Friday, January 29, 2010

Business Traveler Chronicles – The Pod People

Right now I am so totally breaking a bunch of business traveler rules. In fact, I have wracked up so many violations that the only thing I can do to redeem myself is to write about this so that you can learn to behave better.

I am currently this one beaming light in a darkened vessel. While others are horizontally fast asleep, I am sitting erect with my seat belt pulled tight across my waist and my eyes peeled wide open on my face. I am using my night vision to analyze The Others (aka The Pod People) as they go about their Pod Activities. Current Status: 95% of Pod People are sleeping.

Sara and I are on our way to Russia for work. We are currently flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean in an Airbus A330-300 (big plane). This flight upped my big girl ante as soon as I boarded in Business Class. After several years of domestic business travel, the culture shock of First Class has worn off, but I am a newbie to International Business Class (FYI, you have to capitalize the phrase 'Business Class').

Sara and I have been discussing Business Class for weeks. One might think we were gals out of the 1960’s who were planning which dresses to wear on our first flight to Detroit. (People used to dress up for air travel. It was a big fucking deal to fly in an airplane back then.)

I met Sara at the airport and she was carrying a paper grocery bag with food in it. She was wearing grey sweatpants. Although Sara thought I looked cool in my skinny jeans tucked into my brown leather boots, I thought she looked like a cool Business Class rock star in her casual approach. See, I was a dork and got on the plane first because I wanted to exploit the fact that I had first-on-the-airplane privileges (well, right after the wheelchairs). But Sara took off and did some last minute shopping while I boarded the plane and took secret airplane photos with my iPhone.

I got to Row 3 and I was at a loss as to how I should behave with the scene set in front of me: A Pod Chair with a pile stacked on the seat for me. Life-sized down pillow, a real comforter, real Bose-like headphones, and a Delta zipper pouch (I think I get to keep it!!) with socks, earplugs, eye mask, toothbrush, adorable miniature toothpaste, designer lip balm with matching designer face moisturizer, mints, Kleenex, and a Delta pen inside.

It…felt…like…Christmas.

Now, there was so much space in between each set of seats, that I found myself getting caught up walking around in slow circles in the space in front of my seat. My stuff was everywhere – big down parka on the floor, backpack and purse strewn into the next Pod Area, and all of my Delta Business Class presents sitting in half ripped open clear plastic on my seat.

I couldn’t get my bearings. I was feverishly taking pictures with my iPhone to document my first Business Class experience, but all of them were coming out blurry because I was nervous in my vague knowledge that you are not supposed to take photos while on an airplane. It’s a terrorist thing. Meanwhile, I continued to turn 360 degrees back and forth and I desperately tried to acclimate to theis new level of Class.

How does this work!? Will someone come take my coat, or does my coat get a Pod to sit in too? Where should I put my stuff? I could put it all in the empty bulkhead above, or I could put it here, there, under here, or up there. Geeze – there is TOO MUCH space and TOO MANY options!

Just then Sara boarded the plane and she was about to take her casual cool factor up a notch. I don’t know, somehow the sweat pants and the paper grocery bag gave her a bit of The Dude charisma. (Note: Sara has been to Russia before, but flew in coach.) But if the sweats and alternative luggage did not get her Dude status, then the fact that she brought on a large bag of McDonalds French fries sealed the deal.

Sara and I sat in our Pod Seats and silently ate our French fries. I stared down at the Pod Controls in respectful awe. I may have elite flying status, but I have never sat in an airplane seat that lets you adjust your lumbar support.

The A330-300 had to be de-iced, so we sat on the runway for awhile. Sara and I were having a hard time acting normal. We each called friends and family and said things like, “Yep…Uh huh. Ya, I am currently SITTING IN BUSINESS CLASS and we have received gifts and two offers for drinks. Yes…yes, there IS a menu with first course, main course and dessert.”

I found that once this beast of an airplane was finally ready to take off, I was not ready, and it felt awkward as hell to be steamrolling down the runway in a 440 passenger aircraft in my high tech Pod. I am more accustomed to my humble cloth coach seats in DC-9s from the 1970s in which I do most of my business travel. This plane was so big, it felt like it took us a good half hour to even really be flying.

