I used to get upgraded to Business or even First Class when flying abroad with video crews for Preview Travel, the company that helped inspire Triporati. It was amazing! Massages in-flight, champagne, full beds, fresh and well rested upon arrival, I even felt like I got more oxygen! I never tired of the groovy toiletries kits and I still have some of the products these many years later. Would I ever pay for it…no. Would I ever use my frequent flyer miles to upgrade…maybe for a long haul flight.

As coach service has become worse and worse, the lure of Business and First Class seems more appealing. Yet with the cost so high, one feels like a kid looking at candy or toys through a shop window: it’s there but so out of reach. I chuckled recently when I read about how the downturn in the economy has hit business and first class travelers hardest…seems we are all flying cattle car coach these days.

Triporati Producer Gwynn Gacosta recently returned from a trip to the Philippines and has this take on the issue of “Class” travel.

Slumming It in Business Class

I tend to hate air travel and lately, there’d been little to like about it.  The food, or lack thereof, is terrible; the service rude or indifferent.  I hate that we in coach class aren’t allowed to use the bathrooms in business class, even if those are the ones we are seated closest to.  That there is no comfortable way to sit in order to avoid the people directly in front of us, behind us, next to us.  Certainly not with the leg room provided.

For my recent trip to the Philippines, I had to mentally prepare for an over 12-hour flight each way.  And really, there’s really no other way to prepare for that except to accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable and hellish.  I always wondered what first class and business class would be like, but I never thought I’d be so lucky to experience it.

When I arrived at the airport, a Cathay Pacific customer service rep informed me that my flight had been overbooked.  “Would you mind switching to a Japan Airlines flight, which leaves at around the same time, but arrives in Manila earlier?  And for your inconvenience, might we also offer you $200 spending cash as well as a coupon voucher for a free business class upgrade and access to our business class lounge for your next Cathay Pacific flight?”

Uh…is this a trick question?

True to their word, after signing some paperwork and given my new JAL boarding passes, I was handed my $200 dollars and my coupon.  I hadn’t even left for the Philippines, and yet I couldn’t wait until I could get my upgrade for the flight back.

That day came soon enough and I check in at Ninoy Aquino International in Manila, voucher in hand.  Turns out that I could only do it for one leg of the trip, and obviously I wanted to do it for the Hong Kong to Manila leg, so they told me to check in at the transfer desk in Hong Kong.

At Hong Kong International Airport, I headed right up to the transfer desk and stood in the coach class line.  There were lots of people, most were tired and disgruntled.  Then I noticed that there was no line at the business class window.  Could I get away with marching right on over?  Five minutes later I had a pass for the airport lounge and a boarding pass for the flight.  I glanced sheepishly at my former line-mates, rolling their eyes and looking annoyed.

Airport lounges are places I’d always been curious about.  You’d see the doors open briefly to let a patron in, and then shut, leaving people like me, out.  I just knew there was a different world in there – a paradise, perhaps?  Free drinks?  Spa treatments?

Through the hallowed doors I went, and inside was a long bar, serving whatever you pleased.  At the end of the lounge was a dining area with a variety of food served cafeteria-style.  They also served hot soups, made to order.  I grabbed a tuna sandwich and a pastry with a bottle of water, and I stopped and looked around.  Where do I pay for all this?

And this is the beauty of the airport lounge: you don’t.

Belly satisfied and feeling rested, I thought of taking advantage of the private shower stalls at the other end of the lounge but I didn’t have a change of clothes with me nor any toiletries.  I sat down on one of the big, comfy club chairs and journaled.  People were either on their computers or stretched out on the chairs with their feet propped up, sound asleep.

When I arrived at the gate, I started to line up behind the crowd of people already in front of the gate.  A gate agent, spotting my ticket, waved me over to where she was – where the other business class/first class ticket holders were – about eight people in all.

I liked this treatment.  I liked it a lot.  But I couldn’t help but think that maybe there was some mistake.

I boarded the plane and searched for 12A.  There before me was an individual seat with an entertainment console right next to it.  My seat reclined at the touch of a button to a bed.  I had, at my fingertips, endless choices for movies and music and games to play and a TV screen that swiveled around at whatever angle was most comfortable.  A businessman in the seat next to me sensed I was new to the club.

“This is actually better, you know.  You’re not climbing over anybody to get to the bathroom or to get to your seat.  It’s like having your own office.”

I looked at him.  “Oh, you misunderstand, sir.  This is not a complaining face. This is the face of someone who has seen the light.”

He looked amused.  “The light?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “No way should anyone have to travel any other way again.  Ever.”

He smiled and put his jacket away.  “I wholeheartedly agree.”

For the duration of my flight, when I was not reclined and sleeping like a baby, I was treated to great service: real table linens, breakable stemware filled with fine wines, and decent, filling meals.  My legs were propped up, and at the touch of a button, I felt the vibrating massage at my back.  I was wrapped in a comforter, not a scratchy wool blanket.  I had movies to watch and music from a programmable CD library, and the use of large, comfortable headphones.  Oh, and a cute complimentary toiletry kit that included Murad skin products and a comfy pair of socks.  If I wanted to, in the middle of the night, I could ask for a sandwich, a bottle of water, chocolate truffles, whatever I wanted.  And I did.  I most certainly did.

Twelve hours came and went, and I was sad when I landed.  Yeah, I was going to see my kids again, but I wasn’t so sure I was ever going to be in business class again.  Now that I have seen what goes on behind those curtains, how could I ever go back to coach?

Filed Under Air Travel, Asia, Feature, Luxury Travel, Philippines, Travel


2 Responses to “Slumming It in Business Class”

  1. Susannah Patton on June 22nd, 2009 1:43 pm

    My husband and I once flew business class from Paris to Boston with our very active two-year-old boy. It was hilarious to see the looks of horror on the faces of our fellow seat mates when our charming toddler started to throw pieces of clay around the cabin. I still remember the lounge, the warm nuts, nice selection of wine and other perks, which all helped make the flight with a toddler much more palatable - at least for us!

  2. Gwynn on June 27th, 2009 1:44 am

    Funny you mention this: I was doing google searches on business class and traveling with kids and more often than not, I found many articles AGAINST having kids in there at all. As if parents and their children are not as worthy of experiencing those special perks as business people are. I can imagine the looks of horror all too well, but i can say that I would not hesitate upgrading again if the opportunity comes knocking — with or without kids.

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