One Christmas when our children were young, we decided to eschew (“Gesundheit.” “Thank you”) our traditional Christmas-week vacation to Hawaii and travel instead to London, my favorite place in the world, so I may possibly have exerted some influence on the matter.
This is not about the trip, which was memorable, and not just because seven year-old Anna won the heart of a bellman at our London hotel named Charlie Farley. If not for me saying, “London” not “Hawaii”, we would never have made the acquaintance of a man with such a deliciously rhyming name.
This is instead about our flight, or, more specifically, our return flight to L.A. from London, which takes about a year and a half, with favorable headwinds. (The other direction takes a year, but when you get off the plane, it’s London!) The carrier was British Airways. I only mention their name because I hate them. And you will soon discover why.
We’re at LAX, which is L.A’s airport. I don’t know what the “X” stands for. Maybe LAA landed clunkily on their eardrums. Although the Tahiti airport is FA-A-A (pronounced Fah-ah-ah), and they have no trouble with that at all.
Anyway, we were on the Waiting List for an upgrade to “Business Class”, so when we checked in, we immediately inquired about the chances for enhanced legroom and a hot cookie when you land. To our excitement and delight, we were informed that there was indeed available seating in “Business Class”, and that our upgrade was approved. (There is a little-known “Victory Dance” designed specifically for upgrade approvals, which we immediately broke into before a terminalful of gawking travelers.)
Our family was decked out in attractive sweats, to insure sartorial comfort during the extended flight. I include this passing detail because it matters. As you will shortly discover.
Our vacation is over, and we are heading back home. We check in at the British Airways counter at London’s Heathrow Airport, where we, once again, ask about available upgrades. (We had the “air miles” to merit these upgrades; it was just a question of “Is there space?”)
After checking her computer, we were informed by the British Airways representative that, yes, there was available seating to reassign our entire family to Business Class. However, before we were able to explode into our Victory Dance, we were further informed that
Get this! No, that's not loud enough. GET THIS!!! No, more. GET THIS!!!!!
The announcement started with a transparently insincere and inappropriately Royal, “We’re sorry”, after which the obsessively snooty British Airways representative explained to us that their airline had a “Dress Code” for their “Business Class” passengers, and that, as our current attire did not rise to the designated standard, an upgrade, though available, would not be provided.
Can you believe that?!?
We were wearing exactly the same clothes on our departure from L.A., and they had no problem concerning the upgrade. Now, because of some British Airways “Dress Code”, we were banished from “Business Class” and unceremoniously exiled into “Coach!”
Of course, we resisted, our, to me, indisputable argument being that, until that very moment, we had never heard that there was a British Airways “Dress Code” for “Business Class”, and that, if we had known, we’d have dressed appropriately, meaning in something other than the clothes we had worn on the flight over and they’d had absolutely no problem with.
Was it possible there was only a “Dress Code” in one direction?
Though she listened dutifully – as she was undoubtedly trained to do – the British Airways representative was steely eyed and unbending. We were entirely overmatched. The woman had survived the “Blitz.” If she’d prevailed over the Luftwaffe, the fulminating Pomerantz’s would be but a momentary humming in her ears.
“It’s ‘Cowch’ for yew, mah dearies. And be ‘appy we down’t ban you from the pline altogever!”
She didn’t actually talk Cockney. But I don’t do “stuffy.” It is beyond my writing skills to simulate on paper speaking superciliously through your nose.
After, what appears in retrospect, to have been token resistance – we did not even ask to see her Supervisor; we were afraid she’d be even tougher – we were ushered onto the Tarmac, where we climbed a flight of movable stairs onto the aircraft, and directed to “Coach”, which, on this plane, meant ascending a spiraling staircase to the second-floor level of the plane. (The “Coach” passengers were apparently a protective buffer for their betters, in the event that, should some massive object, like, perhaps, another plane, come crashing down on top of our plane, the peasants in the “cheap seats” would be decimated first.)
Just as we started fastening our seatbelts, our plane experienced an emphatic jolt, little a brief but more than 5 on the Richter Scale earthquake. The cabin wobbled from side to side before returning to the resting position one expects from an airplane whose engines have not yet been turned on. No panic. But there was confusion.
Shortly thereafter a voice came up on the intercom, speaking in the educated and rounded tones one might expect from a radio “newsreader” reporting the events of the world over the BBC:
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I please have your attention. In the process of its removal, the retractable staircase has apparently penetrated the outer skin of the aircraft, inflicting damage that, I’m afraid, will need to be attended to. We deeply apologize for the delay, made necessary by an accident that should not have happened.
We then proceeded to sit there, contorted in “Coach”, for six hours, after which we were instructed to “deplane” and walk back to the terminal, where we waited an additional hour, until a replacement plane was located and taxied in.
Seven hours of waiting, added to an eleven-and-a-half hour flight.
And we didn’t get the upgrade.
After returning home, I related my tale of severe annoyance to our travel agent, who immediately made a call, which resulted in a free lunch with a member of the British Airways Public Relations department, accompanied by a heartfelt apology and a complimentary British Airways overnight bag.
I retain that overnight bag to this very day. But I have never used it. It remains imprisoned in a dank and moldy closet in the furthest recesses of our basement, next to the water heater. If that water heater explodes, that closet gets it first. Oh yes, and there’s spiders.
That’ll show ‘em, huh?