Would you pay out of your own pocket to fly business class?
I am the 1 per cent. I know this with certainty as I recline in my private business-class pod, flat-bed seat below me, mini-bar drinks beside me, iPad next to me, gigantic flatscreen TV in front of me. I am the 1 per cent.
It was a feeling that began to blossom deep inside a few hours ago when the chauffeur turned up to take me to the airport. He was smartly liveried and polite, taking my bag and opening the door to the leather-seated limo.
It was a notion that took hold as I wandered into the airport and straight to the business-class check-in line, which was empty, and then sailed through immigration and security with an express pass and a haughty stare.
It grew further in the lounge, as I tossed up the decision between Veuve Clicquot and Moet. It solidified as I brushed past the commoners in the boarding queue and went straight to the A380's top deck, to locate my pod, to get settled with more champagne.
And now here I am, reclining mid-air, surrounded by servants - sorry, air hostesses - enjoying a sumptuous feast of a meal and a few fancy drinks, and it's clear to me that I am the 1 per cent. Unfortunately, in about 12 hours' time I'll go back to being the 99 per cent. And I'll probably stay there for the rest of my life. So I need to enjoy this.
I can't actually afford to fly business class. Few people can. I'm here on a completely undeserved freebie to experience how the other half lives. And they live well.
This is Emirates business class, and it's like opening a trapdoor into a secret world, a completely different level of travel I'd previously not known existed. And maybe it was better that way. Maybe I shouldn't know. Because some day soon I'll have to go back to economy.
There is almost nothing recognisable about this style of travel. I would normally catch a tram and bus to get to the airport but today a chauffeur really did pick me up to whisk me out in airconditioned comfort.
At the airport I would normally join a long queue at check-in and eventually fight my way to the front to realise I'd forgotten to book an aisle seat and would be spending the next 12 hours having elbow fights with two complete strangers in the middle seats.
Today there was no queue and I didn't have to worry about where I'd be sitting on the plane, because the Emirates business pods are enormous and the nearest elbow will belong to the hostie bringing me my champagne.
No queue at customs, no queue at security. In the parallel universe of business class you're spared these petty annoyances. Through into the airport proper and I'd usually settle for a $5 coffee and a seat somewhere, or maybe a Macca's burger and an attempt to connect to the free Wi-Fi.
Today I just sailed into the Emirates lounge, flashing my boarding pass like I was going backstage at a concert, settled into a comfy seat with views over the tarmac, grabbed a free glass of champagne, ate some free food, flicked through a few free magazines and hoped that the flight wouldn't get called before I could go back for a refill of Veuve.
So this is what all those thousands of dollars buy you - peace and relaxation. There's no stress involved when you travel this way. Everything seems easy. Actually, it's fun.
Pretty soon the flight is called and I've made my way onto the plane. My seat-pod thingy has wood panelling, a little side table, a compartment next to the window for my bag, an iPad, a small games console, a mini-bar with water and juices, a huge TV and a seat that can be configured into just about any position I can imagine.
At this time I'd normally be on the deck below, wedging my essentials into the seat pocket and staking an early claim for elbow space. Instead I'm sipping pre-flight drinks brought over by someone who referred to me as "Mr Groundwater".
In the parallel universe of business class you don't want the flight to come to an end. Down on the deck below you're willing the hours away. Up here you're hoping the plane does a few hours of circles just to keep the experience going. There's a stand-up bar at the back of the plane. An actual bar. People relax and socialise there.
Air travel has never been like that for me. It's about the uncomfortable tolerance of your fellow man.
Here it's about having a friendly chat and getting to know them.
I don't want to arrive in Dubai, but we eventually do. I take a deep breath.
Reality is about to hit. I am not the 1 per cent.
The writer travelled as a guest of Emirates.
Have you ever flown in business or first class? How was your experience compared with economy? Would you pay out of your own pocket to fly at the pointy end?
- Sydney Morning Herald