Steve Madgwick reveals how a stroke of luck changed him ... and not for the better
Hate my guts if you will but know that I am simply a victim of good fortune. I blame my downfall on one innocuous phrase: "Business Class upgrade."
I heard these sweet, sweet words checking into three long-haul flights, on three separate airlines, in one year. Sure, I travel for work but I'm no frequent-flyer-points junky nor VIP. Until this streak of supernatural serendipity, my backside knew only the faux-leather mediocrity of long-haul cattle class. Like most of you, I suspect.
Also, like you, I share my workplace triumphs and catastrophes with mates, often theatrically at the pub on a Friday night. Just like my teacher friends tell me about the students they would happily pepper spray given the consequence-less chance. Usually, my captive audience glazes over with that "cool story, bro" expression when I waffle on about my travels, but something shifted one ominous evening.
So, I launch into what is supposed to be an ironic, hilarious sketch of the la-di-da world of Business Class. Haha – get it? Ahhhh, no. What they hear instead is an earnest, self-righteous and distinctly un-humble brag. It is the precise moment, they say, that I officially become "that guy": the travel wanker. Grudgingly, I accept my trusted comrades' diagnosis and seek out a remedy for this grotesque affliction.
First step: isolate the moment of infection. I don't think any travel-wanker symptoms surface during upgrade numero uno – except perhaps a penchant for needlessly dropping foreign phrases into conversations.
I act just like anyone on their first time "up front". I quaff too many glasses of exorbitant champagne, like I'm trying to douse an imaginary internal inferno. I can't stand the stuff when I have to actually pay for it. I liberally moisten my desiccated hands with a Baby Yoda-sized tube of Italian hand cream that costs more than my shoes. I conspire to steal the complimentary amenity pack on the empty pod next to me (the flight attendant swipes it before I get my chance).
I swear the cattle-classers who file past at boarding out me as a grifter – mainly because I can't wipe the I've-won-the-frickin'-Lotto look off my smug face. Clothed in guilt, I skulk into Sydney Airport's express security lane, where the exalted cashed-up classes get a magic carpet ride through security, waved through by the nicest border-patrol officers in the history of borders.
Travel-wankerness covertly grows on you, like mould on bread left on the kitchen bench, fertilised by small things like bottomless signature cocktails and free PJs. But there are three elements that make Business Business: sustenance, service and seats.
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In cattle class, they call it food. Serve it to you like they would in hospital. Accompany it with wine drained from silo-sized industrial vats. Cap it off with 1970s' truck-stop coffee.
In Business, they/we call it cuisine. Four seasonal courses, a la carte, arranged on actual dinner plates, matched with boutique wines "from the cellar" (cue images of stewards walking into the plane's hold with a lantern). Crucially, they even ask you how you would like your coffee, then serve it on nice crockery. All very grown-up.
Business Class service is like a sustained, 12-hour shot of steroids for the travel-wanker virus. Press your call button more than thrice in Economy and your G&T might come garnished with a flight attendant frown. That's if they respond at all. In Business, the call button has no such consequences, even if you press it like a 10-year-old Red-Bull-fuelled gamer fresh out of his Ritalin. The maximum lag time between finger-on-button and "Yes, Mr Madgwick?" is 15 seconds. I know this because I timed it – over and over again.
On terra firma, the lie-flat bed is little more than a fancy dentist's chair, but high in the sky it is both your throne and four-poster bed – unless you're an NBA power forward or morbidly obese side-sleeper. On upgrade number three, my seat had an in-built multi-function massager which made my tush tingle. My steward tucked me in, just like Mum used to, sans goodnight kiss. Gone also are passive-aggressive brouhahas for the armrest. Except for the loos, there's no need to share anything in Business.
Really though, the gaping chasm between long-haul Business and Economy comes down to one simple thing: personal space. The ability to lie down unhindered, get some shut-eye without slipping a disc, and land with a patina of sanity. Communication of this privilege to the upright-sleepers of Economy at the luggage carousel is perhaps the first symptom of the un-humble brag. "I just feel so fresh! Don't you?"
In my defence, travel-wankerness is highly contagious. I mean, wouldn't you choose the lie-flat of Business over the flatulence of long-haul Economy? Maybe you might even un-humble brag about it on Instagram, too. And the cure, as I discovered, is devilishly simple: not flying Business Class.
As I check into my next flight, inevitably those sweet, sweet words never come. I stroll miserably through my former domain on the way back to seat 50-something, wondering if I can sneak into an empty Business Class seat, a self-upgrade. I can't. Back here, where the flight attendants no longer call me by name, my metaphorical freefall to reality, to wellness, is complete.
Yet the travel-wanker bug lies dormant in me. Ready to blossom to life at even half a chance of a lie-flat bed on the twelve-hour flight to LA.