I’m tired of hearing about the golden age of flight, that era when air hostesses (never hosts) wore Pucci uniforms, Pan Am logos adorned everything from complimentary socks to midtown skyscrapers, seat-back pockets revealed kit bags stuffed with miniature grooming apparatuses, the cocktails were free, the utensils were metal, and presumably you didn’t have to take your shoes on and off twice before boarding. You want to know why I’m tired of it? Because I fly in economy class.
Until recently, the forward cabin (purser-speak for first and business class) was only that tantalizing part of the plane I walked through on my way to 37F and was shortly thereafter sealed off with a Velcro-lined curtain. On my last flight, however, I was treated to a business-class ticket. I now know why there must always be a curtain.
While economy class has remained the same for a very long time (give or take a few in-flight entertainment options), innovations in passenger comfort have been exclu- sively relegated to the forward cabin—and the curtain keeps them there. Air rage has become a hotly publicized issue, but imagine the tumult resulting from a legroom-starved, sludge-fed, economy-flying plebeian catching a glimpse of a horizontally reclined business-class passenger in a Marc Newson–designed six-and-a-half-foot-long Skybed, snoring mockingly after being swabbed with warm washcloths and stuffed with champagne and braised lamb.
At one end of the spectrum, carriers com-pete with low fares; at the other, the playing field consists of amenities offered by cushier forms of seating. Over the last few years first- and business-class cabins have evolved to the point where it’s hardly fair to even call the seats seats. More appropriate would be something along the lines of DAMILP, or dynamic and mutable in-flight living pods. Recent DAMILP designs have come from world-renowned designers such as the aforementioned Newson (for Qantas) and Ross Lovegrove (whose Skysleeper Solo debuted on Japan Airlines in 2002)—a slight nod to that golden age when Finnair cus-tomers dined with elegant Tapio Wirkkala flatware and table settings and Braniff planes featured interiors designed by Alexander Girard. The common features of the DAMILP, even those not coming from the drawing boards of brand-name designers, are fully reclinable seat backs and folding leg rests that form a sort of bed, the requisite folding tray, an LCD television, an electronic console to control said TV and regularly call on the attendants, an adjustable reading lamp, power outlets, a cubbyhole, and pneumatic lumbar adjustments. Some even go so far as to fully enclose the passenger in a cocoonlike nest for ultimate privacy (one person per pod, please). Cathay Pacific, often rated the world’s best airline, even gives out luxury duvets and “sleepsuits.”
While you might think that would be enough to satisfy even the most discerning customer, consider that since 1990 Virgin Atlantic has been offering its upper-class passengers in-flight beauty therapy treat-ments. Once you’ve had a professional scalp and neck massage at 35,000 feet, the usual treatment of having a screaming child kick the back of your seat for an hour no longer measures up.