The past three months I’ve been bouncing backwards and forwards across the Altlantic every few weeks or so. Before I have time to adjust to being back in one time zone I’m hurtled into the other, a seven-hour time difference with only the ten-hour flight to make the mental and physical adjustment.
I don’t have a problem with long flights, and flying on my own isn’t an issue; I enjoy it. But then I do appreciate how lucky I am. With the Captain trailing across the world he has built up a high-level flying status, which I can share. This gives me access to airline lounges (free food, drink, wifi and a quiet place to rest), priority boarding and luggage, immigration and security fast-tracking. Believe me, I know how lucky I am.
For someone who has never been comfortable with the concept of flying (which I appreciate has more to do with my issue of not being in control) and who has always believed her life will end in one of these transport devices, flying has not been easy.
Not so long ago I would spend hours in the air wide awake, white knuckles gripping the seat arms, watching every passenger for signs of suspicious behaviour. After I had counted how many rows of seats to each emergency exit, of course. When that changed I’m not entirely sure, perhaps when I was no longer travelling alone with three children on long haul flights. The stress of figuring how to get three children out of the plane in an emergency was exhausting and invariably brought on a migraine.
These days travelling solo relives me of that responsibility and with the additional luxury of using the hard earned facilities provided by the Captain’s KLM platinum status, flying is a positively relaxing experience.
However, unlike our daughter, who turns up for a flight and immediately gets upgraded to business class, this is something that has never happened to me. When travelling with the Captain, yes, on a couple of occasions, but on my own, never. To all intents and purposes I am invisible, which suits me fine. So long as I can go about my business, do what I need to do, I’m happy.
It’s everyone else that makes it interesting.
As soon as I attempt to check in at business class (an entitlement whatever ‘class’ I’m travelling in) invariably a light blue uniform will step in front of me with a tight smile and attempt to direct me to the long line snaking out the airport door where the regular people stand. These days I carry on walking, waving my ticket as I pass, with the same dismissive glance used by the business class male of the species.
Entry to the lounges is the same. Someone will jump up from behind a desk to imperiously suggest ‘madam’ may have wandered into the wrong place. No madam hasn’t thank you. Boarding the plane as priority has the same response.
Until my recent, regular forays to Houston I’d hate having to run the gauntlet of the sky blue army, whose radiant charms and rapt attention would be tuned in and turned on at the sight of any middle aged, overweight, belligerent male to the exclusion of everyone else.
The last three trips have been interesting. I don’t ask for much on a flight, actually nothing except a regular serving of hot tea (with milk) whenever beverages are served, and to be left to hunker down under a blanket with earplugs and eye mask for most of the flight.
How hard can tea be? Very, if the looks, sighs and general air of exasperation are anything to go by, while a neighbouring traveller of the male gender can stop a stewardess every five minutes for something and be met with simpering smiles and an ingratiating, ‘Of course sir’.
(The same male, sitting next to me, whose frame was so large it spilled halfway onto my seat, leaving me to spend ten hours bent away from him on my left, whilst avoiding being hit by stewardess with their food carts on my right.)
This air of distain crosses all airlines and genders of flight staff, and I don’t know why that should be. The only time I have been on the radar of any airline staff was during a flight from Vancouver to London with British Airways. For reasons we never discovered we were upgraded to first class. The service was awesome, nothing was too much trouble, the staff chatted and smiled at me, not only the Captain.
The reason for this was discovered halfway through the flight. The stewardess notifying me my seat number had been randomly selected by BA to complete a questionnaire on the level of service offered by cabin staff during the flight.
That said, it can still be a wonderful surprise when a genuine, warm hearted airline employee is in charge. The comfort of my last flight was in the capable hands of a female chief stewardess. She was not young, simpering or distracted.
She was took pride in her job and understood her customers were a priority. She was friendly and respectful to everyone, even those passengers who dared to travel with children. Nothing was too much trouble and even those belligerent males softened in the presence of her motherly administrations. Some were actually purring.
Be under no illusions, she was no pushover and that cabin ran like a well-oiled machine the whole flight. Even the younger cabin staff fell into line and seemed more calm and professional. The experience was a breath of fresh air.
And tea? No problem, whenever I needed it, with milk.
I’m so hoping she’s on my flight back to the Netherlands. KLM need more staff like her.