Lifestyle

Business and first class: waste or wonderful?

Citro columnist Mark Dapin explains his creeping love of first class travel, perving on caravan parking and the need for bigger bathrooms when he travels these days.

When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why people would pay extra to fly business class. I could’ve bought another holiday with the difference in fares between a seat at the pointy end and a seat at the end less likely to get crushed in the event of a head-on collision.

It didn’t matter to me that business-class seats were more comfortable, or that they reclined. If I’d wanted a reclining chair, I would have bought one from my former next-door neighbour in England who is now a singing reclining-chair salesman in Toorak, Victoria (hi, Alan!).

I didn’t care that the food was better in business class. I didn’t like good food, anyway.

Share your thoughts on whether flying at the pointy end of the plane is worth it.

I was happy with meat and three veg – as long as all three vegetables were potatoes.

I lived off bad food, and it didn’t bother me that it was bad for me because I could eat and drink as much as I wanted and never put on any weight.

Okay, so the good food in business class was served with champagne instead of beer. So what? I preferred beer.

Maybe I would’ve been slightly more convinced of the virtues of business class if I had known that you had easier access to a larger bathroom – but to be frank, I didn’t have to use the bathroom then as often as I do these days.

And as for the Mile High Club… well, nobody ever asked me to join.

For a large part of my life, I thought of myself as a backpacker. Briefly, I even researched and wrote guidebooks for Lonely Planet. That came to an end with the birth ofmy first child, whom my partner and I misguidedly decided to take with us on a Lonely Planet work trip.

I now realise that young babies and older men have a lot in common: from baldness to incontinence to an aggressive distaste for continually moving from one guesthouse to another.

My beautiful little boy had to go home with my partner – and a heartbreaking mosquito bite on his perfect little head – leaving me to finish the job alone.

Bathrooms are important. Very important.

It was while I was working for Lonely Planet that I realised the pivotal importance of bathrooms in a traveller’s life. While it is possible to have a good hotel room with a bad bathroom, there is no such thing as a great bathroom attached to a bad hotel room.

Good bathroom = good hotel.

I call this “Dapin’s Rule” – or, at least, I would if I had to put a name to it.

I recently stayed in a “tiny home” at Reflections Shaws Bay Holiday Park in Ballina in Northern NSW. While the cabin was a bit small, the bathroom was twice the size of the ensuite set-up in my bedroom at home, and the shower had a wonderful magnetically sealed door that stopped the water from spilling out onto the bathroom floor.

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would get excited about a magnetic catch on a shower door, I would have been forced to reassess all my plans for the future.

Although I’ve always liked to keep myself (relatively) clean, I never paid much attention to food hygiene, which seemed to me to me a bit, y’know, sissy. Wherever I travelled, I ate hot meals from market stalls and drank tepid water from taps. This had catastrophic consequences in Myanmar (“Dapin’s Rule Number Two” might well be: never eat blue curry) but otherwise, I usually got away with it.

I wouldn’t normally visit a caravan park now that the kids have grown up, but I enjoyed my weekend at Shaws Bay.

The main recreations of my fellow caravan-park guests seemed to be walking, fishing, and watching other people try to manoeuvre their caravans into unlikely parking spaces without hitting other caravans, dogs, camping chairs or people trying to park.

Older people's interests are taking over

I found parking-perving quite stimulating too, but it’s just one of many older-people’s interests that have crept up on me in recent years.

I have come to enjoy looking at birds, for example, and I sometimes find myself wondering what flowers might be called.

But my biggest travel transformation has been a creeping taste for luxury and comfort.

The discovery of airline lounges was a game-changer for me.

I’ve always liked large, impersonal public spaces where most people are passing through on their way to somewhere else – like airport hotels, railway pubs and the state of Singapore.

Airline lounges have a further layer of attraction with free alcohol and buffet food. The best of lounges even serve vintage champagne – and yes, I’ll take champagne over beer these days, but only if it’s free.

Airline lounges take the boredom and discomfort out of waiting for a flight.

Since I became eligible for lounge access (through frequent-flyer schemes and an American Express card) I’ve sometimes found myself hoping for my flight to be delayed so I can enjoy more free stuff before boarding.

In the beginning, rather nastily, I liked having lounge access because other people didn’t have it.

Up until then, the only thing I’d had that other people didn’t was gout.

But I’m over that feeling of social superiority now, because even when I’m in the club lounge I wish I was in the business lounge; when I’m in the business lounge, I wish I was in the first-class lounge; and when I’m in the first-class lounge, I wish I was in the chairman’s lounge.

The other thing that has changed is that I prefer to fly business class.

I still can’t afford it for holidays, of course, but the occasional business trip finds me sitting at the pointy end, eating my seared barramundi from designer tableware and washing it down with a cheeky glass of Krug, before reclining the seat to full tilt and sleeping halfway to Europe.

And when I wake up and look around me, it’s as if I have been reborn into a new reality where everyone else is more or less my age.

First class travel in the 1970s was different to today, as this retro in-flight photo reveals.

What do you think? Is an upgrade worth the money when travelling?

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