Monday, November 06, 2006

Virgin on the absurd

My brief trip back to Europe enabled me to experience each end of the air travel spectrum. I was afforded the rare treat of return travel from NY to London in Virgin Atlantic's 'Upper Class' but took the decidedly low-budget option of EasyJet to get to and from Paris.

Unlike BA for example, Virgin does not distinguish between business class and first class, but has designed their fully-flat 'Upper Class suites' with the cost-aware business traveller and new money urbanite in mind (I'm neither unfortunately but they still let me on).

I rather like the name 'Upper Class' which evokes halcyon days of aristocracy when 'serf' was somebody you ruled rather than something you did on the internet. Perhaps they could go a step further and refer to the Upper Class passengers as 'landed gentry' and those at the back of the plane as 'peasants' (which is no doubt how they do refer to them secretly back at HQ).

The NY-London route is fiercely competitive and it was noticeable that the flight was strangely quiet for a Sunday. Perhaps that explained why the cabin crew were extraordinarily accommodating led by the charming Imogen who insisted on referring to me as 'my lovely' which suggested she was either a keen fan of Peter Sarstedt's 1969 No.1 hit "Where Do You Go To?" or less likely she had a huge crush on me. The Virgin staff really did go the extra mile, and so did the Captain overshooting the runway and careering through a fence. (not really)

EasyJet was a different experience altogether of course. I must confess I have never quite understood the roaring success of EasyJet, Ryanair and their ilk particularly given my considerably more positive views on one of their US equivalent JetBlue. Whereas JetBlue has gone down the extraordinarily innovative route of caring for their customers with its leather seats, ample legroom and in-seat live TV, their European counterparts seem to be outbidding each other in their attempts to treat them like, well....erm, peasants. And they're not that cheap either unless you are the type of person that enjoys arriving at an airfield that even the locals have never heard of at 1am on a Tuesday (and were in a position to confirm your travel plans whilst Lennie Lawrence was still Charlton manager).

At Charles de Gaulle airport on Friday we were all stuck on the courtesy buses with the heaters set to 'Arctic conditions' for about 20 minutes with no infomation provided, before being allowed to board the plane. Apparently the ground staff had got themselves all in a muddle and had sent the passengers for Lisbon over to the the Luton plane! Oh how we laughed; I'm surprised we weren't charged a surcharge for the bus journey.

Apparently I don't get it though; I'm often told by people with names like Toby that "'s just soooo amazing, you can go to Barcelona for the weekend and still be back at your desk on Monday morning." And so Toby, would that be delightful Barcelona, famous for Las Ramblas, the Nou Camp and Montjuic, or would that actually be Girona so far north you're virtually in bleedin' France?

And so once you've spent hours getting to and from 'London' Stansted or Luton airport, queued forever at security because the bloke in front of you has forgotten you could only start blowing up planes with liquids again from today onwards, suddenly a day trip to Southend-on-Sea seems positively appealing. And based on the Toby argument we should all drive there in a Ford Ka because at the end of the day it's just about getting from A to B.

There, I got that off my chest.


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