In my previous life as an IT person and eventually a Functional Director for a very large ‘Blue Chip’ global American I.T. manufacturer, part of my role required I undertake international travel. There were many reasons for this type of activity over a twenty something years career such as technical support, client meetings, attending and giving training courses for new software product releases, project management meetings, meetings about meetings, meetings to discuss what we knew and more meetings to discuss what we didn’t know and anything else that fell in-between; consequently my arse was often wedged into an aeroplane seat built to accommodate a size zero model who would find getting her arse and thighs in there pretty much tough going.
I can’t begin to tell you how I delighted in the vagaries of air travel; for example negotiating that plastic table with drinks and food precariously perched on it just as the numpty in the window seat needed to go for a waz whilst the aisle was completely blocked by a trolley and two flight attendants. Or even better, given that the table was a feature of the back of the chair in front of me and as such not under my control, it has not been unknown for the incumbent of that seat to recline at speed and with such force that the contents of my flimsy table would be jettisoned fairly and squarely over me. Over time I got smart and stopped dressing up for air travel and just wore anything that a quick hose down wouldn’t sort. It got so I would take at least one change of clothes in my hand luggage as there were a few occasions when I was in one country whilst my luggage was a tourist in another; on one occasion I arrived home before my wayward luggage turned up two days later. Had I known that the last I was to have seen of it was at the check-in desk on the outward bound leg of my journey, I would have simply saved myself endless time and trouble by not bothering my arse to pack it and lug it there in the first place.
I could have merely headed off on my travels with one clean pair of knickers, a tooth brush and one non crease business suit and blouse with suitable shoes in my hand luggage. The downside of this of course is that I'd end up performing a juggling act eking out a meagre ‘capsule’ wardrobe over a three day period whilst trying not to resemble a disheveled old bag lady with hygiene problems. But at least you weren’t office bound first thing Monday morning at your excruciatingly early breakfast meeting still in the stained and crumpled outfit of the unfortunate slightly insane looking international traveller. Of course an occasional solution was that the company would reimburse me for the purchase of a blouse here, some underwear there, to tide me over when I could prove my case had gone awol but it got to be so regular they assumed I was a lazy bint and just fibbed about the loss of my case so that I could expand my wardrobe at their expense from each country that I visited. If they’d seen the shite that I’d bought out of desperation and haste because my tight schedules didn’t allow for shopping trips then they may have revised that assumption. Looking like Bozo the clown was not a great ambassadorial look for the global corporation I was supposed to represent. Anyway, had that bloody suitcase of mine accrued air miles I’d have been laughing.
However, good background info as this might be, if you are still awake this far in, I have a tale to tell. As I progressed up the company ladder, greasy pole, whatever you may call it - I promise that I did that without any arselicking whatsoever, without the learning of funny handshakes, by being devoid of the backstabbing activities of some of my colleagues and by simply relying upon and being grateful for the bad judgement of those clearly bewildered people who for some reason thought I had talent and promoted me – as such with each step my perks improved. More often than not, I was booked to travel ‘club’ class; an oasis of comfort and joy away from screaming babies, queues for the loo’s, drunks sleeping with their head on your shoulder whilst they snored and dribbled over you and the low class punter that polluted the air for fifty seats around him because he didn’t have the good grace to stop dropping his guts whilst in such close company and in a pressurised area. Those were also the days when you could smoke aboard an airliner and kill your fellow passengers with extra concentrated and recycled passive smoke throughout the cabins. Bad as it was, at least that went some way to masking the fug from Mr Fartyarse’s backside.
And so in time, with club class being the order of the day, I became much more enamoured of the idea, the practicality and ease of international travel at spoilt brat level. No more slumming it in cattle class or being on a plane that sported an outside toilet. “No, I’d arrived”, I told myself smugly as I peered back at cattle class. My how I loved travelling and my smugness grew with each trip I took; that is until one day, recessions being what they are, the IT marketplace being what it was – a rapidly dwindling one with diminishing returns, subsequent layoffs and company closures - a dreaded circular on head office notepaper was placed onto my and every other managers desk. “Oh dear god”, we all shrieked as though we’d witnessed a disaster. “Oh for fuck sake”, cried another, as he grasped his desk to steady himself whilst his secretary rushed for the smelling salts lest he fall to the floor in a faint. And so the memo went:
“Given the recent downturn in company profits, poor performance in the marketplace as a whole coupled with poor financial projections for the 3rd and 4th quarter results, it has been decided that from now, all international travel will revert to economy class. Club class will be for exceptional circumstances only”.
Well you could have heard a pin drop and shipped in a team of Paramedics on standby such was the shock as it settled in. We moaned, complained, threatened to refuse business trips and manipulated anyone and everyone into reinstating our spoilt brat status but it fell on deaf ears but we knew the score. The top of the tree would be the ‘exceptions’ that got to travel club class; the exalted few that wouldn’t know a day’s work if it bit them on the arse; the people least likely to benefit from a stress free journey with some truly hard graft at the end of it.
And so it came to be. In time we learned to accept it, to realise that controlling costs saved more jobs and in return the company had a fighting chance of survival.
