I think it was British Airways that created the Club World brand. I recall working as an air steward or cabin crew in my early twenties on Boeing 747s out of Heathrow. It was a glorious time. The airline had Lord King at the helm – a good mate of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Its flagship vehicle – Concorde – was rocking it twice daily to New York City with Hollywood stars and celebrities on board. As I donned my BA uniform for work and headed on the Glasgow shuttle to London, I felt proud and loved the brand.
I watched all the businessmen – mostly men at that time to be honest – in their smart suits. It looked cool being a businessman who would then head off to New York having scoffed a lovely cooked shuttle breakfast with two rounds of coffee. But, alas, the life of the business traveller commuting from the likes of Edinburgh or Glasgow is not so jolly. In fact it’s a chore….
I watched last week at an airport not to far away from our capital city – Edinburgh – as speedy boarding passengers lined up. For those of you who do not know, speedy boarding usually means you pay a bit extra to stand in a queue that is a bit shorter, so that you get on the plane first.
Anyway, there they were, all the speedy boarders, mostly business types. Many had man-bags over their shoulders that years ago would have been considered a bit effeminate. Two decades ago it was black brief cases with combination locks. You know, the type that James Bond carried with secret compartments.
Many of these speedy boarders also had trolley cases. I watched as they were on their phones texting and chatting to colleagues. Some were deeply engrossed in meaningful conversations about spreadsheets and cost analysis. How serious they looked. Others were tapping away at smartphone keypads with great intent. Time is money after all. Then it happened…
The speedy boarding business types were called forward while us chavs had to watch and wonder. All of a sudden, the queue sparked into life and calls were ended or put on hold. The speedy boarders were on the march. But not without a valid form of ID.
I counted about 40 in the speedy boarding queue before the rest of us were summoned. The “rest of us” queue, where I’m sure I saw Jeremy Corbyn mulling around, snaked out around the main concourse and right through the line at the coffee kiosk. Who planned this out I wondered?
Regardless, I joined the proletariat queue somewhere near the end. How I longed for the opportunity to join the speedy boarders. The business travellers; the special people looked after by the airlines as key revenue generators. I recall being told a generation ago by my cabin crew instructors that a 747 travelling from London Heathrow to New York with the whole of economy totally empty, but business class full, was making a huge profit. Says it all really… That is why they get looked after so well.
I got to the front and my boarding pass and ID were both checked. I walked down the stairs hoping and praying that my seat – 22B would be ok. By this I mean that there would be overhead locker space free above for my trolley bag. If not, I would have to traverse the cabin looking to steal someone else’s space.
But that’s a story for another day. It was raining outside I noted. I stood on the stairs with my fellow comrades, who were probably all thinking the same things.
As I got to the bottom of the stairs after about ten minutes, I looked at the bus we would be travelling to the aircraft in. In it were all those business types. Yes, they had been standing on that cold bus for 15 minutes with no canapés, no champagne, no newspapers and no wash bags.
It was then that it hit me that business travel from feeder airports is not all it’s cracked up to be. Speedy boarding to the holding bus… Oh how things have changed and not for the better.