This is going to be an unapologetic and saccharine paean to high-end airline travel.
You see, I had despaired about ever traveling again to any place that requires my getting on a plane with the hope that I would get to the other side looking remotely like myself.
That was until the latest trip I have just taken to the United States of America. Let me try to start at the beginning.
When you travel business class, the first bit of great news that greets you is when you are directed to the Karibuni (literally translated this is ‘welcome’) Lounge. Karibuni is not exactly your state of the art lounge compared to others I have graced my company with but on the night I visited, it wasn’t busy, the lighting was apt and the furniture comfortable. What more did one need apart from a Uganda Waragi (or four) and tonic?
Across the lounge I spotted Andrew Mwenda, he of the Independent Magazine fame, if you wish to forget that he is easily the most garrulous and opinionated journalist in Uganda, East Africa and probably beyond. The short of it is that Mwenda lives to talk and talk he does with relish. He has made a whole career out of talking, thank you very much.
The next pleasure of flying “Business” came when we were called to board our flight to Amsterdam. Not only were we summoned from Karibuni after the riff raff had been checked through security, we were also asked to board before them, yes even before the ones with sniveling children in strollers.
I must admit that I have always had limited patience with other people’s kids, especially the ones who run around uncontrollably as if the waiting lounge is their home, with their utterly clueless mothers of course making mock attempts to control them when, all the while, their covetous interest is focused on the expensive Birkin the business class traveler across from them is carrying.
So, it was wonderful to go through the security screening last and then saunter past that sort of hoi polloi. Kids, geriatric or not, as long as you weren’t holding a business class boarding pass, you weren’t getting on board before I did. I thought about practicing my swagger as I walked past the sea of resigned economy faces but then thought better of it. If you are high-class, even if only for a couple of hours, you don’t want to shove it into the faces of those less fortunate than yourself, do you”?
And so I headed to my seat … 1B. I found Andrew Mwenda settling into seat 1A next to mine. Mwenda is so high-class these days he hobnobs at will with the likes of Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. He couldn’t remember me from Adam (we’d met at a lunch in Kampala some years back), but nonetheless talked to me as though I was a half-brother he had last seen two weeks earlier. That is Mwenda for you … he will charm a smile out of a hungry crocodile as he pulls its teeth.
Anyhow, for you uninitiated types, there is three feet of my size-14 feet between one business class seat and the one in front. There is a similar divide between the number 1 seat and the bulkhead. To put it in perspective, there was exactly one foot between my seat and the back of the seat in front of me when I traveled coach on the same plane. It was so tight I could hardly move once I forced my 6’3” frame into the space allocated to me.
In World Business, you can choose to recline, spread your legs out, or go so sleep without worrying about whether you have the space to do all that in. And so I used the time to experiment with the most comfortable position to adopt for the next 8 hours.
I have of course flown business and first class before. But that was on those terrible American flights which make KLM’s economy cabin from Amsterdam to Entebbe look like a bed of roses. American airlines long stopped pretending to try offering any acceptable service on their flights.
I recall flying first class one time on a trip from Hawaii to Los Angeles. I think I was treated like the important person I am on the trip but the memory that endures mostly is one of the cabin crew who were so old and ugly that no amount of make-up could salvage their washed-up mien.
But I digress.
Welcome aboard with a glass of French champagne? Check. Water to wash down the champagne? Check. Vanity goody bag with all sorts of goodies I had last seen years ago? Check. Menu from which to choose what to eat (I chose tilapia)? Check. Real china and cutlery? Check. My choice of dessert? Check.
Phew. Just listing the perks is exhausting in of itself. Suffice it to say that I ate, drank and then drank some more like the high-end customer I was. Come to think of it, I have always been a high-class customer. It is only the undiscerning that tend to forget this.
Chicken or pasta? As soon as I boarded, that grating ‘economy’ question sounded like the nightmare I have always found it to be. Mercifully, I didn’t hear it once all the way from Entebbe to Dulles.
I must admit I am already so used to flying ‘business” that I will gladly sell out Jesus Christ again for high-end travel. The alternative seems infinitely more horrible.
Oh, did I mention that Andrew Mwenda was asleep for seven of the eight-hour flight? Now, not many people will say they have been in the company of Andrew Mwenda for that long and he didn’t say anything.
Priceless, utterly priceless.
And now, I must prepare to do it all again in less than two weeks. I think I could get used to this.