Once in the air, I got super indecisive about all the decisions to make:

  • Do I look at my Russian guidebook?
  • Do I even try to read at all?
  • Do I keep my shoes on or do I put on my new Delta socks?
  • Do I get the cheese ravioli for my main course?
  • What should I order for my dessert? (incidentally, I asked the flight attendant for all the toppings, and she told me that was a good choice then made me a sundae right before my eyes. She made me a fricken ice cream sundae. On an airplane. I am not lying).

I know I have told you about a lot of amenities in Business Class, but, at the end of the day, it is really all about The Pods and the People Who Sit In Them.

The Pods.

So, after appetizers (white wine and mixed nuts), First Course (hummus, spinach salad, Thai chicken curry soup), Main Course (I got the cheese ravioli), and dessert (ice cream sundae!), Sara and I started playing with our Pods.

We discovered that we could manually make the pods go into different positions by tweaking the leg, lumbar, and neck buttons OR we could select pre-set reclining positions by pushing the buttons with the pictures on them. “Full Recline” has a picture of a bed. “Most Comfortable Sleeping Position” (that’s what it’s called!) has a picture of a bed with the head raised.

Sara got her Pod into position and chose a grown-up activity (reading) while I adjusted my Pod then stared tinkering with my personal TV. The personal TV is about the size of my lap top and it’s got everything you would want – new movies, new music, games, shopping, email, and more. You get your own remote control that pops out of the armrest.

I was looking at menus in multiple languages when, all of a sudden, the dessert plates had been cleared and it was LIGHTS OUT. As if on cue, all the Pod People donned their Delta socks and their Delta comforters, and the Pods started to recline.

Errerrrrrerrrrerrrerrr...

A metallic, mechanical sound, one might be alarmed by the subtle drone that the Pods make as they recline and adjust. One might worry that this sound is coming from the aircraft (well, one being me until I heard my own Pod make the same noise).

I decided to find my perfect position and do what the smart international business travelers do – sleep.

Erreerrreeeree…

…Wait. My feet feel too low.

Errerre –

Nope, now my back is too high.

Erere E…erere…ere...

My neck feels funny at this height.

Eeeerrrrreeeerrrrer….erer…erer…Errr...

Shit.

I could not stop. I became completely obsessed with finding the perfect Pod Position. But meanwhile, The Pod People were perfectly silent and still, as if they had all orchestrated one big Business Travelers Nap.

Damn.

I was now the only one moving around in Business Class.

Eeeeerererer...Eeerreeee...E...Rrrr!

As soon as I got my Pod in what I thought was a comfy position, I compulsively wanted to tweak it and make it even better.

To make matters worse, this was a moderately turbulent flight. Now, nobody likes bouncing around at 30,000 feet in the air, but I especially did not like bouncing around in this beast of a jet, 30,000 feet above the ocean, while stuck in my stupid pod.

Every time the airplane started to bounce up and down and the flight attendant cautioned, “Seat belts FASTENED.” I had to Eeerrrreeerrreerrr back into a seated position. Although all the Pod People (including Sara) stayed comfortably reclined and still, I could not get used to lounging on my back and bouncing around like a fish lying in a frying pan while we went in and out of bouts of turbulence.

So, as you can imagine, a lot of Eeerrrreeerrre…eerrreeerrr…eeee…rrrrr…e came from seat 3J this evening.

Conclusion: I may not be a Pod Person. I may not be someone who can relax in the airplane equivalent of a Comfo-Rest Adjustable Bed. No matter how much I fly, I might just always be that weird person. That person who stares out the window, takes pictures of airplane seats, and asks for all the toppings on the in-flight ice cream sundae.

They asked us to close our windows for when the morning sun comes in, but I took a little peak out and it was dazzling. We are flying on a bed of velvet mist with shockingly bright twinkling stars above a rolling navy blue ocean. The Pod People may be accustomed to their Pod World, but for me, flying will always be a magically new event.

3 comments:

  1. Your decription of the novelties of travelling Business Class (not that I've done any, or will do any in the near or not-so-near future)makes me wish I was a chocolate lab. That was I could feel EXACTLY that same feeling every time i got into a car and stuck my head out the window.

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  2. Thanks for this. I am flying coach to India today. I will envy Business Class travelers as I sit crammed in with the masses. Bon voyage.

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  3. Wow. I didn't even know there was such a thing as pod travel. Loved this post!

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