­lect con­den­sa­tion, which drib­bled hap­pily on to the heads of un­sus­pect­ing pas­sen­gers about two hours into the flight and did not stop un­til the land­ing.

We were never quite sure of the rout­ing be­cause of the air­craft's in­abil­ity to fly all the way non-stop; more of­ten than not we flew via the Azores, which en­joy a tem­per­ate cli­mate, but some­times we had to fly via St John's in New­found­land. At both stops we had to leave the air­craft while they re­fu­eled. In the Azores, the tran­sit hall was more like a tran­sit tele­phone kiosk into which a cou­ple of hun­dred of us were crammed for the du­ra­tion of the stopover. St John's, on the other hand, had a spa­cious tran­sit hall that could only be reached after what seemed an eter­nity of a traipse in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures and some­times driv­ing snow, es­pe­cially if we had come dressed in shorts, ready for the Caribbean.

The videos of th­ese mem­o­ries were play­ing in my head as I trav­elled back to the is­land after my lat­est bout of glo­be­trot­ting, and I came to the con­clu­sion that in the old days, per­haps due to the gloss of pass­ing time, the flights were lots of fun. Do any of you re­mem­ber the mad dashes from the ter­mi­nal in Bar­ba­dos to the air­craft on the out­bound jour­ney be­fore the ad­vent of seat num­ber al­lo­ca­tions on good old BWIA?

Yes, some things have im­proved but some things have got worse. Take Vir­gin's Up­per Class, for ex­am­ple. For many years I en­joyed the com­fort of Bri­tish Air­ways First Class ser­vice to and from the Caribbean. As the num­bers dwin­dled, it be­came ob­vi­ous that First Class made no sense for the air­line. With time, more of­ten than not, we would be only a hand­ful of pas­sen­gers ‘up front' and some­times I even had the cabin to my­self with a crew of five to pam­per me. So BA up­graded the Business Class and for a while it was very suc­cess­ful. Then Vir­gin came along with its Up­per Class – and what a revo­lu­tion that was. Yes, Up­per Class was not in­ex­pen­sive, but the value for money was amaz­ing. It felt like First Class, and even sur­passed First Class on ev­ery US air­line, even though it did not quite reach the im­pec­ca­ble stan­dards of BA's long haul First Class ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Be­ing a re­ally fre­quent flyer makes you de­mand­ing; you like to be pam­pered; and way back then, my work took me con­stantly from con­ti­nent to con­ti­nent for 200 out of ev­ery 365 days. The ground ser­vice was im­mac­u­late; First Class and Business Class lounges, not to talk of Con­corde's lounges, were oases of com­fort and tran­quil­ity. Bri­tish Air­ways of­fered lounges with sleep­ing and show­er­ing cab­ins for long lay­overs be­tween con­nec­tions at no ex­tra cost. Vir­gin of­fered free li­mou­sine ser­vice to and from the air­port. BA paid for your ho­tel the night be­fore a flight if you ar­rived the pre­vi­ous night. In New York you could get a he­li­copter ride into Man­hat­tan; those were the golden years. But back to Vir­gin and to­day's ex­cuse for Up­per Class. Open any tin of sar­dines and you will get a good im­pres­sion of how pas­sen­gers are packed into their Up­per Class cabin. Cou­ples can not only not sit to­gether, they can't even see each other be­cause of the high par­ti­tions be­tween the seats. Any­one with shoul­ders of any sig­nif­i­cant width will find them­selves jammed tightly into their cof­fin-like box. The in­di­vid­ual video screen fits into the side­wall and can be ma­neu­vered into a po­si­tion right be­fore your face, which pre­vents you from see­ing what is on the ta­ble in front of you. By the way, on my last three Vir­gin flights, the video screen had to be prised open with force, the ta­ble would not come out and then would not stay down, and I wasn't the only one with prob­lems. The “beds” had to be made by the at­ten­dants be­cause the mech­a­nism of low­er­ing and flat­ten­ing the seat was too com­pli­cated for any nor­mal hu­man brain. And once on the bed, any­one longer than about 5 feet 5 inches would find their feet stick­ing out into the al­ready nar­row aisles, and of course, once the decision about a sleep­ing po­si­tion had been made, that was it, there was no room to twist and turn. The sad thing is that Vir­gin, who set the stan­dard for price-wor­thy Up­per Class travel, no longer of­fers any­thing like its orig­i­nal com­fort.

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