Hear Ye! Since 1998.
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Jan 06

Tick one more thing off the “must do before I die” list

To my surprise, this aircraft has been fitted out with an internet connection. So I am fulfilling a goal to post to Hear Ye! from over 10km in the air. Getting quite a geeky kick out of being able to IM friends while airborne! But that’s not the “thing to do before I die” that this post is really about.

Singapore Airlines has an internet checkin feature where you get to select what seat you want up to 48 hours before flying. So I logged on a couple days ago to snatch my customary window seat for the Singapore-Sydney overnight flight home, when I realise that the schematic which shows the seat layout is a business class schematic (3 sets of 2 seats per row) and I’ve been already allocated 23H. I scanned through economy class and discovered that it was full up, and came to the gleeful realisation that I was the beneficiary of the overbooking practices of airlines – that is, they ran out of seats so they bumped me up to business class. Makes sense – the first few days of Chinese New Year have passed and people are returning home after having visited their families in Asia, so the flights back to Sydney are packed during this time. I had an aisle seat, and there were no other free slots, but as if that mattered – I was flying business class!

I love planes and flying long-haul flights (that, and liking the humid South-east Asian weather are two of my idiosyncracies most people baulk at), so when departure day arrives, I’m all excited. Finally, I get to travel in business class which I haven’t done since I was about 8 and back then they didn’t have fully reclining beds. Furthermore, I get to use for the first time my newly acquired Gold Krisflyer status (20kg extra luggage, fast check-in in the Gold queue, luggage is unloaded first from the plane so wait times at the baggage carousel are minimised, access to Star Alliance lounges and I get to board the plane first to avoid the rush for overhead luggage).

I arrive at KLIA check-in with only a 20kg backpack (it only holds so much stuff) and the lady tells me that there is another passenger bound for Sydney with a 14kg suitcase which he hasn’t been able to check-in because he was already way over his limit. “Would you mind checking-in his luggage on your allowance, sir?” she asks. Of course I don’t mind – everytime my mum goes back to Singapore we run into the same problem so it’s nice to be able to return the favour. She completes the check-in process and hands me my boarding pass, which I see in shock, is printed on an economy class template.

“Sorry, I should have mentioned this before, but could I get a window seat?”
“Hmm… sorry, this is a very full flight, I can’t move you.”
“Oh,” I stammer, “that’s um… okay. Could I check what class the seat is in?”

She gives me a funny look, and after a bit of tapping on the computer says, “it’s in economy class. It’s a 747, so it’s a bigger plane. You’re on the upper deck where economy class starts in row 22.”

I look at her in disbelief – since when did the upper deck of a 747 have economy class seats? I am shattered, and feel somewhat depressed on the first KL-Singapore flight.

I drop by the Star Alliance lounge when I get to Singapore airport, but it’s nothing special. By the time I arrive at the gate, a huge queue has already formed leading to the metal detectors and security checkpoint. I’m moping at this point, and when the gate staff inspect my boarding pass and say, “One moment sir, we are going to have to pull you aside for a moment,” all I could think was, “What now?!” Was I on some Interpol watchlist? Were they going to take me into a room and strip search me?

I’m standing off to the side for a few minutes when one of the staff bounds up to me and says with a smile, “Here’s your new boarding pass with a new seat!” With a start, I realise it’s for seat 3F, handwritten on a Raffles Class boarding pass. That really made my day. But wait, there’s more…

When I board the plane, a stewardess leads me to my seat. She leads me to the left, then down the aisle towards the nose of the plane. Ten seconds later, I realise I am walking in First Class.

First. Fucking. Class. It has to be a mistake. Any moment now the stewardess is going to realise it and turn me around. But no, she ushers me into a seat that’s bigger than my apartment’s sofa. That’s it, any moment now, someone is going to arrive and demand to know what I’m doing in their seat. But no, the aircraft doors are shut and I am still sitting in the first class cabin with three other passengers who actually look like they belong there. Any moment now, the stewardess is going to denounce my boarding pass is a forgery and declare I am an imposter. But no, she instead offers me a beverage. The plane takes off.

Since I was a kid I’ve always dreamed of flying in first, so much so that I put it on the “things to do before I die” (another idiosyncracy). Because the costs for travelling in anything but economy are outrageously obscene, I figured I had to win the lottery or rob a bank or similar to be able to fulfil it. So now I’m like a kid in the candy store. Here are some observations about first class so far… since I’ll probably never be flying it again in my life:

  • The stewardesses they use here are leading and chief ones (green and red sarong kebayas).
  • When they need to explain something to you, they kneel on the floor so they are looking up at you rather than the other way around.
  • They ask before pushback what beverage you want to be served after take-off.
  • You get to choose when you want to eat and when to be waken up from the bed.
  • Personal service – being addressed by name by the attendants.
  • The meal menu is pretty cool. I’ll see if I can sneak one out.
  • Toilets are roughly the same as economy class ones, but with a few more amenities.
  • Profit margins on first class must be huge. On an overbooked flight, out of 12 seats, only 4 are occupied (and only 2 are paying customers, the other one is SIA staff).
  • Laptop power port. I think business class has them as well.
  • Dolby surround active noise cancelling headphones – they pretty much block out 90% of the sounds from the four jet engines.
  • Stationery set, reclining chair/bed, large video screen for movies, etc. Mental!
  • The cabin lights are switched on in the morning only when everyone has awoken.
  • Sleeping in the bed is similar to sleeping in a train couchette compartment – gentle rocking. A proper bed is naturally more comfortable (perhaps in the new A380s?).
  • Meals are freshly prepared and come on a tablecloth. Can mix and match meals and request as much food and drink as you want.
  • Offered newspapers and magazines to read.
  • Despite this, First Class is so not worth the money people pay for it. But what luxury goods and services ever are?

I am so excited I can’t sleep. I wonder if they bumped me all the way up because I helped the guy out at check-in? That’s the only reason I can think of upgrading me instead of pushing a business class passenger up…