Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reflections from inside the Business Class cocoon

“If you wanted to write a about a tropical island with political problems, why didn’t you pick Jamaica,” my wife once told me. Sri Lanka is nearly half way around to world and near the equator. Under the best of circumstances, one spends nearly twenty hours in the air, enroute. Total travel time is about 30 hours. Often I fly through London, braving London’s dysfunctional Heathrow airport because of the good connections to Colombo on Sri Lankan Airlines. As regular readers know, I can now afford to spring for a business class ticket on the London - Colombo - London leg.

This time, I decided that if I was to make the journey at all, I needed to be rested an alert during my Colombo stay. Quatar Airways provided a reasonably priced business class option and as good connections as one can now arrange when making the trip from Washington to Sri Lanka. In flight, I learned that the carrier has won awards for the best in flight service in five successive years. I might rate it a small peg below Singapore Airlines, on which I flew this summer, but the gap was small. Between these airlines and American Carriers such as Delta, American Airlines and the worst of the worst, United Airlines, the gap is a chasm.

Flying business class is a completely different travel experience. It demonstrates that good customer service is possible and that air carriers do know know to provide it. Cabins are roomy and, on newer aircraft, seats transform themselves into comfortable beds at the touch of a button. Meals are excellent and service is proactive. There are no long lines, no waits in crowded ‘lounges’ where the eye can find no relief from commercial blandishments.

In Quatar, I and my other and first/business class companions were immediately waved to a spacious bus. No standing or jostling here. We were only six passengers in a vehicle designed to hold more 30 or more. We were whisked to a separate building and escorted to a lounge that could only be described as cavernous. Seating was comfortable and the lighting subdued. Non a commercial blandishment in sight. When I arrived it was nearly empty. Now it is filling up as early arriving and transit passengers await flights to Muscat, Trivandrum, Johannesburg and Colombo. No alcohol served here, though it was available on the flight. (But, interestingly, no bottles were displayed, ‘in deference to the Holy Month of Ramidan” my attendant explained).

It would be easy to become addicted to this sort of thing, to become completely detached from a culture of travel where, in the name of ‘economy,’ passengers are often herded like cattle and, on many airlines - especially US airlines - treated with sullen indifference or even outright hostility. No doubt the staff hear platitudes about customer services from their bosses, but they are two overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid and stressed to pay attention.

Business class travelers are a bit like many political leaders. They have the power to effect change. They have voices that would be heard if they spoke out. But they rarely, if ever, experience what needs to be changed. Their senses are dulled to our planet’s pain and turbulence. Many simply stop caring.

,,, I must not succumb to this pathology.


Post a Comment

<< Home