Business Class: How the other half flies
THE woman in the next door cubicle had on leopard skin tights and a 'Hello Kitty' singlet, two sizes too small.
She looked like she was heading to the gym, except for her bed socks.
She summoned the attendant and asked for an extra blanket and a softer pillow. Ten minutes later she flagged down another attendant complaining of cramped calves.
A third attendant, the most senior, was summoned and was advised that the (expletive) airline should improve its (expletive) standards.
I looked around. Serene people were stretched out flat under soft duvets, or upright quietly tapping keyboards. They had dined on pan-fried salmon and crispy triple-cooked black Angus short ribs, washed down with a French chardonnay, followed by vintage port and pralines.
They had leg room, pods of privacy, no more than four seats to a row and attendants who greeted them by name. It seemed ironic.
Back in economy class, a young mother was doubtlessly wrestling with an infant on her lap, caught between a chattering maven and a man with flatulence.
I am not an envious person, but there have been times before a long-haul flight when I would have killed to have a seat row with a number less than 20.
The prospect of battling for knee space with a bulging seat pocket, or a sweaty neighbour for 13 hours is never appealing. According to one study the experience is made worse by filing past those already sipping champagne and plumping up their pillows for the night. It's hard not to covet riches.
I was in my early twenties when I first flew BC.
An airline wanted to promote its new service to Sydney and a group of journalists was invited to join the inaugural flight.
The most seasoned of the invited hacks - a well-known business writer fuelled by alcohol - was seated next to me. While I avidly listened to the safety instructions, she downed her third champagne.
She fell asleep before we left the tarmac and didn't wake until we touched down. The next morning, she missed the return flight.
A few days later, a story appeared under her byline raving about the service, the food and the sleep-inducing seats.
In the 50 or so years since, I estimate I have circumnavigated the globe at least three dozen times, but I have travelled BC less than a handful of those. I am always excited, even by the goody bags that contain tiny toothbrushes, skin products, eye masks and soft socks.
Apparently, in first class - where I have never been - they also throw in jimjams.
You can spot the regular high fliers. They dress down, rather than up.
Armani jeans and crisp shirts are the mode de rigueur. Casual but always tasteful.
Qantas recently introduced a dress code for its BC lounges, at the request of other lounge users, banning jandals, boardshorts and crop tops.
On another of my BC trips - again with a bunch of hacks - we were advised by the tour organiser to dress smartly to guarantee we would be upgraded.
One of the party must have missed the memo and arrived wearing a woollen sweater, a battered backpack and trackies with dog hairs. We formed a tight circle around her as we shuffled past the check-in desk.
Stories abound about bad behaviour in BC. Drinking, demanding special services and general boorishness are widely reported.
US psychologist Paul Piff, who studies social hierarchy, has coined the term the "Asshole Effect", which means the richer people are, the ruder they can be. Witness Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-ah, who forced a plane to return to the gate when her nuts were delivered in a bag rather than a bowl.
Apart from the potty-mouthed woman in the animal print tights, I have experienced the opposite.
On one flight from Hong Kong to Auckland, when my husband and I were seated in separate rows, my nearest neighbour - a rich-lister - insisted on swapping seats so we could be together.
Tempting as it is to upgrade, however, most of us will never experience how the other half flies unless we win the lottery. Less than 10 per cent of travellers fly premium class. Most are business people or the SKI set - baby boomers spending the kids' inheritance.
10 reasons to upgrade
1. Business lounges. Like private clubs. Hot showers, hairdryers, unlimited food and drink. Quiet.
2. No queues anywhere. Even at the toilets.
3. Flat beds. No more screwed backs.
4. Fast service. No waiting for the food trolley to find they no longer have your choice.
5. No obvious barf bags.
6. Wide screens and headsets that block out noise.
7. Breakfast wake-up calls. Truly. You can sleep through the night.
8. Goody bags.
9. Luggage art. Mainly Louis Vuitton.
10. White linen tray cloths and warm nuts in a bowl.
Venetia Sherson travelled Business Class to London on Cathay Pacific.