Monday, December 05, 2011

Oscar Wilde was wrong

Or was it St Augustine? Never mind who said it first, the "triumph of hope over experience" isn't a second marriage, it's the same Chinese holidaymaker elbowing past me again to get to the baggage carousel again to find that staring at the one bag making its way around is not his, and that it doesn't turn into his, no matter how hard he stares at it. Again. And again. Lord, why did you bless me not with forebearance for the vagaries of others, but with stainless steel elbows and a business class attitude?

This afternoon I cashed in a bunch of airmiles to fly to Singapore, and because it was only 66% more expensive to go Business than Economy, and since this wasn't real money anyway, I flew Business class. (The only other time I've flown business class was when China Airlines randomly upgraded me on a one-and-three-quarter hour flight to Taipei, and I sat next to a fat and belligerent man who alternately yelled at the flight attendents and farted for the whole journey.)

As I've flown enough to get to the second tier of Cathay's frequent flier programme, it's not so big a step up at the airport. Yes, I get a sticker on my luggage to say it's a priority, and yes, I get lounge access, but I'd have those anyway. What I was (not) paying for was a nicer seat.

Well, that and a misplaced sense of superiority. I left the lounge with twenty minutes to go, and got to the gate just as the business class line was finished and the lady at the gate was beginning to gesture the remaining people in economy to board on both sides, rather than just the economy side of the desk. She took one look at me bearing down on her, and stopped the economy types in their tracks, so that I could check in first. It would be too easy to grow accustomed to this.

Boarding through a separate entrance, you don't have the noise and bustle that you do in economy, which means you realise that they're playing an easy listening version of a Robbie Williams song over the PA. Then you sit in your enormous chair and you're brought a drink. Well, a choice of champagne, orange juice, a bizarre cocktail with Cointreau in it, water or the Cathay Surprise, which is bright green and made of coconut and mint. Half way down the runway they realise the guy next to you can move, because there's a spare row up front, and then you're left on your own for the rest of the flight.

There is so much room that even if the guy in front (and they are all, save for one woman at the very back of this cabin, guys) reclined his seat completely, you'd still be able to stretch your legs out straight. The seat recline is electronic, in case the delicate hands of all these CEOs aren't quite up to applying the necessary force themselves, although that is a mixed blessing. I did something wrong and my controls conked out after I'd activated the leg rest, so I sat bolt upright with my legs out in front of me for the whole flight. Maybe it would take an effort for me to get used to this, after all.

The nuts don't come in a plastic bag, they come in a tiny dish, which the staff will offer to replenish whenever your nuts are getting low. And they keep bringing you drinks. I'm behaving today, but I intend to take full advantage of the bar on the way home on Friday.

When dinner arrived, though, I was glad I'd had a pizza at the airport. It was two pieces of garlic bread and an artfully arranged plate of sliced fruit. Now, I knew I'd ordered the vegetarian meal, but it felt to me like somebody was having a laugh. Everyone else got meat, and I had a piece of melon. That ain't right, right?

I was going to take umbrage when they whisked my plate away and brought my second course. And when I'd finished that, the third. Ok, it was still basically plane food, but when it arrives in sequence rather than simultaneously, you feel more cherished. Or you don't risk dipping your elbow in the dessert while you're eating your pasta, which is about the same thing.

The food went, and I discovered I wasn't very good at working the entertainment system (because the seats are so far away from each other, there's no seat-back screen: everyone gets one of those screens-on-a-stalk that rises from out of their armrest). On a sunny day the image on the screen was invisible, so I worked on my computer (not jammed up against my face, for a blissful change) and then read a book while feeling nauseous for no real reason.

The plane landed nice and smoothly at Changi, and we all got off first, which meant we all passed security first, which was a bit of a bonus, although diluted by then getting to the carousel and waiting and waiting for my bag to arrive (so much for "Priority", it appeared). I went from being the only person there to being surrounded, and then a series of women of different shapes and sizes came along and tried to jostle me out the way, so they could get a clear view of the quite empty luggage belt.
Well, I've been in Hong Kong long enough to hold my ground, so I kept my elbows in place and after a while, both of them decided they were going to respect my personal space after all. Or maybe they were wondering who the angry gweilo mentalist was that wouldn't get out of their way.

There was one guy who was more persistent, and he nuzzled up to my waist, and then as every bag went past, leaned down from his waist and peered at it, to figure out if it was his or not. Since he did this for every bag (silver, orange, black or just cardboard) I can only infer he believed his stare had the power of luggage transmutation.

Which brings us back to where I started, just as my bag was finally delivered up to me, and I began the long trudge to my hotel. No more business class for the rest of the week, I suspect.


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