Getting Down to Business (Class) – Part I
Let’s be real: Flying business class domestically sucks. It’s the airline equivalent of choosing which disease you rather get. Thankfully, million-mile flyers like me have decent business class options to choose from when flying internationally. Before you write me off as some spoilt #RKOI trust fundee, hear me out: The most important reason I fly Business is because it’s the best way of collecting stories. Yes, the seats are nice, the food less microwaved, and the air marginally fresher, but it’s an environment ripe for harvesting unique flight experiences – Which brings me to why I’m here.
There’s enough internet literature about the ‘Best Business Class’ (if there is such a thing) to fill up an A380, so I’m not here to compare the pitch angle of the lie flat seats of United vs. American, the in-flight shower experience of Singapore vs. Emirates, or the lounge atmosphere at Heathrow vs. Doha. Rather, I’m here to offer a more nuanced scoop: My Top Three Unique Business Class Experiences.
Because no one can, or should quantify experiences, the following three part stories are offered from my entirely subjective, biased, and unique point of view; in no particular order, of course.
PART I: THE ETIHAD EXPRESS
It’s a traveler’s worst nightmare. My flight was running 2 hours behind, which meant I only had 15 minute transfer window for another international flight across one of the largest airports in the world. Fate had picked me to be its victim when my Ethiopian Airlines flight to Doha transiting to Abu Dhabi then Istanbul ran late. I had factored in a comfortable 2 hour buffer before my next flight, but failed to account for ‘African time’. Great.
As soon as we landed, I started stretching out like a sprinter ready for the hurdles and set my iPhone:
I prepared to disembark like a bat out of hell, only to find a smiling Etihad transfer agent named Ahmed waiting patiently for me. He had been dispatched to escort me to my next flight. As we hustled through the labyrinth that is Doha’s Hamad International Airport, he was calm and collected while I freaked out inside: What about security? What about my check-in bag? Oh and… What about the boarding pass?
As I glanced up from my phone, Ahmed had paved a way through security for me at one of Doha’s notoriously stringent checkpoints, somehow requisitioning us an escort of two additional transfer agents. This is what Clooney must feel like when he travels #ballsohard. Still, even a baller needs a boarding pass, and I cursed myself for not checking in online.
“Ahmed, how far away is our gate?”
“About a 10 minute walk, sir.”
I looked down at my phone:
I needed haven’t worried though, because as soon as that sinking ‘missed flight’ feeling all travelers know and fear set in, Ahmed had begged, borrowed, or stolen a golf cart and was beginning to back it up. At the moment, I had never been so happy to hear the classic ear-piercing golf-cart beep in my life.I likened it to the liberation one feels as a surgeon’s defibrillator whines up after the heart flat lines.
As Ahmed put the pedal to the metal and we raced to the Etihad gate, things finally looked optimistic.
As soon as I hopped off, the dreams of catching my flight plummeted to earth.
“I’m sorry sir, the check in counter is closed. We can’t get you a boarding pass.”
Right as he uttered the sentence, I saw the last passenger board and the ground crew retract the gate. I knew that despite our best efforts, I was done. We’d given it our best shot. As I envisioned the next 6 hours wandering around Doha, all dreams of catching both connecting flights evaporated faster than an ice cream in the Qatarian desert.
Suddenly, another agent named Nabil ran up. A few rapidly barked orders later, he made an executive decision:
He would write out my boarding pass.
With a pen.
“What about my check-in bag?”, I asked, still in shock over the audacity of his idea.
“Give me your phone number, we’ll take care of it”, came the stoic reply from Nabil, who might as well have been Don Corleone from The Godfather.
The looks were nothing short of incredulous as the ground crew halted the aerobridge and allowed this disheveled traveler with a handwritten boarding pass to board. A few raised eyebrows later and we were finally airborne over the Arabian gulf, with Doha but a speck in the receding background.
As I slumped in my seat and heaved a sigh of relief, my phone pinged.
It was a text from Nabil, telling me the reference number for my bag: They would have it expedited separately to my last destination.
As I recounted the journey in my head, I wondered how many American carriers would have done the same. Not many, especially not for free. Both Ahmed and Nabil each turned down a hefty tip I’d offered, merely stating that it was their duty to help.
True to his word, my bag was waiting for me in Abu Dhabi by the time I touched down. As we lifted off on my next flight on an Etihad Airbus 340 bound for Istanbul (with fantastic seats, I should add), I marveled at Etihad’s fantastic customer service. Like the flight attendant on my new flight who volunteered to indulge my picture-taking tendencies (see below) and added me on Facebook later to provide travel tips for Istanbul, they didn’t just do it because they had to, they did it because they knew that going beyond the call of duty for me would mean I had a great story to tell everybody – Like I am now. They weren’t wrong!
Stay tuned for next week’s story…
Part II – Ethiopia Always Late