About a year ago, I slept under a truck for the first time. The hardened airline reviewer would point out here that the seat could have been softer and that it seemed stuck in the fully-reclined position, but it was still surprisingly comfortable: a constant gentle breeze, the sleep-inducing smell of grease. Now, moving on and up, I have just flown Business Class for the first time, courtesy Etihad. I had expected it would be a step up from Economy, but even then I was pleasantly surprised.
So far I had only glimpsed Business on my way to or from the hordes in Economy. Entering the aircraft, I’d see superior people in outsize seats drinking drinks from glass glasses. And while deplaning I’d see that they’d trashed the cabin by casually dropping everywhere blankets, pillows, headphones, unfurled newspapers and little packets of snacks I hadn’t been given. It looked nice and spacious, but I couldn’t have imagined just how much it heightened the experience of flying.
While flying Economy, my awareness is constantly on little annoyances: jostling elbows with the person in the next seat, rearing to move my nose out of the way of the rapidly reclining seat in front, desperate angular stretches, the paper-dance challenge of eating off a tiny tray, wondering where my left shoe could have vanished to. Business proved miraculously free of such bothers. I could sprawl any way I wanted, adjust my full-length seat with chiropractic finesse, bend the bendy headrest to keep neck-jerk at bay, eat well and off real plates while being fussed over.
Settled in and free from niggling distractions, I became aware of something that’s always present while flying, but sometimes obscured. It’s a floaty, dissociated, hyper-aware feeling that’s characteristic of flying, a state of mind that happens to be the opposite of that while lying on the ground. It comes, I think, from the fact that when we are flying in a plane, we are nowhere in particular. There is no place, only time. Many experiences in life will manage to halt time (for a while, at least), but flying comfortably in a plane is the only one I can think of that will give us a sense of placelessness. This is its own strange and familiar form of luxury: we all have known what it is to be cosily ensconced with no concept of place, with all our needs taken care of, biding our time to step out. We all were born Business, then had to settle for Economy.