Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Business Class Lounge

One very effective way to discover the difference money can make is to fly business class out of JFK on British Airways. My new job is sending me to London for training, so I'm having my first business class overseas flight experience. Please forgive me if I sound a bit like a kid in a candy store. I can’t help it.

After eight hours of laundry, errands, and packing in 85 degree heat and 100% humidity, I arrived at New York's JFK International Airport to find that my 8:35 pm flight to London had been delayed until 11 pm. Generally when flights are delayed, the airport becomes a madhouse. But not for business class passengers. Check-in was a breeze, only one person in front of me in the special business class line. Getting through security was also a piece of cake since there is a separate security checkpoint for business and first class passengers. Again, only one person in front of me going through security.

The Terrace Lounge, which British Airways shares with Iberia Airlines, is extensive and very pleasant. As I sit here in my cushioned Adiondack-style chair with footstool under a beach umbrella facing a zen-like fountain where water tumbles down into a bed of rocks with plants all around, let me describe my environment.

There is an area for business, of course. Desks, small tables and chairs, phones, faxes, copiers, PCs with access to the internet -- whatever you need placed in appropriately businesslike decor.

Need a break? Just around the corner is the snack zone. There you can graze on juices and sodas, chips and pretzels, cookies and fruit. Moving on, you come to the coffee corner with gourmet teas and coffees (including espresso and cappuccino machines) and freshly squeezed juices accompanied by mounds of fresh apples and oranges. Across from that is the bar area where wine and beer as well as hard liquor are attractively displayed for self-service. Off to the left is the Pre-Flight Supper buffet. Everything is “free.” Whatever you eat or drink is included in the hefty fare you already paid. And throughout, one finds a variety of sofas, chairs, recliners, tables -- all grouped for easy conversation or solitary relaxation.

After surveying the lay of the land, I helped myself to a glass of chardonnay and called my husband. This conversation was more relaxed than my frantic goodbye as I straddled a puddle to get into a cab in the rain. We chatted until my wine was finished, then I stowed my backpack laptop carrier in the bins provided for that purpose and headed off for my Pre-Flight Supper. There were many interesting selections, all served buffet style. I had a lovely salad with yet another glass of chardonnay. My main course was lamb stewed with shitake mushrooms and asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes and peas and carrots. (What can I say? Sometimes my love of the TASTE of good food is stronger than my vegetarian resolve.) I ate at a table that overlooked travelers entering the terminal, all more anxious and harried than I was at that moment.

A little card placed on the table suggested the diner should retire to the lounge area for an after-dinner liqueur. I took that advice, so here I am in my lounge chair under the indoor beach umbrella, sipping a cognac. Looking around, I notice that there are NO TELEVISIONS in this lounge. There was lovely jazz in the dining room. Here, there is some very faint background music, but no TV. Not even the BBC or CNN. It’s wonderful. My British friend Maurene described this absence of television as being very upper-class British.

And who are the other people in this lounge? Business travelers, of course. Some can’t resist working, evidenced by the phone calls I overheard. But there are also families. How much money does it take to fly an entire family business class? Maybe the fathers have so many frequent flyer miles that the families are flying free. But still, a lot of money was spent by someone at some point in time.

I noticed how much easier it is for mothers here to manage the needs of traveling toddlers. Mothers in the coach lounge were sitting on the floor along with their kids because it was so crowded (all the flights are delayed due to thunderstorms). Here, there is space, soothing music, relaxed atmosphere. One little Indian boy bumped his head in the dining room. A dining room worker brought the mother crushed ice stuffed into a latex glove. Not only did the ice soothe the boy’s head, the stiff fingers filled with ice made him laugh.

This lounge is nice, but not sumptuous. It doesn’t reek of wealth. I’m sitting in a wooden chair fitted with plain cloth covered cushions. The cocktail tables in the snack area are simple stainless steel with high stools placed around them. It is very clean, simple, and tasteful, but more importantly, it is secluded, not fraught with the anxiety of international travel. The element of luxury is based on the fact that we are separated from the masses.

Speaking of separation, there is another lounge for first class passengers. It probably is sumptuous. I shudder to think what the differences must be.

So… I have finished my cognac. I still have about an hour before boarding. To tell you the truth, I don’t care how late the plane is! I am perfectly content here. Sometimes working for a living has its advantages. And although I am not working tonight, I must say… I LOVE THIS JOB.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
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