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Ben Chapman-Smith: The myth of class mobility

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Ben Chapman-Smith is miffed that some of of his fellow travellers are getting pampered.
The class divide exists in the air. Photo / Thinkstock
The class divide exists in the air. Photo / Thinkstock

Back in the good old days, every economy class passenger was treated the same. I didn't mind that there was a business class - there was a curtain to separate us.

We'd sit at the back, they'd sit at the front. It was black and white and we were happy with our lot.

But now a demeaning form of hierarchy has emerged within economy class. Air New Zealand has done away with the one-size-fits-all approach and now offers four "seats to suit" on short-haul flights.

"So whether you just want to get from A to B, or you like to fly with a bit of pampering, we have an option for you," the airline says chirpily on its website. (By pampering, they mean food and movies.)

Making passengers choose from Seat, Seat + Bag, The Works, or Works Deluxe has, unintentionally or not, created division. We're still lowly economy class passengers, but now not all are equal. We're jumbled together, without a curtain to save us our embarrassment.

Flooded with optimism when I purchase my ticket, I have lofty visions of assembling a delicious, bulging snack pack to take on the plane with me - full of healthy, homemade treats.

Inevitably, I pull in to Gull on my way to the airport and hurriedly gather honey-roasted nuts, driest-of-dry beef jerky and a chocolate bar - typically they're all gone before takeoff and combine to give me terrible gas at 30,000ft.

I nibble on the remains of my petrol station peanuts watching re-runs of Glee, while the smug passengers either side of me scoff their chicken curry with saffron rice, followed by a tub of Kapiti ice-cream. I do my best to ignore the meaty aroma and sneak sideways glances at the new-release blockbuster on their screens.

On one flight, the aviation gods smiled on me. I was given the meal even though I hadn't paid for "The Works". As the stewardess moved towards my row, tray in hand, I waited for her to glance at my seat number and move on.

But she smiled warmly and placed the meal in front of me. For a moment, I was special. I dispatched that damned meal before they could take it off me.

Sometimes I grow so envious of my neighbour's dinner that I fantasise about asking for that stubby bread roll left on their tray - but I never work up the nerve. The bitter conspiracy theorist in me speculates that "Seats to Suit" is a clever ploy by Air New Zealand to shame people into paying more money.

The thing is, I don't want to pay the extra money. It's a post-recession economy and like many people, I'm trying to keep costs down. Faced with a cheaper option in life, I'll take it nine times out of 10.

I can cope without the pampering. But please don't sandwich me between two people indulging in their food and movies. I'd prefer a curtain.

- NZ Herald

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