Airline Poker

Transatlantic travel–it’s a gamble. Like how many babies will be on the red-eye? Will I sit next to a passenger whose concept of self extends beyond their seat and into mine? Can I get an exit row seat? Can I? Can I? Que sera sera. Whatever will be will be. Will it be chicken? Cooked to death veg? We’ll have to wait and see.

Getting an exit row seat means enough room to fit in my legs. To stretch out even. Getting an exit row seat is all-important if you’re over six foot (and I am) so I’m at the airport at least three hours before departure, if not sooner. There are three people in the line before me and two check-in clerks. Naturally, being a British airline, it takes them no less than twenty minutes to process them all. It feels like twenty minutes. Eventually I shuffle forwards with my suitcase and guitar in hand (don’t!).

“And is there any chance of an exit row seat?” I inquire. “Let me just check.” Check-in–more than just a clever name after all. She checks. She prints out another boarding pass. She hands it to me. “You’ve been upgraded to business class.” Outside I am a model citizen, a picture of calm. Inside: Snoopy dance. I grin. “Awesome! Thanks! Can I use the lounge?” We love the lounge. The lounge has free beers and peanuts. She shakes her head. It was pushing it. I wander off through Heathrow, smiling graciously at my subjects. Today I am a Patrician, business class in my jeans and tatty old travelling shirt.

Scheduled flying is a lot like getting a hand in poker. If you’re ticketed for baggage class, then sitting in the exit row beats getting wedged into a standard seat. It’s like having three of a kind playing against a pair. However, if you manage to get a row of empty seats all to yourself, then that’s better than either. A full house. You can push all the armrests up–not possible in the exit row–and sleep.

No babies crying is better than babies, naturally, so that’s a pair, although you can sleep through that. It’s possible and sometimes inevitable. One extra seat to dump crap and stack food trays is a pair of kings. Getting an exit row seat at the front of the cabin on a Virgin Atlantic 747 when they’re transporting members of the armed forces beats a straight exit row because you get spin-offs like endless free beers–“Shhh! On the house!”–and huge quantities of pistachios moved down from the cabin above. That’s a royal flush.

Nothing beats getting the whole row full-house, however. Except an upgrade. An upgrade is four of a kind, every time. First class is the ultimate goal, but business still beats economy. Thanks to British Airways striking staff, they’re having to shift more passengers than they have economy seats, so although many hundreds were losers earlier in the month, a good number of us are winners this week. Especially me. And I paid for half my flight with air miles.

Don’t you just hate a smug bastard? Well, BA has parked the plane at the far end of the terminal, a good ten minute walk down interminable corridors to a metal bunker without air conditioning. They keep us waiting for half an hour in the best traditions of UK service industries. No explanation. No announcement. No apology. Given a choice, I’d fly an American airline every time. British companies are just plain rude. Still, we’re talking priority boarding here and I smile benevolently at my fellow travellers, the hapless line of plebs starting their holidays in sweaty discomfort.

“Bastard,” their eyes say as I skip lightly down the entryway. Like I’ll be hearing their tightly-packed groaning back there in the hold. I put my plush leatherette seat into ‘bed’ mode and stretch out… except… No! You won’t believe this but BA’s business class seats create a bed that’s less than six feet long! Good grief. It’s not like that time I used frequent flyer points to travel Business First with Continental. Whatever. I still don’t care. These seats are wide enough to curl up on. I tank up on free g&t and do a little video editing on the laptop. Then a few glasses of wine–“Chardonnay? Or chardonnay?” (it’s BA; they’ve pulled out all the stop, singular)–and I’m zonked out.

Thunder storms over Toronto, plane diverted, two hours sitting on the ground in Ottawa, eventually I arrive and call the hotel to tell my love I’m there and late. The hotel don’t tell me she’s driven out to meet me. Ho, no. Far too easy. They wait until I’m actually at the hotel, twenty dollars distance. On the phone they say things like, “Nora? Nora Fresher? How do you spill this pliz?” It’s Laura, I tell them and leave a message.

I collect my guitar, suitcase, jump in a taxi and am at the hotel in no time flat. “Oh,” says the desk clerk. “Oh, Miss Fisher has gone to the airport to meet you.” He stares at me hopefully, like I’ll have an answer to their incomprehensible behaviour. I stare back at him, an expression which says, “Now? Now you tell me? Thank you. Thank you so bloody much.” He repeats, “She has gone to the airport,” clearly unable to comprehend my presence. “Yes. Well, I can’t do much about that now can I?” He gives in and gives me the key.

Well, I can’t leave my love standing there but I can’t play tag in taxis either. We business class patrician types aren’t all made out of money. It takes four phone calls to find someone who is not just a real human being but who can actually do the paging thing for Laura at terminal three. I trust the Hilton staff all get baggage class seats at the back of the cabin from now on. Let them try making out the film soundtrack over the engine noise as I recline my seat from the front in their general direction and, through a domino effect, squash them. Flat. And I block their toilet for good measure. There. We can never go back.

At last–an endless journey later–I have my girl in my arms, for a few days. And then it is an endless now. And airline poker is reduced to its true status. A sideshow. Freakish and gaudy. Love. Love is all. And love is now.

One Response to 'Airline Poker'

  1. Steve Scoles Says:

    That is either an extremely sophisticated inflatable friend you have there or you have started dating human beings. You’ve changed. I feel as if I hardly know you Roger. Good luck in the land of the freaky…