As a writer for 'the glossies', I frequently attend swish dinners and invitation-only events in the company of VIP guests. We are all surrounded by luxury, but while I keep the samples in the gift bag, they already have the real thing.
This became startlingly clear at a recent event when the topic of 'plane outfits' (it's a thing) came up. A regular flyer, my standard uniform is a neat t-shirt, slim track pants, leather jacket and white Converse. My monochrome go-to, it's a no-brainer that spells laid-back yet practical, cosy yet cool.
Apparently though, Pucci blouses, Car Shoe loafers, monogrammed luggage and 2-for-1 Hermes cashmere scarves that double as blankets were what the plane-proud 'ladies who lunch' were wearing in First Class. Not that I'd know, as up the back there's far less sartorial pressure.
A recently retired air hostess told me that scoring an upgrade depends on things such as avoiding business routes, peak times, and special meals (it's hard to accommodate at the last minute), but a polished appearance never hurt either. I had tried it all but after four unsuccessful attempts, I reverted back to vegan selections and citizen clothes.
I fly economy when I'm sent to review luxury hotels around the world, but recently, an unexpected business class ticket opened up on the new Sydney-Los Angeles American Airlines route. It happened the night before my departure so it hadn't crossed my mind to dress the part. On board, it quickly became apparent that my 'youthful' sneakers were somewhat immature, and admittedly, my perception of timelessness unfortunately erred more on the side of pre-loved. I wasn't exactly scruffy but I could have done a lot better. New aircraft, new cabins, new flyer, old clothes.
Amidst all the cashmere and suits, I became fearful of blowing my 'nobody' cover, so I embellished a little to fit in. I was a young app inventor en route to Silicon Valley. I had made it big.
In a spectacular reversal of fortune, I was travelling with friends who are 'business class people' but (for reasons unknown) were subject to cattle class on the same flight. I popped down every now and then to see them squished in their narrow seats while I reclined on my flat bed. While I was using silverware they were peeling back silver foil and while I was tucked in with my pyjamas, they were covered in static blankets. While they had temperamental headphones, I had Bose. And as a fierce opponent of claustrophobic window and middle seats, the simplest yet most meaningful pleasure of all -- direct aisle access. Now I knew what was behind The Curtain.
I looked at them, all pretzel-like in their flying finest sticking out like sore thumbs. While they had years of skipped queues, airport lounges and convenient travel behind them, I had two decades of long queues, lost luggage, custom lines and overweight bags. Now though, I had 13 luxurious hours -- and they didn't. I had earned my place here. Their normal was my exception, and I justified my bragging rights, relishing the quiet and comfort up front while they experienced the sardines up the back. I peered past the partition and silently announced to the back of the plane: "I am not one of you. These are My People."
A month later I realised how quickly the mighty can fall. I had travelled to fairyland when it came to the cost of a business class ticket, and was, devastatingly, back in cattle class.
At least I had that 5-star hotel to look forward to.