Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Back In The High Life

Mission Control in seat 12F, just south of the Aleutian Islands. And yes, that's this blog on the screen.

The bane of travel is the incredible amount of time dawdling about in security checkpoint lines, waiting in airport gate areas, sitting on the tarmac, flying about the world, waiting for your stuff at the baggage carousel and commuting to and from the airport itself. All in all, it's a horrible experience no matter how much you enjoy traveling.

To add insult to injury, we are forced (usually due to economic restraints) to endure all of this as herded cattle. Mushed onto the airplane and into cramped seating that seems to get more uncomfortable with each passing year. There you are, wedged into your seat and, if you're really unfortunate, sandwiched between burly guys in a center seat.

To my right, the little girl got sick on landing. I remember those days.

Most of us sitting in "coach" or "economy" (read:steerage) peer desperately into the cabin ahead of us, past the flimsy curtains separating the haves from the have nots. We wonder what it must be like to sit in Business Class, sipping mimosas and being massaged by nubile, young flight attendants.

As I write this, I'm sitting on United 884 from Tokyo to Chicago in seat 12F in one of the hallowed chairs of Business Class. We're at flight level 330 - that's 33,000 for those of you not familiar with pilot lingo - due south of Cold Bay, Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

To my left, this guy worked the entire way to Chicago, making use of the words "business class."

If you've ever sat around wondering if those people in the upper classes are enjoying themselves as much as you think, I'm here to report that you're right - we are.

The fun begins once you've passed through security, and a visit to the Duty Free store for liters of alcohol (Johnnie Walker Blue for my dad) and some Montecristo Cigarillos (illegal in America), where your Business Class ticket means your welcome at the United Red Carpet Club.

The Red Carpet Club your first step in refined travel. Warm tones, comfortable and quiet seating, Japanese-influenced interior and drinks and snacks for free. This country (Japan) is so cool they've even got superautomatic beer machines that correctly tilt the pilsen glass before dispensing and then gives it a foamy top!

When it comes time to board, there's no rush. Board at your leisure. None of that "boarding by numbers" tomfoolery those other people have to subject themselves to.

Once onboard, you're greeted by friendly flight attendants offering your choice of water, orange juice or champagne. The choice is yours. For barbarians such as myself, I'll take all three, please.

Part of my usual M.O. while traveling is to stop at the nearest McDonald's or whatever and grab a burger for my bag - in case I get hungry along the way. In Tokyo, I picked up some McDees burger with bacon and thousand island dressing but have no idea what it's called. I'm predicting now that the burger will never make it out of the bag.

They talk about fattening cattle before slaughter, if that's true then we're probably on the way to the slaughterhouse.

The mid-flight snack cart. Filled with sandwiches, cookies, Twix bars and noodles for the taking.

Once airborne, the fun begins and the food starts rolling out. Crap. I wish I hadn't eaten lunch before boarding because the Japanese Bento lunch comes in two trays. The first filled with appetizers like smoked fish, daikon, green tea and cold soba. The next tray is the actual bento itself with salmon, shrimp, more miscellaneous fish and rice. Drinks are available a plenty - green tea, black tea, water, two Cokes, champagne, port wine - and that's within the first 90 minutes of the flight!

The feeding continues with an open galley bar of whatever you desire. There's a cart filled with Twix bars, chocolate chip shortbread cookies, pretzels and ramen noodles for the taking. And, of course, you can drink to taste - beer, wine, whiskey, vodka - it's no problem. It's times like these that I wished I drank more.

So refined, even the rest room has linens.

In spite of the constant ability to feed, the whole thing is refined. Want to take a whiz? We've got our own rest rooms. Need to take it now? There's never a line. Want to take a nap? Then stretch out on the near flat bed/chair and cover your eyes with the provided blindfold. Want to work or watch movies on the laptop? No problem, just plug into the DC outlet in your seat. Need to stretch? Take a walk around the cabin, there's plenty of room.

The staff is so accommodating, I bet you could waltz with a partner if you so desired.

So what's the downside?

Knowing that it's only temporary and in just a few hours you'll be back in America resuming your role as cattle on the flight to Baltimore.

If only I could stretch this trip a little further...

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