Navigate

Columns

No Such Thing as First Class

Other than the General Assembly of the United Nations, or the summit meetings of the G8/G10/G20, you rarely get to see thousands of people of different nationalities under one roof—other than at an international airport. Granted, the roof I am speaking of generally costs a quarter of the country’s G.D.P. and is for the sole purpose of helping international travellers commute, but airports of the world really are one of the most colorful and diverse melting pots.

Helter Skelter: Flying
Leaving on a jet plane?

As a frequent flier, I have grown accustomed to the rhythm of airports, and try my best to give the illusion of being a mature adult—I engage in meaningful conversations with people of different nationalities, stand in a queue, keep my passport, tickets, visa papers ready for the authorities, and become spatially aware about my luggage. But then there are those damned chocolatiers with their glittering shops, and endless displays of confectionery that reduce me to my childish whims. All that practised elegance goes out the window (the big glass ones that weigh a ton) and all I want to do is run down each alley with an overflowing shopping basket. A shopping basket full of
international candy.

This is precisely what you want to avoid while travelling—one of things that can make any travelling experience a hellish nightmare is that frantic shuttling around in confusion when you’re on a sugar high and surrounded by flashy lights and slippery smooth floors. Navigation through airports is not exactly rocket science, but it does help if your nerves are calm and you aren’t dragging extra large bags from the Duty Free.

Apart from following the Internationally Approved Airport and Airline Etiquette Manual (don’t run, don’t scream, don’t drool on the glass windows) drafted by your mother, there are a few generic rules/observations I have compiled over the years about airports and flying that save you some time and money, and make sure that you don’t miss the last five minutes of the in-flight movie. They also help you stay calm and think logically.

There’s no such thing as “First Class”.
Unless you are less than three-feet-tall, or a dwarf, the extra six inches on your seat will not keep you comfortable for a 12-hour flight. The champagne and caviar only bloat your stomach further, reducing your seat space even more. The only place comfortable enough to sleep is your bed, and until airlines start including them in their special packages, it makes no difference whether you’re in First Class, or in the seat next to the bathroom—you’re still going to have to stay in that area for an extended period of time and its going to annoy you. So don’t bother asking for an upgrade, or do the unthinkable—actually pay for it.

They never put love in the coffee.
Even if you order the pricey Colombian roast or the one that looks like it’s coming out of a Godiva packet, the coffee never tastes as good as it should. Why? Because they don’t put love in it—the servers and the baristas never get to see their customers long enough to make a personal connection and they really don’t care if you don’t like their coffee. What are they going to do? Not come again? Ok, no problem—10 million pass by yearly in any case. So don’t bother ordering the fancy stuff, stick to what’s regular. Sometimes I feel like they just take a bulk order of no-brand beans and put it in fancy packets randomly. In fact, it might even be decaf, so that you feel like to need multiple refills to wake you up. No? Just wait and watch.

Announcements.
This is a global tactic to get you to listen carefully. Anywhere in the world, the female with the screechiest voice is always chosen to make the announcements about delays and departures. And there’s also always one family that is continuously called out 17 times because they’re late. Try not to be one of them—the intensity of their screeches increases dramatically when you’re the culprit.

Cabin crew.
They all have Botox done and are trained not to act on their reflexes. They are also immune to turbulence. Even if their ties are flapping in their faces, they’ll still ask if you want a coffee refill. Don’t attempt to imitate their balancing skills or put yourself down because their skin is so flawless, and yours has developed what is commonly known as the “traveller’s rash”.

Women are still judged if they ask for alcohol on flights/at the airline lounge.
This is more frequent in Economy Class where they get stingy with consumables, but you should generally be ready for raised eyebrows and a mini-staring contest if you are a female and want alcohol. Some crews are douchey enough to make you repeat your order twice, and louder, so that passengers seated nearby get a verbal notification of your immoral behaviour up in the air. Tsk tsk.

Music fail.
Airlines only hire tone-deaf technicians with no taste in music or those who are still stuck in the past, and they only play trashy pop from the ’80s. Some even go to the extent of being extremely inappropriate—Jet Airways plays ‘Killing Me Softly’ during take off and landing, and South African Airlines like their Zumba music at the break of dawn. Make sure you carry your own music, or ask for ear plugs.

Dining.
Food that you would otherwise never eat even if you were paid to, suddenly becomes very attractive in-flight and you get possessive about whatever abysmal quantities you get. It’s cold and in a tin tray, but tastes oh-so-divine simply because you’re bored and confined to a small area. Asking for second helpings is almost criminal. Eat before you board and save yourself the rejection.

Children.
Kids turn into giant screaming monsters and suddenly develop the urge to be extremely uncooperative. Make sure to maintain distance from such clans as their running around can topple your luggage, destroy your inner peace, and cause permanent ear damage with their ultrasonic squealing.

In-flight magazines.
These are always full of carefully positioned advertising, targeted at brainwashing you. The articles are generally bleak and reduce your I.Q. by a few points if you try and comprehend them. Pick up a newspaper on your way in, or carry a book along, but don’t put yourself through the torture of reading one of those magazines in your front seat pocket.

Duty Free is not “Free”.
Resist the temptation—what seems like a great deal is not one. It only seems so because you’re removed from your usual surroundings, and when placed in a new and unfamiliar one, we develop the urge to spend more to comfort ourselves with a familiar routine. For example, shoe stores at airports always have those shoes that you wish you had worn that day; and you tell yourself to get them next time every time but never actually do—because the need for those shoes, that sense of familiarity of purchasing and owning, immediately dies once you exit the ‘travelling zone’. Not to mention, they’re actually quite hideous and cost a fortune.

Living out of a Suitcase: Travelogues of a modern day gypsy.
Isabella Ricci follows the clever north winds and the voices in her head. Once selected to speak on Saudi national television at age five, she now feels qualified to have an opinion on everything. She collects postcards and memories for a living, and moonlights as a expert on fashion. Her offshore bank account contains two vinyl records and the Picture of Dorian Gray.

Was it good for you?

The Oracle of Tripe #13

The Oracle of Tripe #13

By Chaitanya Modak and Benita Fernando
The Oracle of Tripe #13