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Now We’re In Business.

11 January, 2009; 12:00 Leave a comment Go to comments

posh-airline-seatsIf you’ve ever flown in a Boeing 777, which is Boeing’s most recent commercial jet airplane in production, you probably remember walking through a section of the plane where instead  of proper rows of seats, there is what looks like an array of empty cubicles for elves. Every other seat faces opposite each other, some toward fore and some toward aft, and there are plastic dividers that wave their way between them. In the eyes of a conventional coach traveler, it just looks bizarre.

Back to the beginning — when I got to Arlanda Airport, Stockholm, I started to check in at one of the computer screens, but alarmingly my ticket number had disappeared. The roving KLM agent who herds people to the correct line told me that I’d have to talk to someone at this-and-such desk over there, so I queued up for a half-hour wait. But in a vaguely Matrix-style turn, my mobile phone rang, and it was another KLM agent, probably in India, telling me that my overseas flight had been canceled. My new instructions were to get out of line, go to another terminal, take another flight on another airline with another set of departure and arrival times and so forth. Now I was on British Airways, and my whole trip would be delayed by just over two hours. What’s more, I’d be going through Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 — built for British Airways, operated for countless duty-free goods merchants, and the bane of many travelers whose bags were lost during its first couple months. I had mixed feelings about this.

At London Heathrow, it didn’t take long to realize that this airport, just opened last year, was already straining under the weight of its passenger flow. There were three or four different checkpoints to go through, just to change planes within the same terminal. But at one of these, an agent scanned my boarding pass for my overseas flight, then tossed it into a box in a drawer inside her podium. Then a printer spat out a new pass, and she said “You’ve been upgraded. Now you’re in business class.”

It took me a couple seconds to absorb the implications of this. I’ve taken a few flights in the premium class cabins, spending frequent flier miles when all the coach frequent flier seats were taken up. But those were always on short hops for last-minute weekend trips, and they turned out to be on thirty-year-old jets that didn’t have any of the few-fangled technology and creature comforts that have been devised since. All I got for my dear mileage points was a somewhat higher-quality meal (or a meal at all, I should say), and a seemingly endless parade of complimentary alcoholic drinks to help drown away any cares I might have had about air travel.

But business class on an overseas flight, on a wide-body jet! This would be good. I was imagining a 747 now, where there are just a few rows of widely spaced, plush beige leather seats with arm-rests full of buttons, and a fold-out, adjustable TV screen with any movie you wanted on-demand, ready to start from the beginning at your slightest whim. I breezed my way  through the next couple of security points and an X-ray machine, sleepwalking through these dreamy visions, and it didn’t take long for the 90-minute layover to disappear (especially since we needed an extra 20 minutes to take a train over to Concourse B, and then buses over to where our jet was waiting, next to the not-yet-complete Concourse C).

That’s when I saw it — this was no 747, it was the high-tech 777, another step above what I was imagining. I couldn’t quite recall the implications of this until I got onboard and turned to the right. I was in Row 14, so I was looking a bit in the distance past the next bulkhead, but I quickly realized we were already in the teens, and mine was right here in what I now recognized to be that sea of elf-cubicles. I found my assigned cubicle and got started arranging things. I basically had an entire bin to myself, where I tossed my shoulder-bag and coat.

Down at seat-level, I got settled in with my book until take-off, and when we got up in the air, I started messing with all the buttons and switches. I watched two movies — Eagle Eye and Bottle Shock — and got a complex dinner that involved smoked salmon and a fish pie. I was full already after the appetizer, but the flight attendants just kept coming back with more plates and heavy tableware, finishing off with an orange-almond tart. Yes, there was the parade of offered alcohol, but I limited myself to a couple Carlsbergs over the course of the flight, since my goal was to stay awake through evening in DC.

Well alright, as the ours dragged on, I realized I just had to try out the bed setting. I pulled out the footrest, then pushed some buttons, and eventually the thing flattened completely. I had a pillow, sheet, and blanket, plus some high-tech earplugs of my own. It was nice. But it just didn’t change the fact that I can’t sleep on planes. So I gave up and watched one more movie, The Savages. Just as well, it would help my jetlag to say awake. And sure enough, hours later I was in DC, checked-in at the Omni, and even hanging out at one of the Sunday receptions at my conference. And that night I slept great.

Categories: travel
  1. kari.
    25 January, 2009; 1:44 at 1:44

    lucky bastard! i never win those raffle draws, and i never get upgraded, either. damn.

    p.s. love that you write up all of your blog posting in one realllly long one, once a year.

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