Sunday, June 08, 2008

Well, if you wish really hard, and click your heels together, the plane takes off

At least ours did, on time.

There was a general feeling of geniality on the plane, we'd all been through an adventure and we were now all headed home. The story from those who opted for the free night's stay at the airport was variable, "Not bad", "I've stayed at worse", "Mirrored ceiling and round bed", "Last night's dinner was today's breakfast". I had no such interesting remarks, my stay was up to the regular Renaissance standards.

So let me tell you about business class. It's really just like the regular fare except that it's bigger and there is far more of it.

We started out with a drink and a little bowl of warmed nuts. The latter brought to mind a recent piece in The New Yorker by David Sedaris in which he carries on quite a bit about the nuts in Business Class. I'd like to use the cheerful chipmunk analogy that he crafted so well, but that would be stealing from my writing hero so I will instead use something more close to home - I felt like a cheerful Ground Squirrel. There is something clearly special about taking a can of generic mixed nuts, warming them up and putting them in a little bowl. Special enough for the 30,000 miles this upgrade cost me? Well, I'd have to say "yes."

Dinner was preceded by the placing of the white linen tablecloth on the folding tray table. Dinner itself was filet mignon with gratin potatoes and green beans. Dinner was really, really good and complemented nicely by the bottomless glass of French red wine that happened to appear on my white linen table cloth. Desert was a nice little chocolate hazelnut mousse layer cake and a nice little glass of Sandeman's Porto. Porto, yes, I said Porto.

I settled in and watched 10,000 BC on the little personal video screen and messed around with the various adjustments on my chair. The movie was a riot - cave men fighting Egyptians on horses when not mutually fighting Saber Toothed-tigers or giant dinosaur like running bird things. The birds reminded me of a paper published in Scientific American by our chum the paleontologist Larry Marshall describing the fossil record for South American "terror birds." I think these are what the director had in mind.

Growing weary of mindless entertainment, I put my chair as flat as it would go and tried to nod off. I was doing well until the guy next to me turned on his reading light and scorched my retinas right through my closed eyelids. I guess you can put the hayseeds into the $7000 seats, but you can't put $7000 behavior into the hayseeds.

Finally got tired of trying to sleep so I watched the rest of the episodes of The Tudors that I had loaded and then it was time for a snack, personally designed just for me. Bleu Cheese, Cheddar, crackers, grapes, Kit Kat and that little lemon cookie that normally comes with the Ramen that apparently we don't get up here. Boy, that's a miss! Back to matters at hand, I noticed that the guy next to me was watching Dr. Zhivago with subtitles (in English) so I was able to watch all the critical scenes in that movie while watching my own.

A little more iTouch video and a little more attempting to nap and then it was time for breakfast. Fresh croissant, omelet, fresh fruit, endless breakfast tea and lots of orange juice.

We landed on time and I was first down the lane to immigration, one of the benefits of being in the front of the plane. Of course, all the classes are instantly equalized when it comes to the baggage check as we all had to wait for the carousel to deliver our goods.

In review, I'd have to say I enjoyed my time there and perhaps I will get lucky again. But it wasn't so remarkably special that it changed my view on travel. Sure, you're pampered and sure, you have some extra space to stretch out in but in the end you're still trapped in an aluminum cylinder for 12 hours surrounded by people who don't know how to behave in groups. In one way I found it a little less enjoyable - you have so much blank space around you that it's hard to keep track of your stuff. And that is something that drives organization nutcases to abandon.

One last little tidbit - the guy next to me told me as we were landing that today's Flight 858 was cancelled before leaving Shanghai for air conditioning problems. Seems that they gave us the new plane and moved the repaired one into today. Another bunch of travelers about to have another adventure.

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