Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The glamorous nature of my job means that I’m forever jetting off to Rio, New York, Leeds-Bradford etc., which is a pain because I really don’t like flying very much. But every once in a while, provided there’s nobody more important on board, I get upgraded to Ejector-Seat Class.
I love Ejector-Seat Class. It’s a completely different flying experience. You’ll never see it advertised of course, and so I hope I’m not going to get into trouble with BA by giving away their secrets. But for those not in the know, the Ejector section, or ESC, is situated at the very back of Business Class, where the bar once used to be, behind a door discreetly marked ‘Precious Cargo’.
There are just eight seats, presumably because of the extra weight of the rockets, and you’ll rarely see more than three or four of them occupied – usually by celebrities of one sort or another, or politicians. As I said it’s an amazing experience, and knowing that there’s an escape route puts a very different aspect on your journey. It’s not that you’re actually hoping for disaster as such, but you can’t help wondering what it’d be like...floating like thistledown into the blue, as you watch the stricken plane spiralling downwards... then landing in a quiet water meadow, Cafe Americano still to hand, your pink parachute settling softly about you...
So whenever the pilot’s voice warns of approaching turbulence there’s a kind of frisson in ESC, a certain look that the occupants give one another. You check your console and lean back into the firm embrace of the padded headrest, staring at the hydraulically operated skylight above you in readiness, if not hopeful expectancy.
ESC is by invitation only, and said invitation is reversible. You can get upgraded at the gate, only to be subsequently bumped if somebody more important should show up later. I was once bumped in favour of the girl band Mis-Teeq, which hurt a bit. You do wonder where the priorities lie. In fact it can be quite a good game, sitting in Business Class, spotting some well-known figure and wondering who’s keeping them out of ESC. If you ever see Gordon Brown or the Pope flying Business Class then you'd have to assume that it was Bono or Macca back there in the hot seats.
I’ve never flown ESC in such heady company, but I did get to share with the Osmonds on one occasion. It was actually a quite a hairy ride. Once those boys got some corn liquor inside them and started with the Crazy Horses routine, I found my left hand permanently hovering over the big red button (see pic).
Not that the red button is going to work, of course, until proper disaster is imminent. You can’t have passengers pinging off into space just for the fun of it. No, I gather that there’s an automated lock on the system to which the pilots have a manual override. I worry about this. You see, the pilots themselves don’t have ejector seats, and so it’s rather up to them whether or not they decide to activate ESC as they go plunging to their own doom. They won’t care a fig about me, and so in the event of a crash I have to hope that I’m back there with someone really nice, someone worth saving. David Attenborough maybe, or Lisa Simpson.