Don’t let the walk through business class become a walk of shame.
Don’t you hate the way airlines make you walk through Business Class on your way back to Economy?
There is little in life which makes me feel less like a successful man. But recently I’ve been thinking about why, and now I’m looking forward to the next time it happens.
Many years ago, before the eighties became as ancient as the fifties used to be, I flew a lot for work. I was based in London and worked in Stockholm, Frankfurt, Milan, Paris blah blah blah. Add to that conferences in the USA and I was your original high-flying Junior Executive, a complete and utter banker. My employer offered a deal whereby if you flew with the local B-grade airline, you could fly Business Class. You could sit in the airline’s poxy little executive lounge and eat dry executive sandwiches, you got a free executive newspaper and a plastic glass of cheap executive bubbly. But better than all of this, once on the plane you got to watch everyone else traipsing past you to the cheap seats. I was enough of a dickhead in those days to think it was a sign I’d made it.
Fast forward twenty-five years and I’m a little more enlightened. Firstly because travelling for work is a novelty which quickly turns sour (taxi- airport-plane, taxi-office, taxi-airport-plane, ‘How was Prague, isn’t it beautiful?’). But more so because I have learned my own personal definition of success, which has very little to do with what the media portrays. I have crafted a lifestyle (relationship, friends, writing, surfing) which fits with what I want from life and, as such, I am a self-made man. But then I get on a plane. Look at those Business Class bastards. I wouldn’t mind them having more comfortable seats if I didn’t have to look at them before getting crammed up the back and breathing their farts.
It’s tempting at this point to delve into a hundred and one tricks about how to make Economy feel more comfortable: load up your devices with your own entertainment; take your own food and hot drinks; consult Seat Guru and only travel with airlines which let you book a specific spot; pick unrenovated planes because their seats are further apart (we love you Air Croatia!).
Or perhaps I should try and make you feel sorry for those in travelling in Business. Remind you that ninety-percent of them are on their way to or from work. That they have to justify their trip while you are free and on your way to fun. Or, to point out they’ve paid up to four times as much to get from A to B in exactly the same time, suckers.
But these are empty salves and don’t tackle the two root causes of the problem. The first of these is this: walking through Business Class is the epitome of only looking up the ‘luck pyramid’ to the tiny proportion of people better off than you, completely ignoring the infinite layers of lesser luck below. What about all those people stuck at home because they can’t afford to travel at all? Or who can’t travel because they’re disabled and – if travelling through a small airport where you walk across the tarmac – simply have no way of getting on the plane. Or what about those people doing the same journey as you on the bus, or hitch-hiking, travelling at 80mph as you pass overhead six times faster? Or what about those people you can see but don’t notice? All the unsmiling uniforms who process you through the airport, watching you pass through the fluorescently-lit hell hole they’ll still be in eight hours later? Or those loading your bags in the rain while you stare out the window complaining because your seat could be wider.
Airports and air travel are designed to make us feel undervalued. This is why people will pay so much to make the experience better. Where else, outside of prison, are you forced to remove clothing, scanned for weapons and searched for contraband before being ordered to move quickly on? Express Path access, exclusive lounges and exit row seats aren’t there to make people feel more successful, they’re there to make people feel less unsuccessful. To protect the select few from the dehumanising experience everyone else is going through.
But this brings me to the second and more important root cause of the problem. If in the depths of a real prison, a man can hold himself upright and know his own dignity and value abide within him and have nothing to do with his surroundings and nothing to do with how he is treated, why can I not do this in an aeroplane? The answer, of course, is it comes down to the man. It is not walking through Business Class which makes me feel like a loser, it’s my own unfinished sense of self. I have not travelled as far from that Junior Executive as I like to think. My smug satisfaction at my lifestyle only lasts as long as I am looking down the pyramid. A thirty second walk through Business Class is all it takes for it to disappear.
But I’ve had a real word with myself this week and I’ve decided this: my dignity, who I am as a human being, the kind of man I want to be, has nothing to do with how comfortably I can afford to travel. Easy words to write, of course. But that’s why I’m looking forward to the next test.
And if any of this article has resonated with you, I suggest you try the test too. If you fail, don’t worry. Do what I do and lift a Business Class blanket on the way through. Wrap it tightly enough around yourself and you can convince yourself you’re warm.
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