I love travelling, but hate the travel — the military-industrial regimen of lining up to check in, lining up to clear security, lining up again to board the flight. And, worst of all, cramming my creaking 6 foot 5 inch frame into a chair meant for pygmies, particularly such pygmies as do not mind hours of physical intimacy with complete strangers. In an alchemy measured in inches — 1.2 inch extra seat width, 7 inches extra seat pitch, 0.5 inches of plastic partition — a business class ticket transforms my grim apprehension of long-haul flights into pleasurable anticipation of a private little bubble floating 10 km above the earth.
The fine bubbles proffered at the beginning of the flight help you cut loose from the clamour of the airport, and I’ve never — ever — refused a glass of bubbly. As soon as the announcements permit, I recline the seat as far back as it will go, plug the headphones in, and check out the entertainment system. I’m learning from my son, whose primary criterion for rating an airline is the selection of its movies, and the JAL playlist has plenty to offer, even if I find the first choice, 12 Years a Slave, claustrophobic in its intensity and violence, and switch mid-way to The Dallas Buyer’s Club, a gripping docu-drama of an early HIV victim forcing the US government’s hand on introduction of anti-retroviral drugs.
I turn away the snacks and the liquor trolley, but select a Bordeaux to go with my dinner. The wine is deep and satisfying, but my vegetarian status means I get a quite unremarkable Indian meal of rice, dal and paneer. I lean over the partition that separates me from another travel writer, Kruttika, who is clearly relishing her bento box — eyes travelling from the decorative offerings in their little squares, to the brief, tantalising descriptions, chopsticks pausing in mid-air as a new flavour is experienced. We conscientious objectors have our moments of defeat.
I return to my bubble, wiggle my toes in the ample air space above the fuselage floor, and select Rush. My son would approve of this selection, a depiction of the rivalry between the golden-haired racing champion James Hunt, and the buck-toothed Niki Lauda, nicknamed The Rat. Since you’ve probably never heard of James Hunt, you know who prevailed, but the film is extremely absorbing, and I only looked up once, when I realise my throat was parched.
That’s all you really have to do, look up once — JAL cabin staff are attentive to a fault, and within seconds, chilled water was at my elbow, served with a smile, and the economical, graceful gestures that are a hallmark of Japanese deportment.
Back into the bubble. Ok, I don’t really mind the travel.