Osaka Kansai International Airport, Japan — I was looking forward to the first leg of the long schlep to Johannesburg if for no other reason than because it was on the new Airbus A380 — the double-decker behemoth. I hadn’t yet flown in one. As I boarded through the front main door of Thai Airlines TG623, I expected seat 31H to be “to the right.”
“31H?…go through…to the left.”
Wait. What? To the left? I’d been accustomed to turning right into economy class. But on this plane, economy was the entire lower deck plus about twenty rows at the back of the upper deck.
As I settled into my preferred bulkhead aisle seat, I realized the only person in front of me was the pilot. The friendly flight attendant greeted me in traditional Thai style, the wai: a gentle bow with palms pressed together in a prayer-like position.
“That’s first and business class,” she gestured up the stairwell. “Here is Y class.”
“Y class, as in, ‘Why can’t I sit upstairs?’ or ‘Why are these seats as narrow as they’ve always been?’”
She laughed. I laughed.
With no one in front of me, beside me, or even around me, I felt like I had a veritable private room. I was in heaven — well, I was 35,000 feet closer to it, anyway.
We lumbered down the runway then lifted off with the ease of a ballerina in pirouette. Impressive, I thought.
I unfurled the video monitor and settled on Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. It was only fitting as I was on my way to South Africa. I’ve been known (only to myself, perhaps) to succumb to a lump in the throat on flights. (Perhaps it’s that proximity to heaven.) This film moved me.
It was interrupted briefly with “spicy chicken or Thai Curry?” I opted for the latter, though I nearly reconsidered when it was placed in front of me.
“STD? What’s that?” I asked. “Do you know what STD means?”
“It means ‘standard lunch’,” came the reply.
When I explained the other meaning of STD, the flight attendant’s eyes widened. “That’s not really a good label,” I said. Not what I need to think about just before tucking in.
My friendly flight attendant invited me to have a look upstairs after takeoff, “…but from the back to the economy class area.” So I did. When I reached the top of the spiral staircase, there was a menacing black and yellow strap across the last step. Then two sets of forbidding eyes glared down upon me.
“Can I help you?” inquired one of the flight attendants with a tone that suggested I bugger off.
“Well, uh,” I trembled as if kneeling before the Wizard of Oz, “the attendant downstairs said I could…well, you see, good and merciful sir, have a look around.”
“Oh, she did, did she?” (added for dramatic effect).
The gate was drawn back. I poked my head in. I nodded graciously, wordlessly. I retreated back down the stairs. I returned to my assigned seat.
About 10 minutes before touchdown, my amiable section attendant made an intriguing offer. “After we arrive in Bangkok, would you like to go upstairs with me?”
“Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse,” I said with a grin and laughter. She realized how that sounded. “If only you had asked me at the beginning of the flight, I would have been so much more comfortable.”
So, once the first class section had emptied (all 12 passengers), she took me by the hand (no, I’m embellishing that part) and gave me a personal mini-tour of the upper deck.
The first class area looked quite nice with a very large toilet area. “The business section is too busy, too crowded,” she said.
I thought so too.
Why is that?
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