Firsty work

No cat to wake me up on Sunday. Rather, a phone call from Australia at 1.30am. I mean seriously, stop that. Didn't answer, got voicemail, ignored. Leave me alone. For now.

Y'know, I never wanted to go to Luxembourg yesterday. I mean don't get me wrong, there are often good reasons to "start" a trip on mainland Europe after a separate, cheap one way ticket:

  • lower taxes, fees and surcharges by avoiding (at least) the UK's Airline Passenger Duty, which adds well north of £100 to the price of a long haul flight in business class or higher
  • sales by BA from a market outside Britain, which tend to be more aggressively priced than the relatively captive market at home (people need enticing with lower prices to have the hassle of changing planes rather than fly direct on Air France, Lufthansa, etc)
  • mistakes made on specific routes that I wish to exploit, e.g. business class returns from Norway to the USA priced up at 1/5th of the price they are meant to be
  • availability; sometimes flights from the UK are sold out, but flights from European airports are not

But this trip, well, none of them really apply. I spent American Airlines miles on this trip - before a brutal devaluation, it used to cost 80,000 miles to fly from anywhere in Europe to anywhere in Australia, regardless of changes (i.e. no per-flight cost like with BA) in first class.

(Yeah, don't worry if you're bored by this intro: later we get into a first class cabin. Let me just get this out of the way first.)

So yeah, none of the good reasons should have applied. It's my annual-ish trip to see the family in Australia and I was happy to start in London. I could afford the taxes, fees and surcharges and wanted the convenience of starting at home - but when I searched for flights from London to Sydney no availability came up for the whole of June. So I thought, OK, check a few airports in Europe - maybe I can jump on Qatar Airways or Cathay Pacific, from like Amsterdam or Oslo or Madrid or something... and none of those came up either. But Luxembourg - with no long haul destinations, I was expecting maybe an Air Berlin connection to Dusseldorf or something - came up with a BA flight to London, overnight, then first class from London to Melbourne on Qantas, another overnight, then business class to Sydney on the Wednesday.

The cash component? Just £78. Fucking hell! OK, sign me up for this... and here we are.

So, back to today. I slept pretty well after ignoring that phone call and woke up 5 minutes before my alarm. There was a car coming to get me - laid on by Qantas - at 0930, and I hadn't really packed much apart from a few presents. So up, shower, packed, and then it was about 0900 and I was kicking my heels. Quick trip out to the shop to buy a diet coke and as I came back, a guy dressed smartly and wearing a bluetooth headset was looking lost walking along my cul-de-sac.

Just as I approached my front door, the phone rang. The lost looking guy was, as per my suspicions, my driver, 20 minutes early. Eesh! Nipped indoors, grabbed my bags, and got in the car. To Heathrow!

The drive was pretty nondescript, the route to Heathrow through Teddington, Feltham, Bedfont etc isn't very picturesque. He was an interesting guy with sad stories about his homeland which I'm not overly keen to repeat.

At terminal 3 I thought about using the self-service machine but after the aborted attempts last night, I decided against. And, actually, I wondered vaguely about my holdall. I'm pretty certain it's a viable size for hand luggage but checking it in wouldn't be a disaster. So, to a desk I went.

It says here you came from Luxembourg?

The guy at the first class check-in desk told me my bag was fine to keep with me. He also asked me if I wanted a gold wallet for my boarding pass. Wait, what? Fucking lol! I mean, come on, I'm horribly smug and self-satisfied about gaming things well enough to fly like this but do I really need some opulently coloured cardboard to keep a sliver of other cardboard in? No, no I don't.

I had two choices of lounge: the British Airways lounge, or the Emirates lounge. Normally they would suggest the latter, but "due to the situation today" we were likely to depart from gate 42, not gates 1-7, and thus the BA lounge is much nearer and the one they are recommending.

But first, fast track security. My passage through was delayed by the idiocy of some infrequent traveller totally failing to empty all his pockets of stuff, including metal things, and setting off alarms. Oh, wait, that would be yours truly, strolling through the detector with a book, pen, and headphones in my pocket plus fitness tracker still on my wrist. For fucks sake, Darren!

And then, the Emirates lounge. It's a bit of a trek to the bit where gates 1-7 are - the advice from the check-in guy was fine, and I had no real reason to disbelieve him - but, well, I've never been to the Emirates lounge and don't know if I'll ever get to go there again; whereas the BA lounge is within reach through shiny card earning.

The Emirates lounge was empty. Literally, 100% empty. I was the only passenger in the whole place. There were about 8 members of staff and tons of empty chairs. I guess everyone else was heeding the advice. This meant I could take a whole bunch of photos without being remotely self-conscious, as most of the time even the staff were absent from view - they were all crowded around the cold food, hence no pics of that.

The lounge is fantastic. Bright, airy, tons of space, self-service champagne, excellently presented cheese and Arabic breakfast doohickeys, and phenomenal views of the apron, taxiway and runway. Planes! Planes are great, aren't they?

By 11am one - genuinely, just one - other passenger had arrived and I couldn't deal with the crowds, so I left. After all, the first class BA lounge at T3 was still new to me and I did believe that it was closer to the boarding gate. Blimey, what a contrast. Crowded, dark, but with hot food and a much wider booze choice. The hot food buffet was still in breakfast mode: a fry-up (without beans). Woohoo!

Food, champagne flute number 2, and a glance at the departure boards. All oneworld alliance flights at the terminal are on display and, oh look, BA418 to Luxembourg (and therefore 419 back) is cancelled! Ha. So if I'd started my trip today, that would have been a fun conversation. "Hi, BA, you're responsible for getting me to London from Luxembourg but it's cancelled. Can I save you the trouble...?"

