Saturday, June 17, 2006


[Note: This is an essay that was recently published in Expatica Spain].

The good part about being an expat is that you get to see the world. The bad part is that seeing the world requires travel.

Sitting in airports and flying on airplanes—an activity that once seemed so exciting—loses much of its luster on or around the tenth trip across the ocean. 

And so it was that I found myself sitting in Terminal 3 of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport last weekend with a warm computer on my lap and a promising idea in my head.  I resolved that I would—during my flight back to Madrid—write a blistering dissertation on the agonies of flying Economy Class internationally. And I had in my sights the perfect target: Iberia Airlines.

That’s right, Iberia. The airline with the prickly flight attendants who make me walk to the back to the airplane each time that I want to refresh my gin and tonic. Iberia and I were about to do battle for the next nine hours, and my talons were sharpened and ready to exact a pound of flesh. all fairness, I do have some good things to say about Iberia Air. Their pilots, for example, are excellent. Never have I flown on an airline that so consistently makes glass-smooth landings. So smooth, in fact, that passengers often break into applause after touching down.

And Iberia is the only airline that flies non-stop between Madrid and Chicago. They get bonus points for that.

But other in-flight annoyances—ranging from sardine-worthy seating, icky sporadically-aired videos—left me plenty of material with which to work during my long redeye flight back to Spain.

So, with venom pulsing through my veins, I was just about to tear into the keyboard when...I heard the voice God.

“Mr. Fat Sal, please report to the Iberia counter.”

My spine stiffened. I had been paged by the Iberia counter several times in the past, so I knew that it meant one of three things. Either: (a) airport security was about to punish me for deciding not to shave that morning; or (b) my accident-prone mother broke yet-another bone and needed me to rush back home to vacuum a carpet; or (c)...

...“We’re upgrading you to Business Class, Fat Sal.”

And as the magnitude of these words sank in, the heavens opened and rays of sunshine flooded the terminal! Milky-white doves flew skyward from behind the ticket counter! And a chorus of angels dressed in flowing white robes burst into song!

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah...Hallelujah! Halle-e-e-lujah!”

Kissing the ticket agent’s ring and wishing eternal happiness to he and his family, I floated weightlessly—like a feather caught in an updraft—into the Airbus A-340.

Entering the Business Class section and stopping at seat 8C, I was immediately struck by three things. First, I had an *entire* overhead bin all to myself. Second, my electronically-controlled seat reclined to a fully horizontal position. And third, the seat next to mine was occupied by a beautiful young Spanish woman with a black iPod Nano.

Lamentably, I was unable to make full use of these luxuries. The overhead bin was overkill, since my only carry-on item was a small Dell laptop. And my beautiful, iPod-toting neighbor—although cordial—showed little inclination to make full use of our fully-reclining seats. Perhaps those types opportunities only present themselves to people in First Class.

The rest of the flight was like a dream. A dream that I didn’t want to end. Friendly, smiling flight attendants offered me English-language newspapers, Spanish-language newspapers, glasses of mineral water and orange juice [What?! No sherry?!]—and this all happened before the airplane left the gate.

Once we reached cruising altitude, things only got better.

My seat—my *beloved* seat 8C—had a personal video monitor that was chock full of movies, shorts (The Simpsons!), maps, music and video games.

A trolley full of Spanish Reserva wines and other aperitifs rolled down the aisle twice—TWICE!—before the meal.

The meal itself was a glorious event. First course was chicken consommé and a salad of mixed greens, parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar. Second course was filet mignon with a mustard and beer sauce, leeks and dried apricots. Desserts included cheeses, sorbets, ice creams and hazelnut cake.

And just when I thought that my inventory of good karma had been fully exhausted, the liquor trolley made a triumphant return—and this time, it was brimming with whiskies, cognacs and brandies. Forgetting about today’s hangover and devoting all my energies toward building a foundation for tomorrow’s, I opted for a glass of brandy that I would never in a million years buy with my own money.

My beautiful iPod-toting neighbor requested a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic. And it must’ve been a strong one, too...because after she had downed half the glass, she cranked-up the volume in her iPod, began rhythmically gyrating in her seat, looked over to me with a huge smile on her face and—as God is my witness—pressed the button on *my* seat that activated the vibrating back massager.

But alas, my beautiful neighbor and her gin-engorged libido would have to be satisfied with her black iPod Nano. Why? Because there was room in my heart for only one mistress—and that mistress was Iberia Airlines.


At 2:45 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

I too have flown Iberia and everything you lament about is true. We did have one of those smooth-as-glass landings where everyone breaks into applause but the rest of the flight was hell. My only hope is that the next time I have to fly with them, the airplane angels will smile down on me and kiss me with an upgrade!

At 10:38 PM, Blogger GC PHILO said...

I've flown with Iberia a few times and I know what you mean. As for the clapping thing when a plane lands, I don't think that's done specifically for Iberia. It must be a Mediterranean thing because I've flown to Greece several times (with Olympic and other airlines) and when there are Greeks on board, they always clap when the plane lands. Same happened in Italy. When I took a flight from Greece to England though, and most of the people on board were not from the Med., not a single clap was to be heard...

At 4:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An upgrade on the Iberia flight between Madrid and Chicago??? As someone who makes that flight a few times a year, I can attest to what a huge deal that is.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger woman wandering said...

I think I'm too jealous to comment ... I'd like to be big-hearted and I do congratulate you and I was happy for you but it's over 20 hours to New Zealand ... sigh, an upgrade to business class.

Lol, what am I saying ... I want a work permit, a job, an income and then just about any air ticket on any airline and a visit home :)

At 11:15 AM, Blogger christina said...

Boy oh boy, they sure fooled you that time you lucky dog (meant in the nicest of ways, of course). But now they've spoiled you for life and you're going to spend all future "cattle class" flights crying bitter tears into your lukewarm coffee in the styrofoam cup and pining for days gone by.

My first (and probably last at the rate I seem to be going) upgrade to business class was 16 years ago on British Airways. Real cutlery! Recognizable food! Complimentary fuzzy socks! Room to move! It was heaven.

Hmm...I think I may try using the phrase "gin-engorged libido" several times in ordinary conversation today just to mix things up a bit...

At 8:13 PM, Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

We had something similar flying to and from Canada last year and right now, we're trying to get all the miles we can to upgrade again. It's worth it! Uhm. Didy you find our WHY they upgraded you to BC??

Bwaaahahaha! I loved Christina's expression of "cattle class"!

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Looking at the glass as being half-full, at least there is unlimited free booze in all classes--even Economy/Cattle Class--on international flights.

This was the third time that Iberia has upgraded me in the past five years. I really don't understand how these decisions are made. I'm not a member of their Platinum Plus Club. I don't fly a million miles per year. I don't even dress well.

I have noticed, however, one common thread. My three upgrades where on flights for which I didn't call 48 hours in advance to "confirm." Perhaps they were not expecting me to show-up, and just stuffed me into Business Class (and one time, into First Class).

Which, BTW, is another practice that I don't understand. If I've bought and paid for the tickets, then why should I have to call two days before the flight and confirm. About the only thing I'm confirming is that I won't be upgraded.


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