Your Etihad Business begins with a Priority Pass through boring old Customs, to the usual magical array of Duty-Free Liquor, French Perfumes, jewellery, chocolates enough to put on kilos…You resist temptation, regardless of Oscar Wilde’s famous injunction.
At the Etihad Kingsford Smith Lounge Reception Desk, an obsequious employee in white stores you goods until it’s time to leave. He accompanies you into a lift to the Lounge with acres of glass and a display of starters enough to make your mouth water. You join other Sybarites and Patricians at work or play, tapping away on computer keyboards or mobile screens, dining with wives, lovers or both. Every five minutes a black-clad minion walks by, giving the gleaming tiled floor another buff. It’s mirrored surface is bright enough to do your make-up. It puts even my friend, David’s obsessive-compulsive, housekeeping skills to shame!
A female waitress glides to your table, clad in formal noir, attire the occasion demands. Would Madame like iced water, juice, white or red wine from France… French Champagne Bubbles in your mouth… You try several starters. Your taste buds zing. A gentleman offers succulent dates that melt on your tongue. Then Madame orders from the wide menu and fillet steak slices, with potato and parsnip mash appear.
Along the corridor to the loo, other minions stand to attention, lest you lose your way. With your flight about to depart, you walk through the hoi polloi to a small area reserved for Business Class Passengers like me. It’s easy to see one could become accustomed to this heady lifestyle.
In the aircraft, you are shown to your seat cum bed – almost like a mini cabin, really. The TV has a 17” screen, which was once the norm for homes all over the country – not bad for aircraft travel. Certainly bigger than the ones in Tourist. One can dine at any time of your choosing, so hostesses move to and fro, forever on the go. I think of their tired legs in those high heels.
In the cabin across from mine, I see a man whom, at first glance, appears to be in a pyjama top, legs and torso covered by a blanket. Then I notice the large emerald ring, another with diamonds, and decide it’s a woman. Then glimpse the hand- it’s definitely that of a man. Or not. I never did decide. Glances avoid glances. We take our places as if we are invisible: I guess it’s not done to notice others are there. So in silence and blindness we share – yet avoid sharing – our delusions of grandeur.
What would Madame like for dinner? Have another glass of the Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve French Champagne – what other type is there? Figure I’d rather sleep, rocked off by the ebb and flow of air-currents as the big aircraft floats through the long night
What would Madame like for Breakfast? Yoghurt and cereal with breads and Earl Grey tea is perfect. My plane bumps to earth on the tarmac of Abu Dhabi – definitely not a Magic Carpet arrival, I’m grateful the pilot flies better than he lands. I traverse a winding succession of corridors, buy a French Croissant with American dollars, find my departure gate, sit and wait. Don’t bother to seek out the Etihad lounge.
Another plane, another Business Class Cabin. Would Madame like red wine, white wine.. For starters, I sip a glass of French Champagne. I’m gradually figuring out how to operate all the accessories at my disposal, finding the way to open out the table, and lift the lid on my box of goodies. Order an A La Carte Luncheon. The hostess puts a damask tablecloth, with matching napkin, supplies silver. An excellent selection of appetizers teases my taste buds. Then my main, yummy chicken-breast, stuffed with sage and ricotta, with sides of fondant potato, kale and cranberries. I drink A Paul Comeau Sauvignon Blanc, Pouilly Fume- France 2015. Expressive floral and citrus meld into a core of yellow orchard fruit, apricot, mint and wildflowers of the region. A selection of cheeses follow with a ripe Camembert and very nice cheddar, artisan crackers, fruit and paste. Dessert follows. I chose a delicious orange crème brulee with Chenin dessert wine.
At Heathrow I have a fixed idea – catch a bus to Reading Station, same as last time, then the train to Bath Spa. Only, from that Terminal, the girl assures me, there is no bus to Reading. I’m incredulous. Another woman suggests the National Express Coach to Bath at 3.30 pm, about an hour’s wait. I privately dismiss that plan, thinking it’s too late, and wander off with my trolley, wondering what to do. Inside the Terminal, another national Express man suggests two stops on the train to Hayes and Harlington – sounds ideal. I ask, Are there lifts? He assures me in the affirmative.
On arrival I rename it Hayes, Hell and Harlington. Dozens of stairs. No lift. I have no intention of hefting two cases etc up and down stairs. Nobody offers to help. Had I been twenty and pretty… They suggest a train to Paddington station, and a direct ride back to Bath Spa. By then I know the National Express Coach at 3.30 pm had been the perfect option. Madame will just have to be wiser next time.