Once upon a time, many years ago, it was a pleasure and an adventure to fly.
We actually got dressed up -- men in suits and ties; women in dresses and high heels, perhaps a fur coat and hat.
Even in Economy Class, there was a sense of excitement. We were greeted on the plane by charming young hostesses who catered to our merest whims: Some more ice in your Scotch? Another packet of peanuts?
We had very little entertainment on board, so we simply read our newspapers and books. And there was often a free seat next to us so we could stretch out a bit and sleep.
That was then, this is now: Tightly-packed cabins and leg-cramping seats, fellow-passengers in track suits and running shoes, micro-waved meals served on plastic. Only in Business and First Class have comfort and service remained pleasurable.
Bolstered by a sense of curiosity and a wave of self-indulgence -- in about equal measure -- I secured a Business Class ticket on the Air France Airbus 380 for my trip from Paris to Miami this winter. I didn't quite know what to expect, but what I encountered during those ten hours -- which ordinarily would have been back-wrenching misery -- turned out to be a rather lush experience, starting in the comfortable Business Class lounge, with drinks and snacks.
The Airbus A380 is the largest passenger airliner currently in service. (At the recent Paris airshow, Airbus racked up more than 400 new orders -- outselling Boeing! But the A380 is still slow to catch on. Qatar has been its biggest client.) It's a two-level aircraft that accommodates 525 passengers in three classes: 76 in Business and only ten in First. Surprisingly, though there is 40% more cabin space, there is 50% less cabin noise. A blessing. In Business, the windows and the overhead bins are larger, and the spacious seats recline completely to form a perfectly flat bed. (In First Class, the seats can be partitioned off individually, or arranged romantically two-by-two.)
Restless passengers can amble around, visit an electronic art gallery on the upper deck, get something to drink in the galley, or purchase some duty-free items. The steward assigned to my seat was embarrassingly attentive, from the first coupe of Champagne to the last digestif. And the featured meal, invented by Régis Marcon, a three-star chef, was excellent: a creamy lentil stew with shrimp and calamari, accompanied by a smooth white Burgundy.
I can think of only three other flights that were so memorable: a First Class journey on Singapore Airlines many years ago, a short European hop on a friend's private jet, and an amazing three-hour flight from Paris to New York on the fabulous Concorde.
It is sad that travel, like so many other activities in our lives, has been trimmed and packaged for mass consumption. Sad that comfort and pleasure have taken a back seat to efficiency and speed. But once in a while, we owe ourselves a little indulgence, if only to be reminded that life still holds special delights.
As the French cosmetics firm, l'Oréal, reminds us: Because you're worth it!