Most travellers dream of an upgrade. The mysterious world behind the curtain is tantalising, and made all the more desirable by the short taste of luxury we see as we traipse like cattle into the live export rows just behind the luggage at the tail of the aircraft. We dream of fountains of champagne and strawberries or about legroom that is measured by comparison to outback cattle stations. We grip our boarding passes like lottery tickets – always hoping some last minute balance calculation will propel us into this new world. One thing we forget while lost in the rapturous fantasies of the deluded, is the relationship changing fallout of being actually selected over family and friends to join the elite at the pointy end of the plane.
After years of nursing dashed dreams in row 482, it finally happened to me with Garuda Indonesia on the way to Indonesia (I was travelling as a part of a community service tour, so thoughts of karmic justice could easily be cited). While I am writing from the decadence of Row 8, I can attest that the experience is not without its trials. Sure, the services and comfort are exemplary and I cannot praise my Garuda Indonesia host (or the QANTAS lounge staff who were so accommodation before departure) highly enough for the way I have been treated along with my colleagues over the past few hours. The service is great, the trouble lies elsewhere – it’s a matter of justification.
The lurch in my stomach came not as we lifted from the tarmac, instead that churn was visited upon my mid-section a day earlier than usual when Deb, the tour organiser bailed me up, and with a scarcely concealed air of righteous indignity, informed me that it was I who had been volunteered as tribute. Immediately my mind raced through the options. Part of me wanted to pump the air and embrace my destiny, which might have been understandable, but a (only very slightly) larger part of my was crushed with the realisation that – as a member of a group – I could not in good faith waltz in (as I had) at the last minute to a service trip that was years in the planning, and then accept an upgrade as if it was my birthright. The spoils, although so painfully close to my grasp, would have to go to one more deserving than I. This is the bittersweet reality for an upgrade recipient. If you didn’t pay your way to luxury, magnanimity becomes of key importance. So it was, with great strength of will, that I set about organising that my berth be swapped with Deb, who as the trip organiser and long-term advocate of the program, probably deserved the opportunity in the front seat.
Why then am I sitting here you may ask? Well that is thanks to a rule of airline etiquette I’d quite forgotten (and about the calibre of my companions’ characters). When something like this happens to a group, two things can transpire. Either the group binds together and celebrate through clenched teeth or, like predators; they could circle in on the group member with the kill and devour him. So it is, by the good grace of my friends (as much as by the fortune of Garuda Indonesia’s seating plan) that I am here, despite having offered my prize to the altar of proper behaviour.
The others did not miss out completely. We were able to arrange, with the business lounge, entry for my companions, which may have softened the blow somewhat, even if it did not show on their faces as they trudged back to row 37. Once the seatbelt sign switches off, I will – mostly out of guilt – follow them back with my face contorted into a visage of contrition, not because that is what you are supposed to do, but because it’s lonely up here without someone with whom to share the glory.
(As it later turned out, I had a business ticket for the return journey and after the bedlam of escaping Bali with volcanoes erupting all over the place, I was more than happy to relinquish my seat to Deb, so justice was served in the end!)
If you ever get the opportunity to travel in business class, do not underestimate the service provided by the staff at Garuda Indonesia, or at the QANTAS Lounge. We were shown incredible hospitality by our concierge while we waited to board and, on the plane; I found business travel to be everything I’d hoped it would be. I made the most of the experience, however, as my budget won’t allow it to happen again!