By Akhil Sood Aug. 24, 2016
I was upgraded to the business class on my flight to Colombo from Chennai and I began to feel like a different person.
Tofu tastes like bread dipped in water but it’s everywhere. It was there 39,000 feet up in the sky, on my list of meal options, on my maiden business-class flight. I could either pick a regular, well-behaved lamb-something dish, or the wildcard garlic chicken with tofu. Tofu’s posh nothingness seemed appealing enough; it’s like that annoying friend-of-convenience who’s just there each time you turn around, smiling foolishly. So, I asked my Colgate-smiling server to get me the chicken with tofu. “No problem,” she assured me, and then she disappeared.
That was the first thing I noticed about seat 2C, the first five rows of the flight really: the profusion of the phrase “no problem”. Everything I said, even things I thought of in my head, were met with a cheery “no problem”. The person serving me was genuinely excited about offering me the option of drinking apple juice, orange juice, or water. She was warm and friendly with a genuine smile, not the peculiar bite-your-tongue-grit-your-teeth half-smile-half-scoff found often in economy (ugh, economy). I was handed a steaming hot towel to caress my precious face, and when I asked for a beer, I got a chilled can within seconds – the fancy kind, which I can neither pronounce nor type out. And before I could even finish, there was another one in front of me. I had never known a world like this.
Like any overeducated(ish), slightly left-leaning liberal (whenever convenient) who has been part of several anti-capitalism protests (on Facebook), I used to walk through the first five rows of the flight with head held high. With a silent sneer at these fat cats with priority tags, I would proudly enter my blood-and-sweat-ridden working-class cabin, holding on tightly to my ideas of egalitarianism. Holding on tightly to my ideas of stuffy, uncomfortable flights, and exaggerated resentment, anger, and, ultimately, inertia.
Until, one day, I found myself in Row 2 quite unwittingly, possibly accidentally (how is a story for a different day).
Even my boarding pass was a different colour than everyone else’s. It sounds like no big deal, but it meant the “cattle classes” just sort of made way for me whenever they saw me (and my boarding pass) approaching. There was also the pass for the ultra-exclusive business-class lounge along with my boarding pass. The menu inside consisted only of exotic human meat served by naked, attractive, dancing people who spoke in thick French accents, while trained cats massaged your inner earlobe. Or something. I sadly didn’t get the chance to find out.
Women in my country may be treated worse than cows, but I was far more concerned with the ergonomics of my leather furniture.
There’s also a separate, shorter, nicer-smelling line for business-class travellers to enter the aircraft. No one shoves you; no jostling for space, no one tries to cut the line. It’s a whole new world.
But the experience really kicks in when you park your backside in the futuristic satellite booth they call a seat. As I stretched myself out on that chair with multiple buttons (one of which converts your seat into a goddamn massage chair, another which converts it into a bed), I realised that all the resentment, the anger, the bitterness began to melt away – like tofu. A sense of largesse came upon me.
See, in “business” (which is what us frequent flyers call it), there’s no guy in front of you bound by the laws of the universe, to be an inconsiderate dingbat who will stretch his seat back and knock you in the forehead. No longer is the person next to you a mouth-breather hogging the armrest the entire time. Here, nobody spills their food on you, no one wants to go to the bathroom just as you’re about to fall asleep. Here, nobody drools on your shoulder.
As we cruised the global skies, I began to feel like a different person. I felt like I belonged, like I was someone who owned cufflinks (despite not knowing exactly what they are). I generally struggle with a fork and knife in real life (I use the excuse that I’m left-handed so it’s harder), but that day I was like Carolina Marin when my three-course meal appeared.
I gave disapproving looks to people talking too loudly, readjusting my headphones to let them know that they were being a nuisance. I think I grew a big French beard in that period too. My hairline began to recede, and whatever was left turned all salt and peppery. My slacker clothes transformed, in my head at least, into a polo shirt – with Ray Bans hanging from the collar – and a pair of slacks. I couldn’t give two shits about those lazy miscreants being all uncomfortable at the back – they should just work harder and try to be more successful, shouldn’t they?
Women in my country may be treated worse than cows, but I was far more concerned with the ergonomics of my leather furniture. All these journalists and activist-types started to really piss me off right then, and I began to finally understand the nobility, decency, dignity, and value of the far right, and of growth and development. I could have done with a glass of 30-year single malt right then – preferably a Scotch but even the Japanese whiskies have this delightfully misty vigour these days – and maybe a cigar. I started behaving like someone who’d actually be allowed inside a Michelin-star restaurant, and not shooed away at the gate.
In the duration of those 1.5 hours, it dawned on me how all these middling-to-great saviours of equal rights, staunch lefties in their youth, gravitate toward the comfort of the right, once financial security and middle age started to approach: it’s the Business Class Syndrome. Survival of the Richest, if you will.
Nibbling on my freshly cut exotic fruit, I knew I’d arrived. And then the plane landed, and I got up to reach for my bag in the overhead cabin before the plane had even stopped. As my co-passengers shook their salt-and-pepper heads at me in judgement, I retreated quickly. But it was too late.
I’d been found out; I was the emperor’s new clothes.