Putting the 'Class' in Business Class

Our reporter experiences British Airways's cultural decompression chamber

The departure area at JFK is swarming with sketchy English youths dressed as if it were 2003. There can be few places on earth with a higher Von Dutch-cap-per-square-foot density. I came of age at a school in which we lustily bellowed daily hymns about building a glorious “Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.” The England we imagined bestowed the Boy Scouts, Mary Poppins, and bangers ’n’ mash upon the world. A noble nation starkly at odds with the scene I now witnessed as four sour, pasty-faced teens pillaged the overpriced souvenir rack at Hudson News. As I flashed back to high school history classes, the Duke of Wellington came to mind. Whilst inspecting his soldiers on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, he quipped: “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but by God, they frighten me.” They were the kind of people more commonly seen on security cameras rioting in English city centers rather than boarding transatlantic flights.

The British Airways business lounge offered little respite. It is well appointed. Perhaps too well appointed. The lounge’s architects had the novel yet ill-advised idea of outfitting an area as a pub, replete with working beer pumps. The majority of my fellow passengers could not believe their freeflowing good luck. Before I knew it, the rugby-shirted beer guzzlers had moved onto spirits and the business lounge had taken on the smell and chaotic bustle of a “knees-up” at a local boozer. The second my flight was called, I fled for the gate.

All of the bedlam fell away when I reached Gate 1, which was less a jetway than a secret passage to civilization, in the form of British Airways Club World London City service. The airline’s recession-denying Business Only service flies between JFK and the toytown-sized London City Airport, a pound coin’s throw from the capital’s financial district, known as the City. Classical music serenaded the entry to the sleek, white cabin of the Airbus A318. A blue neon light slashed along the top of a narrow aisle. “There are only two aircraft like this in the world, and you are on one of them.” purred the captain. A mere 32 seats spaciously laid out along a trim eight rows, each a handsome curved pod promising compact comfort. The visual impact of this pristine white cabin moved me to my core.

I had originally relocated to the States as a youth under the heavy influence of three men. The first two were Messrs. Starsky and Hutch. The third was Captain William “Buck” Rogers. As I boarded this flight, the combination of lighting, sleek design, and classical sound made it feel as if the Buck Rogers future had arrived early. The 25th Century was now, and it was flying under the Union Jack.

My giddy sense of wonder continued upon take off as the flight began its patented OnAir service, funneling text messages and the Internet into the cabin. This high-tech functionality was complemented by a refreshing dose of old-school luxury. The airplane staff had clearly been trained by Anthony Hopkins’s character in Remains of the Day as they discreetly bombarded me with full-bodied merlot, Bocconcini mozzarella, and chicory tart.

As I lowered my seat into a bed, I was struck by the realization that British Airways Club World London City service was not just a flight. It was a cultural decompression chamber. Like a deep-sea diver emerging onto dry land, I was now ready to attack London without fear of the cultural bends. Though to be truthful, I wished the flight would go on forever—that instead of landing, we could endlessly trace the craggy British coastline from John o’Groats to Land’s End, and I would not confront the real England for fear it will never again be as glorious as this plane.

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