Ooh, a secret train station.

A gate came up. Gate 1. God damn you, check-in guy! I'm miles away and could have stayed in the Emirates lounge! Heh. My boarding pass says boarding starts at 1220 and being a hoofing great A380 I know these things do open their doors early, so I strolled along and got there about 1215. The lass checking my boarding pass and passport raises her eyebrow and says "sir, you've not checked any bags?"

Prompt announcements are made - first class passengers are invited to board after the kids and infirm, with a good 5 seconds of their own time before business, premium economy and any shiny cards are called up. Gimme a bloody chance!

In an instant, I'm ensconced in seat 3A and Robin introduces himself to me. Would I like a drink? Well, a champagne would be nice, wouldn't it?

We're on the ground for a fair while before setting off, so I'm online chatting merrily to Mark and Chris and looking things up on Google and whoa, this champagne is £100 a bottle! How many flutes in a bottle? Five? That means I've drunk £40 worth already because, a refill to go with my almonds and marinated olives? Why the fuck not.

The hot towel basically disintegrates all over my trousers.

Robin says he'll fetch me an amenity kit and pyjamas. Two other members of staff pop by, welcoming me and delivering food menus and stuff. With each "Mr Foreman". I'm surprised how much difference it makes to my impression that this is done without them consulting a list of names on a clipboard/iPad.

People in the centre seats are scoffing canned beer and already changed into their pyjamas, but mine are yet to materialise. The cabin service manager gets on the tannoy and says we have staff who speak fluent Polish and German onboard, as well as 3 trained sommeliers. What!?

I'm asked what drink I'd like once we're airborne, to which I respond: might as well stick to the champagne. Oh, and can I have an amenity kit?

Robin's face drops. He's fucking mortified, like, seriously distressed that he hasn't delivered one to me yet. He disappears off, and returns with a forlorn look on his face. There's an amenity kit, which is fine, but two pairs of pyjamas. He's afraid they've only loaded L/XL. I'm like, hello, fat bloke here, surely that's fine - but he goes to pains to tell me I probably need a medium, because these are made for 7ft giants and they'll hang off me.

I convince him they'll be fine, but he still looks really unhappy, like he's failed at his job and life by not being able to supply me with the right size swag. Poor bloke.

Airborne, some champagne arrives, of course. I'm pondering why I'm so addicted to the stuff, and I think there are two primary reasons:

  1. the representation of a deep-seated capitalist inferiority complex, lodged in my psyche since childhood
  2. it's fucking lovely

Let's stick with number two here.

Right, the seat. It's the same as last time, in case any readers can recall my debut Qantas first class trip back in March 2014. There's masses of room and an incredibly detailed - not to mention heavy - handheld controller for the entertainment, window blinds, lighting, and seat/suite. I love this shit.

The safety video - and I can scarcely believe I'm saying this - is fantastic. Lots of bonzer bona fide Australians from all over delivering a sentence or two each. Hard to explain, and doubtless the bubbles were having an emotional effect on me anyway.

Ooh, canapes! These are tiny but utterly gorgeous. I forget what they are, but they're on the menu.

I plug my headphones into one of the 3 sockets that weird airplane seat headphone sockets use, and have to have it hanging halfway out to get sound in both ears. This displeases me, so I use the provided set instead. They are cheap and make my ears sweat.

Deadpool annoys me within about 5 minutes so I sack it off and watch Concussion instead, which is a fantastic film about the battle by a few people in the medical profession to expose the links between concussion and serious illness amongst NFL players. My usual caveat of film reviews when drunk and on a plane applies: at some of the heart string tugging bits, I am really welling up. God damn it! Tell you what, it's graphic 'n all. Bits of brain being sliced and stuff. Eww.

Ooh, more bubbly. And the meal, chosen from this menu.

I've got quail to start and it's alright, nothing special, until I get to the bit which the black pepper had hit and boom, there's the taste buds. Sourdough bread with balsamic vinegar and olive oil keeps me going before the Sri Lankan curry arrives. It's all very nice. Of course it's all very nice.

Cheese and quince and oat cakes. NOM NOM NOM.

More champagne sir? Actually, I'll have a port. But then you might as well top the fizz up too.

I'm on glass number 8 (including the two back in the lounge) when the table goes away, and I switch to my iPad for entertainment: time to watch the Sky Arts documentary about Number Of The Beast by Iron Maiden. Thanks for the tip, Nige.

Bit scared of the production company though.

The cabin lights are all down by now. It's "only" a 7 hour flight, all day time and landing at 11pm local time in Dubai, but nonetheless everyone wants darkness and a bit of kip, except me. So I move on to watching last week's WWE Smackdown downloaded from Sky, and promptly fall asleep 3 times missing a bunch of matches. Bloody hell. Rewind, watch Cesaro come out, fall asleep, wake up, rewind, watch Cesaro come out, ...

I need to make a better fist of staying awake, so I go to the loo - which has the best view in first class, since it has a window, and all the seats in the cabin are so far away from the side of the plane - and admire the stairs. Shall I go to the "lounge"? Nah, not yet.

Returning to my seat, I sit up and start typing this post. Robin comes to ask if I want anything else and I go, y'know what, can I have a beer? He returns with two bottles, but it's too dark to see what either of them are. One of them is a dark ale, he says, so I have that. But I never do find out the name so I can't put it on Untappd. Grr!

Our undefined destination is actually not far away now; I don't get to finish this post onboard, because the holding pattern the captain had expected has vanished, so instead it's all systems go for landing. We touch down at dead on 8pm UK time, and I think, hmm, perhaps I should get online ASAP and start listening to or watching England play Iceland at Euro 2016. Or maybe there's something better to do here?

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Darren Foreman

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