For those of you who don’t have the opportunity or ordeal of having to get on planes regularly an enormous gulf in comfort has developed between “real” airlines and low-cost airlines. Now I have the distinct misfortune of being far better acquainted with the low-cost variety of flights. I live next to a low-cost airline top destination in Spain and most of the time I find myself squashed into the hard plastic chairs (not seats, you can’t call them seats), desperately turning up the volume of my ipod to drown out the incessant announcements trying to sell me this or that and avoiding the stray elbow of some Brit staggering to the bathroom after one too many beers at a high altitude. That is my in-flight entertainment with Ryanair or Easyjet. So it was with great curiosity and excitement that I boarded Emirates Air (economy class, let’s not get too carried away here) for the first time ever last week to go to Dubai.
I don’t know when this started happening, but I saw my first individual television screen on a plane only a couple of years ago on a flight home to Toronto with my wife and kids. I thought it was such a good idea then and it’s getting better and better. On Emirates Air I was confronted with “ICE”, the latest in in-flight television systems. It was like being in a candy shop. I had more than a hundred movies to choose from, including several very recent ones. I ended up seeing the Hurt Locker, timely as it had just won the Oscar the night before. Not only films were available but also around thirty tv shows (I watched some Indian MTV videos) and around thirty arcade type video games.
That was the “E” of ICE, which stands for Entertainment. The “C” stands for communications. I found out that from my seat I could make phone calls, send emails, update my social network status and plug in my laptop. All but the last thing cost a fair bit of money, and I’m too cheap to pay for the thrill of tweeting at 35,000 feet. But it felt cool knowing that I could, just in case I really needed to. In fact I wrote this blogpost from the airplane with my laptop plugged in.
Finally, the “I” stands for information. I know lots of people who enjoy seeing the flight path and time to destination on the screen of a long-haul flight (I especially like it when I nod off and wake up and see hey presto only twenty minutes left to go!). But on this flight they had added what must be the most interesting or terrifying feature depending on your feelings about flying: a video feed to a small camera attached to the front exterior of the plane. The elderly woman from India in the seat next to me showed me how to turn it on. We both watched the takeoff from Gatwick together, feeling as if we were RIGHT ON THE NOSE OF THE PLANE! I almost grabbed her hand in the excitement, like we were on a rollercoaster together.
Finally, say what you like about airplane food but I have become so used to having to pay through the nose for a soggy sandwich and horrible coffee that any free hot meal now feels like a luxury, not to mention the free glass of wine too. To cap off the whole experience I found among the hundred or so albums on the music channel that they had the whole discography of several classic rock bands. I plugged myself in and listened to all of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street before nodding off.
If only other flights could be more like this. But one must take one’s pleasures when one can. So this ranks as my best flying experience of 2010 so far (actually, of 2009, 2008, 2007 etc too). I shall endeavour to remember it next time I’m fighting my way to the front of the non-priority queue with a whole hen party on their way back to London after a weekend on the tiles.
Photo Credit: TenSafeFrogs. Creative Commons Licence.