High-fliers don't heed the poverty gap

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 14:00 09/08/2014
cattle class, economy
REUTERS

CLASS ABOVE: Life in cattle class is never quite the same after flying business.

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: I would like to be rich but not too rich.

Being too rich, it seems to me, would be a constant guilt trip.

How, for instance, could you enjoy your super-yacht or Lamborghini when you don't have to go far to see abject poverty.

On a larger scale, it really is unconscionable that we allow whole populations to eke out miserable, poverty stricken lives while we, in developed countries, enjoy an abundance of adequacy.

Needless to say, I'm not terribly comfortable with the big gap between the rich and poor but I'm a lot more comfortable with it at home than I am with the gap between poor and rich countries and the rich and poor abroad.

Of course I believe people should be rewarded for their efforts, and unless you want a society where equality and therefore mediocrity and low standards are forced on everyone, some differentiation needs to occur.

Part of the rich-poor gap is simply due to success breeding success and competition spawning the usual hierarchies. That appears to be the human condition and we interfere with it too much at our peril.

In places like New Zealand, where the gap is, relatively speaking, not that large, we live with it fairly philosophically, without feeling any revolutionary anger or jealousy. It's the status quo, we hope to improve our own status and if people miss out, that's just life.

Generally speaking, we don't have our faces rubbed in the rich-poor divide very often, mostly because rich people prefer to keep a low profile and to mix socially with themselves.

One of the few places we do come uncomfortably close to the difference is international travel.

Few can resist a twinge of envy when walking through business class to the cheap seats at the back of the aeroplane where inevitably you - if you are me - will be sandwiched between the two biggest fellow passengers for the next 12 hours.

When our national airline offered to upgrade me from economy to business premier class for the London to Los Angeles leg, recently, I had to think hard and carefully about the offer.

I had in mind a movie I saw about the life of Lord Byron, or was it Lady Godiva? Anyway, in the movie Lady Godiva takes Lord Byron out to a fancy restaurant in which he orders only potatoes. Lady Godiva encourages him to fill his boots but he demurs saying if he orders anything better it would be too painful going back to his normal deprived life.

I thought economy class might be too much to bear if I had a taste of business class travel, so I pondered the dilemma for all of a milli-second and, before you could say Karl Marx, I was heading down the lane reserved for the big payers.

Soon I was settling into my seat and wallowing in the space that allowed me to stretch my legs and put up my feet.

As a new boy, I had to take my lead from more seasoned business class travellers and watched a hard-faced business type immediately remove his shoes and socks and and don the blue, purple and pink-banded socks, found in the premier pack.

Then attendants Kenneth and Hakan were around with juice and hot flannels while I fastened my seat belt, which in business class comes with a leather pad where it wraps around the hip area. Other facilities are also a cut above. The movie screen is bigger and is adjustable, so you can move it away from or towards yourself.

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A nifty feature is the tray table which slides under the screen and is laid with a white linen table cloth before the first snack - warm nuts, terrine and artichoke - is served. Even the toilet is subtly better. The bowl is white, the cubicle has a window and the wet wipes are made of cotton.

Soon Hakan was serving the entree of duck breast with toasted pecan, orange and radish salad with a manuka-honey mustard dressing, a concoction devised in association with famous New Zealand chef Peter Gordon. I chose an Obsidian merlot to accompany the entree and other dishes and the glass was constantly replenished as I worked my way through the menu.

At this stage, for some reason, I started to think of the North African immigrants and asylum seekers queuing up to risk their lives on leaky boats to cross to Sardinia (and hopefully a life in Europe), a journey, I expect, that makes even economy class look pretty luxurious.

You might think this image would make me feel too guilty to enjoy the business premier seat that, after dinner and a few movies, converted to a snug and pleasant bed. Not a bit of it.

It's all very well having high-minded principles about the unfairness of life but try walking in a rich person's shoes.

- The Press

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