A blind date in business class
One of the nice things about being rich is that you get to fly business. It doesn’t really matter for short trips, but not doing coach on a 14-hour flight to China is just one of those things you can definitely point to as a quality-of-life improvement from having lots of money.
Just in the moment, though. I’ve done a few long-hauls in economy after having it made, and while I thought it pretty rough, you switch to self-congratulation mode just hours after you land. It actually wasn’t so bad! I’m keeping it real. Man I’m proud of myself 😂
Anyway, here I am, sitting in business class on a flight from Europe to the US, enjoying my fucking steak on a white-cloth tray, and it’s the most awkward thing I’ve endured in a very long time. And it’s only a fourth of the way through the flight! I’m sorta playing with hypotheticals on whether you actually could ask someone in economy if they’d like to switch. (That’s of course just a fantasy, but where’s your imagination if you can’t at least entertain that).
The problem is I’ve been put on the most cringing, surprise blind date with a 70-year old man. On British Airways, they for some reason have people in business class sitting right next to each other, FACING EACH OTHER. This man’s face is less than a meter away from mine, and all that separates us is a thin privacy screen. Well, boo-fucking-ho. You have a screen, what’s this 1% sob story you’re boring us with, Daaaaave? (I hate it when people call me Dave, but I’ll excuse it when they legitimately call me out as a rich crybaby. But that’s the only time. Call me Dave any other time and you’re on the shit list. Fair warning given!).
So yes. There’s this privacy screen, but it goes down every five fucking minutes as the service people come through to ask if I’d like some more water or the carrot cake or whatever. And every single time I’m left staring into this other person’s face. There’s basically nowhere else to look! I try, I really do. Looking at my white cloth. Looking straight. But it doesn’t work. There’s no escape. Because the person offering the water is on his side of this monstrous arrangement, so you can’t really just look out the window. You just. Have to. Look.
I totally get why some cultures develop social norms about not staring into the eyes of strangers for long periods of time. It’s a deeply uncomfortable experience. Now multiply that experience by, what, seven-eight times so far, and it’s like it’s some sort of absurd social experiment. Who’s going to crack first!?
The arrangement is even weirder because all service has to pass over this other person, in like a stretched arms sort of way. Not like when you’re sitting on a row. I’m constantly afraid that someone is going to drop something in this guy’s lap. And then what?! Then the privacy screen is going to stay down for a long time while we sort it all out. And just how awkward is that going to be?
What’s interesting too is just how little variation there is in the tortured expressions the human face can make when feigning friendliness. It’s not that I have anything against this guy. He doesn’t smell. He’s not encroaching on my seat. He’s just a guy, years 70. But I’m not looking for a single-serve friend on this flight, and neither does he appear to be. So we grimace in the best way we know how, which isn’t very well at all.
It also sorta makes me self-conscious about the noises I make. I’m watching Dave Chapelle on the iPad, and you’d have to be pretty damn composed not to let out a chuckle or two during that. So I do. And then I think about what he’s thinking I’m watching. At least when you sit side to side, you can have a peak and see what the person next to you is watching. But in this stare contest contraption, you can’t. I mean, it’s not that I really care what he thinks I’m watching, but again, it’s just weird.
I could totally see how this would be lovely if I was traveling with my wife, though. The exact awkwardness is because of this undesired level of intimacy. One that would be welcome when traveling with a loved one. But how did that special case become the rule of design for BUSINESS class? I don’t know. I really don’t.
Particularly because it seems like the British are the most awkward conscious people on earth. Always apologizing. Sorry for the sorry about the sorry! There’s no way this was designed by a Brit. Or maybe it was, as a sort of Pythonesque joke on the kind of people who’d spend money on a business class ticket. Think you’re better than the commoner?! Take this, you bloody aristocrat. How do you like them biscuits?!
And so concludes my tale of woe. Written at 30,000 feet to pass the awkward time, and to provide some plausible excuse to look elsewhere as the curtain drops and I’m faced with my reluctant co-subject in this British Airways social experiment.
Should you find yourself in a position of means to afford business travels, and you’re not traveling with someone you’d like to share intimate eye-contact moments with, you’d do well to pick a carrier with a better seat configuration than BA.