I used to love flying.
As a kid, it was probably what I most associated with travelling, and therefore the airport was a whole new world for me. My favourite part of the airport was (and probably still is) the departures board. I particularly love the old-fashioned one at Melbourne Airport, complete with the little black tiles that flip over after every departure. I love reading them and knowing that I could make a last-minute decision and jump on a plane to Nairobi, or Vladivostok, or countless places I’ve never even heard of.
Even now, just before I’m about to fly away to some foreign part of the world, I get a bit excited about the plane. What movies am I going to watch? What perfume can I try duty-free? And will there be alcohol samples (always a winner when delayed at Heathrow)?
This excitement lasts until I actually arrive at the airport. I have an uncanny ability to always choose to do the wrong thing – check in online when that queue is a mile long, or decide to wait until the airport and therefore suffer the consequences. The whole charade annoys every fibre of my being; the endless queuing, the liquids shenanigans, the gruff passport control and the interrogations at customs.
It was quite apt, then, that I began to read the book ‘Grounded’ on the way back to Amsterdam. The book’s author, Seth Stevenson, hates flying to the point where he decided to travel around the world via surface transport only. The idea isn’t particularly new – Oz-Bus for example has being doing London to Sydney bus trips for decades – but it’s modern take on it all was refreshing. I agree with Stevenson, but to a slightly lesser extent – yes, I flew from Amsterdam to Melbourne, but over the past year I opted for trains between the UK and Holland instead of flying. It was cheaper, better for the environment, and in the end faster.
Nevertheless, I had to put that all behind me to get back to Oz. I had the same old deal – an hour wait to the check-in desks. I was travelling with Emirates, an airline that has quickly become my favourite. I’ve flirted with a lot of different long-haulers (after deeming Qantas just too expensive) and Emirates has come up trumps. The staff are friendly, the planes look new, the food is decent and I’ve found prices hard to beat.
Compare this with British Airways, for example. The last time I flew with them the plane was ancient, I was squished, the food was terrible even for plane food, and the flight attendants all seemed to be of the age and attitude where they would soon start bringing in bits of junk to ‘Antiques Roadshow’. The movies didn’t even start when you wanted to start watching them, rather they were on a continuous loop, so if you missed the first few minutes you had to wait another two hours or so to catch it again. You would think that dividing the twelve-hour long flight into nice and neat two-hour segments would make the time pass quicker, but no. I remember being at breaking point going over Siberia.
The only thing that restrained me from going completely mad was the flight plan.The flight plan on a long trip has sort of a hypnotic effect attached to it. I have seen people watch it for hours at a time. I myself am a bit besotted with it. The flight in question, for example, took me from Tokyo to London via the Arctic Circle. All of a sudden you become a bit of a pilot yourself, and start telling yourself that it’s all about tailwinds, Earth’s rotation and some other compound word where half of it is ‘nose’.
Just when you start trying to work out what the other part of that word is, you are served a tray of charming British plane food, usually with a clatter and a stern reminder to hoist your chair up. You never even put your chair down, or did you? You try and remember but are distracted again by the screen telling you that the outside temperature is minus a gazillion degrees, and you start to think about how cold this is and how many layers you would need to wear. That is of course, until you see the ground speed, and you instead ponder just how that would feel on the ground, whether you would actually be able to see anything and if your mouth really did that funny thing where your cheeks are all blown up and you can see your back teeth.
But this time I wasn’t with BA, I was with Emirates. And when I finally made it to the front of the queue, I heard those elusive words.”Well, this flight is very, very full so you have been upgraded to business class.”
And with that, all of my resentment towards flying evaporated. I pretty much ran towards the plane, almost knocking people over to get to my seat. Never had I flown in front of the wings before. It was a whole new world, complete with champagne on arrival.I was like a kid in a candy shop, pressing buttons at random until one removed the privacy screen between me and my snooty neighbour. I took one photo – one only – due to my flash lighting up the whole compartment.
I didn’t want to sleep, but I did, knowing it would help later. Lying flat, I was able to sleep like a baby.
My business ticket was only to Dubai, so after that I went back to cattle class, squished between a very large Scottish gentleman and my window. All of my gin and tonics in business class suddenly didn’t seem such a good idea any more.
I kept hearing the Jerry Seinfeld quote; “Elaine, I can’t go back to coach. I can’t. I won’t.” But I did. And on the journey home, when I was offered an upgrade to Singapore for AU$200, I declined. Because I’d rather travel often than travel in style but rarely.