Business class rookies unite!

2012-10-22 08:54

"Turn left, turn left, turn left," we all chanted under our breath in a collective experiment with manifestation a-la-The Secret while crowding around the Qatar check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport

Ready to set off on our educational trip to Vietnam under the influence of a delectable rumour that perhaps, just maybe, our group of 10 would get upgraded to business class for the 20-something hour flight, we decided that desperate times had called for some desperate esoteric intervention. 

Well, the good news is: it worked. We got our special burgundy boarding passes and, on entering the aircraft, a perfectly groomed air hostess indicated that our seats were located toward the front of the plane. So, we turned left. 

The less awesome part of the story is that whoever designed this uppity section of a plane seems to have done so with the somewhat sadistic notion of showing business class virgins up to be the blundering, mediocre, cattle class accustomed buffoons they really are. Sigh. 

So, from one business class rookie to other future business class rookies out there, a few heads ups to help you navigate the plush landscape a little more elegantly than I did. 

Arrival - space and ordering the correct drink

Photo: wandotravel

If you've never seen the business class section of a plane with your own eyes before, the moment of arrival can be somewhat overwhelming. 

It's like the perfect blend of 5-star hotel, fancy restaurant and your lounge at home, complete with that favourite chair that should have been thrown out long ago (but in a much better condition). 

Oh and, there's all this space. You can stretch your legs out all you want and the tip of your toes won't even touch the seat in front of you!!! Of course the limitlessness of your limbs is so incomprehensible that you can't help but put it to the test with a further series of leg stretches, knee jerks and foot flaps. 

Round about now, mid-foot flap, an impossibly good looking flight attendant will probably pop up next to you with a little notepad and ask what you'd like to drink.

It's all slightly flabbergasting, so you will sensibly opt for a sparkling water... only to see the rest of your fancy compatriots sipping away at tall glasses of bubbly or G&Ts. 

Lesson: business class is no place to be sensible and modest. When they come over with that little notepad, be as extravagant as your trained mediocrity will allow. Even if you don't drink alcohol, indulge your cravings and opt for that delicious soft drink you haven't had in years. 

Settling in - that goodie bag

Photo: Salt Water Coffee

So, once you've ordered a glass of real champagne to wash your sparkling water down with, it's time to explore your seat. 

In Qatar's business class seats are arranged in rows of six: two on each of the flanks and two in the middle. Adjacent seats are divided by a generous armrest, which also contains all the important gadgets for your comfort. 

Laid out neatly on your seat, or perhaps tucked into a crevice of said armrest, you will find a soft package in transparent cellophane plastic - exciting times - and just before take-off the flight attendant will bring you a crisp-looking toiletry bag.

Now, of course you're curious about the contents, but if you're wanting to blend in with the crowd, avoid tearing these prezzies open like a kid at his first Christmas. Instead, set them aside nonchalantly till at least half-an-hour into the flight, then casually stare off into the distance while prying open first the one and then the other, glancing at the contents with only the slightest bit of disdain. (It's okay to do a happy dance on the inside) 

In the mean time don't let your imagination run too wild, conjuring up images of impossibly extravagant gifts. The soft little present typically contain socks, ear plugs, an eye mask and a tiny toothbrush, while the toiletry bag has delicious-smelling selection of perfume/cologne, lip balm and hand cream.

Still, pretty damn cool!

First meal - three courses of confusion

Photo: Salt Water Coffee

Forget the simple "chicken or beef" option! No, no, no! In business class you're presented with an entire menu - appetizers, starters, mains, dessert, cheese platters, the works! 

Which is great if you're accustomed to it, but caught unawares, there's sure to be a bit of fumbling and stumbling till you finally just sort pick the simplest sounding main. Which you will want to kick yourself about once again when everyone around you enjoys an entire spread and you get to pick away at only one dish.

Don't be alarmed when the impossibly good looking flight attendant returns with two rectangles of pure white REAL LINEN - one goes on your tray table (which, by the way, folds out of the side of the arm rest, not the back of the seat in front of you) and the other gets placed gently on your lap - REAL CERAMIC salt and pepper shakers and an array of tiny sauces in REAL GLASS bottles. 

Of course you get to order a drink with your meal, and if you're thinking of sampling a glass of wine, be warned... there's a menu for that too. A wine list if you will.

Obviously you wouldn't have heard of most of the blends and brands before, so just pick whichever sounds like it might suit your mood. I would recommend the Chateau Cantenac Brown 1998. The greatest part of your meal will be the way your glass just keeps getting topped up... you might actually get to the point where you raise your hand and give a slight shake of the head. Like a real pro. 

Entertainment factor - of faraway screens and hidden remotes

Kind of like this, but just a bit different. Photo: Jaunted

So, just when you would have started feeling all comfortable and ready for the latest block buster, the next stumbling block occurs.

The screen is on the back of the seat in front of you. The one that's so far you can't even touch it with your outstretched toes. 

And then you think: "Seriously?! All this excessive comfort and then they expect you to keep leaning back and forth to operate their precious Oryx Entertainment system. Serious flaw, buddies!"

Well, errrm... before you get in too much of a huff... they don't.

There's actually a remote tucked snuggly away into a compartment of your arm rest. Lift up the flap closest to the back of your seat, press the little release button and the remote will pop right out. Now, as with most remotes, you will find that there are lots of buttons with no real use. So, take a moment to locate the ‘home,' ‘screen,' ‘play,' ‘pause,' ‘stop,' and ‘volume' buttons. Once you have that down, you're A-for-away!

Nap time - seat to slouchy chair to bed

Photo: Fly me funky

The best thing about business class is undoubtedly the fact that you need not spend the entire flight upright like a meerkat in the Namib. 

But... how to work the seat?!

It's actually not that hard. Your magical armrest holds power once more in the form of tiny round buttons imbued with easy-to-understand images of what will happen to the seat should you press a certain one.

The great thing is you can also press a button again to stop the seat from moving any further. Remember this when you press the ‘bed' button and the sudden loss of control - akin to falling - freaks you out to the extent that you try to jump up out of your seat only to be ricocheted back by your seatbelt.

Practice the process once or twice and by the time the cabin crew dim the lights, shut the blinds and bring your super cozy - if not sexy - PJs, you'll be ready for your most heavenly in-flight sleep yet. 

Final stretch - adaptation

Photo: Shutterstock

The final surprise business class will spring on you is the speed with which you manage to adapt. 

Yes, by the first stopover - which you will get to spend in the suave business lounge with lots of free food, drinks and coffee in Doha if you fly Qatar - you'll be rocking all those once unfamiliar gadgets and maneuvering that seat like a pro.

If you're lucky a new rookie will move in next to you as you leave the layover destination and you will either be able to gently help them learn the ropes... or watch their pathetic blunderings from blasé, hooded eyes while sipping a G&T.


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