I remember when I was a kid, about nine years old and my Dad treated the whole family to go to Florida on holiday. I had flown to Europe as a youngster, but this was my first long haul flight. We booked with Virgin, I kinda remember them being fairly new and they probably had a promotion on.
Everything about flying was magical! The impeccable looking air hostesses, the dapper dressed pilots, the excitement of actually flying to a new place. We boarded and on our seats were goody bags, toys and things for the kids, eye masks and toiletries for the adults. The staffs were smiley, happy, and when the plane landed the entire aircraft clapped. Remember that? We used to clap when we landed, because it was still a breath taking miracle that we had flown hundreds of people across the world. To me, it still is.
I still get that buzz. I still get thrilled and excited to see the world, no matter where I am going. Sadly though, it seems the airlines have forgotten this. They have lost that 'razzle dazzle'. The staff seem grumpy. They SAY they will do anything for you over the tannoy, but you know from the minute you ask for some tap water after a coughing fit they are stomping half way down the aircraft with a face like a slapped arse.
Last week, I boarded a flight to Rio. This was my first time in South America and my first time on the long haul flight with British Airways. I was so excited. I had heard BA were the best and was looking forward to the 11 hours ahead of me. (I actually get excited about the plane food and the chance to watch eight films back to back; it's like pulling a sickie at work without the guilt.)
My boyfriend and I boarded all smiles and Roy Keene, but we weren't faced with the same enthusiasm. The magical buzz had gone. The staffs were a bit... well, flat. Everything was a little bit grumpy, everything routine. The airlines seem to treat it like a job, whereas to us, it's our holiday.
As we settled down, I realised my TV was in black and white and mentioned it to one of the girls. She was clearly busy, but offered to re set it. The same thing happened. She re set it again. And again. This continued, until I felt a burden to her. When another girl passed, I explained about my TV again and apologised for wanting a TV in colour. Her response is what I should have expected originally. She pointed out I spent a lot of money on these flights, and that it is of course acceptable to want a fully functioning TV. Within minutes, she got the manager Paul Coyle over (I have to name check him here, because when someone is awesome, you should always name check them). After the 4th or 5th reset, my TV was up and working in colour, but Paul didn't let it go unnoticed that it was an inconvenience. He spent the rest of our journey sneaking champagne out to us from Business Class and making us feel, well, excited to be flying again. It wasn't the free champagne that did it, it was him. Once again, it felt like I was allowed to be excited about flying.
The problem is: flying around the world is so frequent now we often take it for granted. We are a Nation that often travels, even families with money issues can at times treat themselves to a week in Spain once every couple of years. Growing up, we had huge money problems, but once every three/ four years my parents managed to stick a trip on a credit card for us. As I walked around Rio, I saw hundreds of homeless people. I chatted to locals who were amazed I was from London (most think you are American). They couldn't imagine visiting England.
The Thai locals I got to know and love last year hadn't even left Bangkok in some cases, let alone Thailand.
And yet, here we are, boarding, moaning and getting off without realising what a privilege it is to see the world.
And for most people, it's a luxury too. My flights to Rio cost £700. Now, I'm not a pauper by any means, but that trip did mean going a few months without new jeans and taking packed lunches to work, a minor sacrifice but a sacrifice none the less. (My jeans have holes in, I get some right fruitful looks.)
£700 a flight is more than most peoples rent or mortgages a month! In my book, that puts flying as a luxury and I think the airlines should treat it as one.