I've always wanted to fly Business Class, even if its just once and a few weeks ago I got the chance flying from London to New York. For me it goes much deeper than just a single luxurious plane ride.
Growing up in a single parent household in a council estate has its obvious problems. I can count on one hand the number of people in my estate who no longer live there. Many have been stuck there for generations, social mobility completely passing them by. I was one of the lucky ones. Many of the people I knew had two parents who did the work of none. I had one parent who did the work of two.
Is this what respect feels like?
Despite not knowing any English and never weighing more than 7 stone, my 5 foot 3 inch mom worked several jobs to make sure I was one of those people that would move out of the estate. She put all her hopes and dreams on hold and trusted that I would not let her down. However, despite all her hard work there is one event that nearly broke her. This woman, who survived physical and psychological abuse, multiple robberies, an attempted murder, a miscarriage and cancer was nearly broken by words. On starting university she heard through one of her friends that a woman had told her son to stay clear of me because “he lives in a council house and they are nothing but trouble”. That’s one of the few times I’ve seen her cry. To her it felt like all her hard work was for nothing. I promptly did the exact opposite of what the situation required and got myself kicked out of university.
Fast forward a few years and we aren’t doing too badly at all. My mom worked 3 jobs a week (on one particular week I didn’t see her for four days because she was doing day shifts followed by nights shift - no break). She managed to save enough money to get a small house outside the estate. I managed to get back into a different university, eventually getting my Masters degree and getting my dream job. But I will never, ever forget the way we were treated, sometimes by those closest to us. They always looked down at us, spoke down to us and were convinced that my family would be nothing but trash. After all that, when my work offered me Business Class tickets to travel to New York, I almost snapped their fingers off. Here was a chance for me to get treated like a King!
Business Class carries with it a certain reputation. If someone is flying Business Class, something in their life is going well (or they got upgraded). I decided to balance the offer that my work gave me, and my own guilt for accepting those tickets and decided to search for the cheapest Business Class ticket on the market and that’s how I ended up on Delta Airlines.
Delta are the third largest airline in the United States after American Airlines and United Airlines. The thing that made me a little excited, however, was the fact that they had a code sharing agreement with Virgin Atlantic, which mean’t customers of Delta could also use the famous Virgin lounges at Heathrow Airport.
Having misjudged rush hour traffic, I arrived at the airport significantly later than I would have liked. The first difference was in checking-in - Business Class ticket holders had their own priority queue. After first answering a few security questions (that everyone else seemed to have to answer too) my bags were checked in very quickly and I was told to take a special entrance to the security area
This whole blog was set up because of all the security issues Sikhs face across the world - myself included. However, England is usually fairly good and this was no different. I made myself into a special ‘Business Class’ security area. I was singled out by the guard who wanted to look at my ticket. Was this racist? I don’t think so. It probably had more to do with the fact that I’m in my twenties and everyone around me was in their fifties. I walked through the metal detector and to my surprise no one called me over for a patdown or anything. I looked around in amazement, half thinking whether they had missed the fact I had just walked through. I picked up all my stuff and got out there as quickly as possible.
Upper Class lounge but lower class profiling
I headed to the Virgin/Delta lounge and it was incredible. It looked like something from a James Bond film. An extremely large room where you could get food, drinks and even massages. Every chair was comfy and had access to plugs. There were quite a few people, although only a small number would be on the flight with me. I made my way to the far end of the room and sat down in front of the big screens. A man came over and greeted me, “good morning sir”. I was looking around. Did he just call me sir !?! He asked me if I wanted anything and I ordered some breakfast and within 5 minutes I had a cooked breakfast in front of me. Although I had left it late, I wasn’t going to miss out on free food. After relaxing in the chair for a little while and having a look at the rest of the room, it was finally time to board my flight so off I headed feeling pretty special.
I walked into the gate and presented my ticket and as I went to take a seat a small weedy man called me over. “Can you just come over here sir for some secondary screening, sir ?” This time I didn’t like the use of that word. After getting the experience I wanted, I felt like that 16 year old kid again, being looked down on. Worse still this happened with over 100 people around me, no screens, an open room, people trying to make out they weren’t looking or listening. Now I have always written how important it is to stay in control and not to start yelling and looking a crazy. That never helps but I was standing there and I was feeling angry.
I took a very, very firm tone but never lost my cool. I asked him why I was being stopped and not any of those around me. He replied “its random sir”. Lies. I hate liars. Just tell the truth. Say you profiled me. So I told him that it didnt look random to me. This seemed to shake him as his colleague looked on nervously. He became very withdrawn. He asked to look at my laptop and phone and took swabs. He then asked me to remove my shoes. “My shoes? Why do you want my shoes?” I said again firmly. He sheepishly asked me a second time for my shoes. So, in front of one hundred and something people I took off my shoes. He checked them and gave a nod. No way was I settling for a nod. He made me feel like a criminal infront of over a hundred people, the least he could now do is vindicate me. So I asked him if I passed. He quietly said yes. No chance. So I asked him to repeat it loudly, “I’m sorry I didn’t quite hear you?”. “Yes, you passed sir”. “What a surprise, now give me back my shoes…please”. As I tied my shoelaces I felt proud of how I handled that situation. It’s similar to what I did in Madrid. Maybe next time he will think twice before ‘randomly’ stopping a Singh.
Flat beds and flat entertainment
I took a seat and before I knew it I was being called up for Priority Boarding. Usually I just sit around until the queue gets quiet and jump on last on the plane, this was the opposite. The Business Class area is set up in a 1-2-1 seating style and I made sure to book a seat at the end, meaning I had no neighbours. The seat was very nice, it felt almost like leather (maybe it was) and as I sat down, with a bottle of water waiting for me I realised the biggest difference. As the seat was fully reclinable so as to allow sleeping on a flat bed, the leg room was immense. I’m a little taller than average but I could sit down with my legs stretched out and not hit the seat infront of me.
The biggest difference (other than the leg room) is the service. You can get pretty much anything you want, whenever you want. The food is incredible and I lost count of the amount of cookies I ate. It made me feel a little guilty though, I had eaten too much food, and anytime I do that I get that feeling of guilt. While people are hungry, no one should be eating ‘too much food’. The seat was amazing, I reclined all the way back to test it out and it even had a little massage button, although it wasn’t that great. The air hostesses were also great in terms of providing service, going above and beyond. The big thing that let Delta down was the entertainment.
The choices were easily the worst I have ever seen on any long distance flight (other than a Sunwing Airlines flight I took to Canada that had no screens). I think there was probably a handful of films, most of which I had never heard about. The music was strange too, random albums from questionable genres. The plane itself was also a little old. I sat there and thought, despite the excellent service and the helpful and attentive air hostesses, I actually thought flying economy on the double decker Airbus operated by Qatar Airways was better and cost less than a fifth of this.
The lounge was pretty spectacular but I will never pay for Business Class tickets, although I'm incredibly grateful that my work did. I’m interested to see what my return flight will be like when I eventually return to the UK later on in the year and I’ll update this article following that experience.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.