I am not a number, I am a human being

10 October 2019

In recent years Economy Class air travel has become a nightmare, more like Cattle Class. It feels like the airline industry regards me not as a human being but simply as a number, albeit a number that never comes up on the Lottery. Small wonder therefore, that with our personal finances currently in good order, we have decided to fly Business Class on our current trip Down Under.

We’ve paid handsomely for the privilege and expect to be pampered. The fun begins with priority check-in, conducted by a friendly lady who chats amiably while she does the business. When she’s done she directs us to a fast-track security line where our documents and luggage are checked swiftly and efficiently. We Brits are the queuing champions of the world, but it looks like today Mrs P and I won’t have the opportunity to show off our prowess.

Then it’s off to the secret pleasure garden that is Singapore Airlines’ executive lounge. Here comfy seats, free food and drink, and even the chance to take a relaxing shower all await us. Above all, the joy is in the calm atmosphere that pervades the lounge, in stark contrast to the frenetic mayhem that is the lot of the poor sods in Cattle.

Finally our flight is called, but by the time we get to our gate there are at least 50 people ahead of us in the line to board the plane. We’re disappointed as it looks like we’ll have to queue this time, but out of the mist our guardian angel appears, a sparkling steward from Singapore Airlines asking if anyone in line is travelling First or Business Class.

I raise my hand and we are immediately whisked to the front of the queue. We know the Cattle Class mob are staring at us malevolently as we pass, hissing quietly, which only serves to increase the pleasure of the experience.

I make my way to my seat, acknowledging the polite and fulsome greetings of the cabin crew as I pass. Yes, in name it’s a seat, but in reality it’s more like an adjustable throne, snug in its own spacious pod designed to ensure my privacy, and surrounded by a plethora of buttons and gizmos all intended to make my journey more comfortable.

I’m standing there, taking in the magnificence of my pod and admiring the enormous seat-back screen in front of my throne, when a steward appears at my elbow and offers me champagne. He is young and beautiful, and it would be rude to deny him… so I don’t.

Shortly afterwards, as I’m settling into my domain a stewardess greets me and asks if I would care for a second glass of champagne when we take off. She too is young and beautiful, and to avoid causing offence or any awkwardness between her and her male colleague, I graciously accept her kind offer.

And anyway, who wouldn’t want to celebrate getting out of the UK for a while, considering the mess we’re in?

Not long after take-off the food begins to appear, This is not one of those frantic feeding frenzies you get in Cattle, but rather a gentile dining experience that lasts over two hours. The courses just keep on coming, and damned good they are too, particularly when washed down with a glass or two of Shiraz.

But even before the first course is served there’s the small matter of the table cloth, snow white and immaculately starched, which the attendant spreads oh-so-carefully across my ample foldaway table. Bloody hell, is this some parallel universe in which I find myself? I mean, at home the only time the table cloth ever sees the light is Christmas Day.

I can honestly say that this Business Class travel is extraordinary. OK, I confess, I’ve spent the last 40 years silently cursing as I’ve trekked through Business Class to the hell-hole that is Cattle. All the time, I will cheerfully admit, I was dreaming of a socialist utopia in which everyone would fly First Class, which would – logic tells me – ensure that all classes would henceforth cease to exist.

Age does, of course, lend a new perspective to the dreams of youth, and while I still look forward to a classless society, for now I’m content to park my principles in pursuit of some harmless pampering.

I mean, the premium price I’m paying for Business Class bliss is helping to keep those wonderful, beautiful flight attendants in a job. And I never claimed not to be a hypocrite, did I?

But most important of all, I am not a number, I am a human being.

Walking on the wild side

We’re beginning to get our heads around the itinerary for our New Zealand adventure. And what a big, impressive beast it is!

We’ll drive down to Heathrow, where our first novel experience awaits us: the priority check-in and all-round pampering that is – I sincerely hope – the lot of the business class traveller.

PHOTO CREDIT: From Pixabay via Pexels

We’ve never flown business before, and probably never will again, so we plan to make the most of it. I hope they load plenty of champagne to keep us suitably mellow during the flight to Singapore, where we’ll spend a couple of nights before flying on to Auckland.

Sultan Mosque, Singapore (2016)

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest metropolitan centre, being home to around a third of the country’s entire population of a little under five million. After spending four nights in and around the city, acclimatizing and recovering from the inevitable jet lag, we’ll pick up a rental car and spend a further ten nights visiting some of the highlights of North Island.

Then it’s a short internal flight from Palmerston North, across the Cook Strait to Christchurch where a second rental car awaits us. We’ll spend the next 32 nights touring the length and breadth of South Island, before returning to Christchurch for the flight back to the UK.

Embed from Getty Images

That’s if we make it to South Island, of course. Before we get there, we’re due to visit White Island on the east coast of the North Island, in the Bay of Plenty. It’s New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, and has been built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years. Active it surely is, as our itinerary advises us that we’ll be issued with hard hats and gas masks before we arrive.

White Island, New Zealand - 2 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 2 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

GAS MASKS! For heaven’s sake, what sort of trip is this going to be? I’m feeling my age a bit these days and was rather hoping New Zealand would be a walk in the park. But instead it looks like we’ll be walking on the wild side.

White Island, New Zealand - 4 of 16

PHOTO CREDIT: “White Island, New Zealand – 4 of 16” by Phillip Wong – http://phw.co.nz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On the other hand, why not? After all, you only live once. It could even be fun, and if the volcano blows its top while we’re there at least I’ll leave this life with an impressive bang.

Hard hats, gas masks, random unpredictable volcanic eruptions and accompanying earth tremors? Bring ’em on I say, bring ’em on!