So, there I was one day, arranging with our newly appointed in house travel company, a trip to our manufacturing plant in Minnesota, USA. I wasn’t looking forward to the cramped conditions for an eight hour flight but this was a trip I couldn’t get out of. There was a three line whip on it.
“Okay Ms Mob”, said the travel agent as she went on to confirm the details of my flights, hotel and car details back to me. As I thanked her and went to replace the receiver, she said “you do know that as an introductory offer we are upgrading you to club class, don’t you”. I could have kissed her such was my joy at this news. I perked up immediately, checked she wasn’t on day release from the local loony bin, and promised to bring her back a gift for such generosity.
It was a laborious trip to the airport, hampered by bad weather and the usual traffic chaos on the M25 motorway which has earned the moniker of being the largest car park in Britain. I rushed to check-in and prepared to wave goodbye to my luggage and wish it a nice holiday wherever in ended up. But imagine my joy at being told I had been upgraded yet again to First Class? I was almost delirious at the prospect of travelling in true noboff style. Dear God, in the space of no time at all I had gone from being a rear gunner at the back of the plane to hobnobbing with the captain, the rich and famous and of course the elite members of the cabin crew. I could have danced a jig right there in the airport.
Due to the lateness of my arrival, I was fast tracked through. I felt like royalty what with someone carrying my hand luggage, whizzing me through security checks, and seeing to my every need. My head was spinning at the speed of it all but at the same time, I was aware of a woman, desperately trying to not only keep up with me but to surpass me if she so could. I knew the ‘type’; clearly a spoiled little madam with a huge sense of entitlement and little manners with it. She seemed clearly miffed that I was receiving such elite assistance but that didn’t dissuade her from barging into me at every turn in an attempt to somehow achieve one better than me by getting on that plane before me. I couldn’t believe the dirty looks she kept throwing my way and it became a battle of wits to keep one step ahead of her for it became my goal to thwart this new nemesis who was such a dreadful little bully. Finally, when we reached the departure lounge we parted ways. Me, unnoticed by her into the first class lounge, her, for a quick dash through duty free for her cheapo cigarettes and booze.
What a different world the other half live in compared to us mere mortals. This was better than anything I’d experienced before or was likely to again. But it was all too short lived for I was being gently led by the elbow, towards the plane because first class passengers board first, in a gentle an orderly manner and without someone behind me dead legging me with their swinging hand luggage as they push forward like eejits trying to get inside the shops for the January sales.
“Hello madam, may I take your coat?”, asked the rather posh flight attendant smiling widely like I was ‘someone’ as she took my jacket and hung it on a hanger in the wardrobe.
“Champagne madam?”, she enquired as I settled into the extra wide beige leather seat that could easily accommodate four size 12 models and leave room to spare.
I settled back into a chair that was sheer bliss and picked up the film guide that listed the twelve or so films that I could choose from to watch on my individual DVD screen. This was in the day when this technology was prohibitively expensive for your average punter so I was mightily impressed.
“Bellini’s madam?, how many would you like?”, she asked, before returning with a beautifully laid out platter of Bellini’s, wild smoked salmon, Beluga caviar and soured cream. It was a Kodak moment if ever there was one. God I could have cried at the sheer luxury of it all.
I was in seventh heaven and thought life couldn’t get any better when what do you know, hiking her own hand luggage and dripping with sweat and hair stuck to her forehead, along comes little miss spoilt madam who on seeing me tooled up to the hilt with superior alcohol and food, stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh my God”, I thought, hiding my absolute delight, as I registered the look of shock and horror on her face that perhaps in her eyes I was a ‘someone’ to be reckoned with after all and that she’d blown her chance by being insufferably rude to me. It was a moment that I shall never forget to my dying day. She quickly gathered herself and moved on and I turned my head and watched her struggle through first class, right through club class and into ‘economy’ class and then lost sight of her in the throng of people vying for the best overhead locker to store their duty free.
I tried, really tried, not to let those feelings if smugness overwhelm me for it isn’t a nice thing to do but I asked God for forgiveness this one time and completely indulged myself in a little smug delight at what happened. Half an hour into the flight I rose to stretch my legs and strode to the back of the first class area.
Whilst I was stretching, someone in club class caught my eye. I couldn’t be sure, so I looked again, and looked some more. Just as I was scanning his face in my quest to see if it really was him, he looked straight at me and our eyes locked. “Dear God”, I muttered when I realised it was the head of my division, a man so very full of himself, a deeply unpopular man because of his lack of fair play with several acts of cronyism under his belt, travelling to the same conference that I was. His face was a picture when he recognised who I was and that whilst he was in club class, here was one of his management team larging it up big time in first class.
“Oh hi John", I said, as I smiled, hugging this golden moment to myself.
“Oh erm, hello Mob”, he stuttered, as his face reddened with obvious anger at my one-upmanship and clearly racking his brain as to how I’d flouted the company travel policy to get myself out of cattle class and into first class.
“Catch you later John”, I said as the flight attendant asked me if I wanted to have my in flight meal now or wait until later.
On that I turned my back, headed back to my seat and wondered at how life can sometimes come up trumps when you least expected it.
I’m no longer smug about such things, I’ve matured and realise that material things are worthless in the scheme of things. But that day, for once in my life, I realised that there was a God after all.....