Feb 12, 2011

What's In An Upgrade

There's nothing more financially discriminatory on Earth than when entering an aircraft. Regardless of color or creed, those willing and able to lash out a few thousand bucks get to turn left while those looking to curb every cent turns right. Therein lies an entire world of difference - 6 crew man a cabin of 200 passengers behind the partition on the right; 8 crew to an exclusive cabin of 35 on the left. Meals come in iPhone-sized boxes on the right; a full 4-course meal on porcelain and silverware served by a chef au bord on the left. While the 200 people on the back of the aircraft have to tolerate wailing babies and vomiting old folks; the exclusive 35 in front gets attended to on the most trivial of matters, like filling up a landing form.
On the dawn of the new year, I decided to end this discrimination against me for once. Forced to return on the 5th day of Chinese New Year with cattle class fares skyrocketing through my credit card limit, it's time to put my 20,000 Enrich miles accumulated with teeth and bone to good use. After a call to Malaysia Airlines and a visit to their town office, I was 'upgraded'.

You can't imagine the endless perks airlines provide for their premium passengers - town pick-up, priority check-in and boarding, special lounge area, and for First Class, a ride on Porche Panamera. Now we understand why some snobbish prince is willing to fork out the price of a small apartment for a coach in an claustrophobic flying aluminium tube - privacy and personal attention we 'commoners' are unable to appreciate in our daily unroyal life.

Saying goodbye to Penang on my last afternoon

Upon landing in KLIA, I flashed my Business Class boarding pass and get admitted promptly into the Satellite Golden Lounge with a "enjoy your stay with us!" from the concierge. I'm starting to feel la première associated with high living. In economy class you won't even get a second look from the ground staff when they scan your boarding pass.  
Picture is the Golden Lounge of London Heathrow, I apologize for not taking any at KLIA.

This is the first class lounge, of which I can only admire through photographs.

The business class lounge is toned with navy blue and shades of wooden brown modeled in the style of old British train coaches. There were several TVs playing business channels for business executives who can't take their eyes off global finance and foreign exchange rates.
Bottomless drinks and food is enough to satisfy me. A noodle bar is here for made-to-order noodles from all of Asia, and a self-service wine bar for the bankrupting taukeh.

My 3rd meal of the day at 11am. This was followed by chicken rice with roasted pipa chicken, sardine puff, white wine, cakes, creme caramel, cheeses, and tomato juice. I had to constantly remind myself not to overstuff my stomach because there would be more food onboard. No wonder: studies show income is directly correlated with chronic diseases in developing countries. They do nothing but eat and watch TV!
Soon we're ready for departure. Upon boarding and (drum rolls...) turning left, a brightly groomed stewardess fully embalming the Malaysian hospitality spirit greeted one by name and showed you personally to your seat. "Any drinks for you, sir?" "More pillows, sir?" "Cold towels, sir?" "Newspapers, sir? We have (start chanting a series of international papers)."

The commotion did not died down like cattle class when we started taxiing. As soon as you lay down your used towel a stewardess gracefully walks over and stows it away. Fresh orchids and jasmine were placed in the lavatories, fully stocked with Aigner toiletries. A few seats back in a place without human rights called economy, you'd be lucky if the person before you clean the basin before he leaves. In business, a.k.a. Golden Club Class for MAS, I reckon a stewardess is present onboard just to clean lavatories.
A glance at my fellow passengers reveal they are either born with a silver spoon in their mouths or hardworking businessmen who started from scratch. A family of 4 - mum, dad, son, grandma, was on my right, Daddy quarreling with Mummy about spending too much time shopping. In my family we usually quarrel about who should use the car or have the new cell phone; my neighbour passenger had clumsily dumped his Blackberry, iPhone and iPad on the seat panel, precariously hanging on the edges occupied by his 39-inch belly. A lady was sitting alone clutching her LV handbag, and talked to no one at all during the entire flight.
After takeoff the drink cart came. Pretending to know all the drinks I ordered a Heineken. An entire can was promptly served in an elegant glass with coaster and napkins. Behind me the matron-stewardess scowls and say "if I give you the entire can, there wouldn't be any for other passengers, would it?" (On another note, I ALWAYS get an entire can in Economy on MAS).

Then comes mealtime. My business class menu invites me to dine, not just eat.

Malaysian satay is Malaysia Airlines' signature dish which two rivals down south try to emulate and glorify. Though not a fan of satay, I have to sarcastically admit that the best satay I had was at 37,000 feet up in the air. Large chunks of tender, moist chicken and lamb grilled to perfection - crispness and juiciness melting simultaneously in your mouthful of smooth peppery-sweet palate smothering with the right amount of fat. The salmon and salad was pale, in comparison

Then comes the main course, or 'the main event' which Singapore Airlines dubs. I chose the cod while my neighbour chose the chicken. A steward serves up our plates, warm straight from a plate-warmer in the galley. I took my time to appreciate the artwork of the dish, taking photographes and admiring it from every angle, while my neighbour busily wallops down his nasi ayam. Meanwhile in you-know-where, yellowed vegetables, dried chunks of unidentifiable meat and burnt rice are being served.

I am all for dessert. I'm a firm believer than a meal can be compromised of anything else other than dessert. I am rather disappointed when 'fresh fruit' actually means 3 pieces of careless cuts. This is no different from back there. The Haagen-Dazs ice cream somewhat made up for it, while the blueberry cheesecake is sublime.

There were several choices of wines, spirits, and champange as well but I decided to abstain just in case I go out of control and behave un-business class-like in my hard-earned business class trip.

After the entire affair, I started to play with my seat, which can recline up to 171 degrees, unlike only 1.7 degrees back in economy (on AirAsia). I could definitely sleep soundly in this position had the flight been longer. Memories of sleepless nights in a cramped seat with an obese seatmate creep into my mind as I write this. Ever since that trip on China Airlines, I vowed to not behave nicely and asked straightaway "can I have an empty seat beside me?" every time during check-in. A tip to share: utilize the empty seat beside you to the max - lift the arm rest, sit slightly slanted and you could actually recline a whole lot more. The table beside can be used for your paraphernalia or bottomless drinks (press the call button without shame). And you also get extra pillows and blankets without having to ask!
After a movie, How I Met Your Mother, and Glee on a screen twice larger than back there, it's time to descend. Besides the cruising part of the flight, taking-off and landing is actually pretty much the same as back there. Even the Pope has to wait for clearance to land and get stuck up when there's no gate to dock the aircraft.
Bidding goodbye to my seat after 4.5 hours costing 20K miles.

A moment to reflect:
Golden Club Class, a term which conjures a past era of official British colonial exclusivity and elegance exuding power or wealth is a good name for a business class product - Air France uses L'Espace Affaires, Continental Airlines Businessfirst, and Etihad Airways Pearl Zone.
Even though these names and products are a symbol of civility and the learned, the passengers riding on them aren't necessarily so. We've heard stories of premium passengers harrassing, extorting, bullying cabin crew, and my experience with the quarreling family and food-walloping neighbour certainly proves this. Hence, even though a majority of us can only afford you-know-where, we could still fly fully dignified knowing those in front aren't as happy or excited as us stepping into an aeroplane everytime.


Anonymous said...

The menu is same as what I had for Kuala Lumpur - Hong Kong business class evening flight in July, except for dessert.