Thursday, August 24, 2006

Above, a simple tale of compare and contrast...

... below, well, the pictures tell the story but we wrote another one anyway.

The dizzying heights, the terrifying lows

What goes up must come down. Teddy de Burca Jnr. gets a taste for a habit he can’t afford to keep – flying business class

If you were ever wondering what’s different between business class and economy class on internal flights in Vietnam, the answer is, perhaps obviously, food and space.

Due to incredibly bad organisation on my part, my intended flight to Danang was fully booked, but there was space in business class, said the cunning woman at my local Vietnam Airlines ticket outlet. I had a tight schedule and for another couple of hundred thousand Vietnam dong it didn’t seem totally outrageous.

Anyway I was also curious to fly down with the jet setters on business and return with my fellow hoi polloi in economy. And how pleased was I when I received an invitation to the business class lounge where I could no doubt practice rubbing shoulders with the other go-getters.

Besides being the only person in shorts and a garish orange t-shirt, I admit I felt a bit inadequate in the mobile phone department and a laptop and a suitcase might have helped me assimilate better than my rucksack and plastic bag containing my toiletries and sandals. Still I guess they just took me for a flash young traveller – the sort who might have made millions after inventing a clip on-speedometer for snowboards and is now seeing the world at his leisure.

Now for a 55 minute flight between Danang and Hanoi, you’d hardly be bothered by a bit of discomfort, but the first difference on the plane is not surprisingly space – where there are three chairs down the back, up front there are only two. This will reduce the chances of a) your neighbour nodding off on your shoulder and snoring in your ear b) your neighbour elbowing you in the head when he turns the pages of his newspaper or c) everyone standing up awkwardly when someone on the inside has to go the toilet.

Then there’s the freshly prepared face towels, not the thin wet paper ones in wee plastic bags. You’re also presented with a juice. There’s also the marked increase in cordiality: “Good morning, sir!” It's all very pleasant.

Next up is the meal – as opposed to a bread bun with some ham, a shred or two of lettuce and a splodge of mayonnaise and a shot of water to wash it down (described as an “indefinable sandwich and a beaker of water” by one disgruntled punter), you are offered a piece of salmon sashimi, fish mousse on bread and insalata caprese (yes, that’s mozzarella and tomato in English, but when in business class it’s hard not to assume a pompous air).

On the side there’s a cloth napkin, a glass of water and a cup for coffee or tea. Why it was like a party in Vienna after a night at the opera.

Of course, on the way back to Hanoi I was back to where I belong, elbows drawn like knives and scrunched up in the cheap seats.

For this lowly travel writer, it was a brief moment in the sun sitting in business class – I’ll have to wait till the next time I muck up my own schedule or have the pleasure of being bumped up (before every trip I pray for it). Every now and then I can afford to live it up but sadly flying business class would be like drinking champagne on a Sprite budget.

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