Up, up and … oh god, not again

Up, up and … oh god, not again


AIR travel used to be so glamorous: a car to the airport and valet parking, a short stint in the lounge, on to the plane with a glass of bubbly, and away. When did that change, I wonder? I think the answer is: this week.

Sure, air travel still has its moments. My favoured international carrier, Singapore, still knows how to look after your correspondent and The Companion when we’re travelling overseas. Its new First Class berths are, well, first class. The flight attendants are gorgeous and simultaneously attentive and unobtrusive - exactly as it should be. And it’s not the airline’s fault that The Companion booked a 13-hour stopover in Singapore because he can’t do the maths necessary to deal with a 24-hour clock. Simple time-zone calculations routinely do The Companion’s head in - it’s fortunate the cable television service has an electronic program guide, otherwise goodness knows what he’d be recording when he means to be recording the tennis or the golf. Next time, we’ll have our concierge take care of travel arrangements.

'When you travel a lot, then the time spent sitting on the plane is extremely valuable. It should be quiet, serene, still.'

Domestic travel is a different proposition altogether. And we’ve experienced a bit of it the past fortnight, with flights to Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Hobart, Brisbane and Melbourne. It’s the semi-regular inspection tour of the property portfolio and as of tonight, as I sit with a glass of Boërl & Kroff and reflect, I conclude that I’m officially done with domestic air travel. I’m going to have the concierge take care of the property inspections, too, next time. And since the government changed the rules on deductibility of travel expenses for inspecting rental properties, it’ll probably be a hell of a lot cheaper next time, too.

The physical process of getting on to the plane is OK. The lounges are fine, and you don’t have to be in them for long. I have noticed, though, that by the time the airline boards the One World members and platinum or gold this and that, and Business Class passengers, and anyone with young children, and old people, and people with a disability, there’s more people lined up to board than there are left sitting in the lounge waiting for the general boarding call. Something needs to be done about this.

'It finally dawned on me why they bother with the curtain between classes at all: it’s so that we in Business Class don’t realise that we’re being served the same food as those in Economy.'

No, the main problem is the configuration of the aircraft. When you travel a lot - either a long distance in one go, or lots of short-haul flights like in the past fortnight - then the time spent sitting on the plane is extremely valuable. It should be quiet, serene, still. It should be refreshing, not draining. The front of the A380 is ideal in this respect. 

The front of a 737-800, or an A320, less so. The physical separation between classes amounts to a sheet of translucent purple perspex, or a flimsy curtain. This week, it finally dawned on me why they bother with the curtain at all: it’s so that we in Business Class don’t realise that we’re being served the same food as those in Economy. And the perspex doesn’t stop the sounds of the crying kids at all.

I should clarify that I am not anti-kids on planes. I am not a monster. Families must travel, sometimes families include infants, and infants often struggle with air travel because they cannot equalise the pressure in their inner ears. They are often in genuine distress. They’re not the ones that annoy me. 

In truth, the thing that annoys me most about domestic air travel really is that the trips are so short. Even the haul over the Nullarbor to Perth is a doddle compared to the schlep from Sydney to LA or from Perth to London. Just as you’ve settled down in the warm embrace of whatever they’ve served you as you came on board, and selected the best of the movies or TV shows (you must see People of Earth, if you can) on the entertainment system, the Captain is about to put the seatbelt sign on and it is time to stow your tray and make sure your seat back is in the upright position. Then you’ve got the whole disembarking and luggage farrago to contend with. Only once did our luggage go to a different destination than we did. I guess we were lucky.

I’ve just had a thought. We’ve got the time, so next time I might plan a road trip to do the property inspections. Sure, the expense won’t be deductible, but they weren’t this time, either - and if it works out as I’ve just thought it might, we can stay in some of our homes en route, and swap vehicles at each of the stops to keep it interesting and share around the mileage.

Now you’re talking. This is an idea that I might do some work on myself. And it also retains what is rapidly becoming the single most appealing aspect of domestic travel: very few time zone changes to befuddle and bemuse The Companion. I’ll keep you posted.