Friday, 31 August 2007

Mile High Club!

I decided to write this BLOG entry whilst sitting in 1st Class on a flight to the UK, why? Well for the last 2 years I have made the return journey from Shanghai to London sitting in Cattle class with my knee’s tucked firmly underneath my chin, and a screaming toddler trying to give me a back massage by kicking the seat behind me for 12 hours. Having made the 12-hour trip a dozen or so times in the last couple of years! I felt that it was time to travel in style for once.

I have always been one of those people that felt 1st/upper/pompous class has always been that – a privilege for the rich and the stupid! Those who see no issue with spending at least 10 times that of what it costs to travel economy – just to show everyone that they are more important than the rest of use mere mortals. An opportunity to jump the queue, to stand at the front, to get a bigger plate and to attract the prettier hostess! Something that was more about status than comfort or convenience. After all we all travel on the same tube of death, we all take-off and arrive at the same time, have to go through the excruciating immigration and customs procedures, and wait for the wheel of pain to deliver our man-handled luggage! However I am here now to crush a concept that it’s all about status!

The fact that your exclusivity starts with a knock at the door by a man in a suit and a cap, to take you to the airport, in a car that most of us can only dream about owning, rather than screaming down the phone at the taxi company who forgot your booking, before squeezing your case into the 1970’s built saloon vehicle that you would have paid the tat man to dispose of 20 years earlier!

Then you avoid queuing by walking straight to the front of the queue, dropping off your bags and bypassing the long line of people waiting to clear immigration and security (I guess security believe that terrorists don’t fly 1st Class?) a quick shoulder / back massage in the private lounge, followed by a champagne reception in your executive suite on board what seems to be a parallel universe of air transport!
This all before the plane has left the ground makes you think that money is good, money is great – give me more!

Once you are In the air and the on-board beautician has finished clipping your toe nails and massaging your shoulders for the third time – lunch is served, of course only after you have chosen from the in-house menu that would put Gordon Ramsey to shame. Followed by copious amounts of fine wine and top shelf spirits all designed to remember the flight, and tell your friends and family how fantastic it was (see how it works!). Not content with the hand to mouth service, you even have the opportunity of walking to the cabin bar! A bar, Christ what happened to smuggling the duty free on board and pouring the Barcardi into plastic cups until you had run out of coke? Here you can sit around other smug travelers and go into detail about just how big the last deal you brokered was, or how property prices in London don’t really reflect the investment you made 5 years ago!

So fed and drunk, you retire to your seat, which by now has been transformed into a bed, forget trying to squeeze your leg into a cross position, or even dumping your exhausted body onto the folding table in front of you (Chinese style!), this is a fully fledged 180 degree flat bed, complete with goose feather pillow, Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffily teddy bear. The last time I had such a comfortable sleep was way before the birth of my two children – forget hiring a baby sitter, just book a long haul flight in 1st class.

You are then woken by a selection of the best looking air-crew (notice how I avoided the word hostess!), so that they can feed and provide you with sustenance for the last 4 hours of your luxury trip, a glass of named Champagne and a quick foot rub, prepares you for the final km’s of you journey, maybe its time for to catch a quick movie, plug in your laptop and write those business critical emails or just a chat with the onboard financial consultant? Before you know it you have missed Spiderman 3 and Harry Potter 12 – Christ in Economy that’s the best part of the flight!

So after all this luxury – was it worth the extra money? Too bloody right! Well ok – only if someone else is paying! I looked around the cabin, and using my in-depth powers of observations would suggest that only 10% of my fellow high rollers actually paid for their own tickets – the rest (like me) were subject to a very friendly company travel policy.

To put that statement into context, I remember traveling back from Washington DC with Hans Peter Langer who was head of Group Quality for Rover And BMW group - in cattle class, then traveling this same journey Shanghai tp London with Yang Junhu – S&M General Manager of NAC MG in economy – both companies had similar travel policy’s, which were basically that you travel in Economy regardless of position or status.
Then in contrast, I also remember flying back from Mumbai with Kevin Howe – I traveled in Economy, his Directors traveled in Business and he traveled on his own in 1st Class! Even then he wanted to be seen as more important. That flight is particularly infamous with those that traveled on it – and now with all of you that continue to read.
I had just finished an assignment in Pune, home of the ‘Shity Rover’ (The Indians name for the car – not mine!), the board meeting on that day requires a full BLOG, just to give justice to the language and physical fisticuffs that filled the day with blue air and the odd spattering of blood!

But to cut things short, we arrived at Mumbai airport to long and arduous queues, Mr. Howe decided that the ‘Crew” channel was shorter and barged there way into the departure lounge – leaving the rest of us to tackle the Indian authority’s. Finally on the plane, one of our team became ill somewhere over middle Europe, in his attempt to make the toilets; he fell and smashed his glasses – leaving a shard of glass piercing an eyeball, concerned, the flight attendants called for medical support. Kevin perturbed by the ensuing chaos decided to take a look for himself. On hearing the Doctors call to land as quickly as possible, Kevin demanded that the flight continued to its destination. On questioning the patient, the Doctor could see that the plane was not landing anywhere else but Heathrow! Kevin’s whispered words to the patient gave him 1 option, not comfort!

With this in mind, I can see the reason for flying luxury class, not so you can kick a man when he is down, but to enjoy 12 hours of your life, rather than waste it! If nothing, its worth me feeling refreshed and relaxed when I arrive in my home country, and my ability to write 2 BLOGS this week rather than the normal 1 – that surely was money well spent? (Well someone else’s money!).


Anonymous said...

Needless to say this blog has started a lengthy love-in for Fat Kev over on Macdroitwich!

Ross Armstrong, UK said...

Typical Kevin Howe - The sheer arrogance of the man doesn't just cover car building. I remember when some directors got fired because they didn't agree with the plan that Howe set forward, which ultimately led to MG-R's demise. Again, if they had stuck with just producing the RDX60 project (without too much interference with the design process, I might add), instead of producing risky sports car ventures, they may actually be selling cars right now. But no... Kevin Howe wanted boys toys and to try and make a quick buck no matter what happens...