Writer: Michael Karam
One of the benefits of entering middle age is that despite gaining a few pounds and losing a few thousand follicles, we finally know what we will not put up with. This is especially true when it comes to the rigours of air travel. There was a time when the cheapest flight was the one for me, regardless of where I had to change or how long the stopover. It was a choice based purely on financial expedience. If I could save 150 USD flying on Cyprus Air with a 6-hour wait in Larnaca, then so be it. The saving represented at least one good night out in London. As for the airworthiness, age, make of the plane or the time of departure. These were the considerations of mad men.
Things change. I will no longer fly a third world airline. I always check the fleet and safety record of a carrier I am using for the first time. On the plane, my sensors are on full alert if there is a crying baby or noisy toddler at the gate. I avoid second airports, which tend to be in the middle of nowhere - London Stansted, for example, is absolutely nowhere near London.
My credit card gives me access to lounges even if I am not flying business. I also avoid flying at ungodly hours. I will never fly economy on any journey longer than five hours if someone else is paying and I believe that if I’m going somewhere to work, I am at an age where I expect to fly business. If you want me, I come with conditions.
Of course this is a rule of thumb and as such, one makes the occasional compromise. In May, I flew to Germany. Take-off? 03:20. The shock was cushioned by the news that I would be flying business. So I consoled myself with the knowledge that I would at least be able to sleep in a chair that was not designed by the Spanish Inquisition.
Nevertheless, at Beirut airport I made a mental reminder that even if Hugh Hefner sent his private jet, I would NEVER fly in the early morning. People just look so defeated, while those with young children have that thousand-yard stare, the one you see in photos of shell-shocked soldiers. The departure gate looked like a dormitory with passengers stretched across the benches in deep sleep. Others pretended to read. This was a montage of people at their most vulnerable. Every face said, “don’t even try talking to me”.
A screaming child ran among us, the parents clearly amused that young Omar had so much vim. But I sucked it up because I knew that in a few minutes, I would be reclining in business class comfort.
When we boarded I adopted that rather smug demeanour of someone who is not part of the hoi polloi. There would be no screaming children as I scanned the channels for the a movie and sipped a glass of wine (why not? It’s there to be drunk and in any case there are no rules about when to drink when one is flying).
The cabin crew welcomed me. I presented my boarding pass with aplomb but as I turned right into the plane, something was wrong. There was no business class. All the seats were the same size. Maybe I should have turned left. I looked over my shoulder by there was no “left”, only the cockpit. Surely there had been some cosmic mistake.
I looked at my seat number and stared at the seat. The man in my row was already settled in the window seat, with a pillow wedged against the plexiglass, ready for sleep. He had that crumpled look of a seasoned commuter. “This is business,” he said, noticing my discombobulation. “Don’t ask me why but I take this route all the time. At least they leave the middle seat free.” To make matters worse, there was no movie and no champagne. Only a little bag with a toothbrush, socks and a facemask. I looked back at my travel companion but he had already put his mask on and was presumably fast asleep.