Confessions of a benefits manager

Blogs confessions imageCandid: This is the last time I travel anywhere, and certainly the last time I fly with the least-loved airline. Mind you, this trip started off well enough. I prepared everything ahead, even to the extent of reading the new hand-baggage instructions and printing out my own boarding pass. It worked brilliantly. With my laptop in hand and my cosmetics packed separately in a plastic bag of the requisite dimensions, I went straight through security without a pause. I then spent a happy hour in the duty free store thinking how wonderful it is to be paid to do my shopping.

But coming back via Charles De Gaulle airport, they had the gall to make me transfer all toiletries from my little plastic bag to their own identical little plastic bag. Hampered by my overcoat, suit jacket and shoes (which the militant little security man made me remove), and juggling with my laptop and overnight bag, this was just too much to deal with.

I’m not sure why, but I felt really embarrassed by the number of lotions I had brought with me on this overnight stay, especially as they were examined one by one by the security guy, while important-looking businessmen shuffled impatiently behind me. It didn’t help when militant-man, with a raised eyebrow, held up a rather phallic shaped plastic case. I wanted to explain to everyone that it is my toothbrush holder, but by then militant-man had confiscated my tweezers. Do I look like a terrorist who is going to pluck the pilot into submission? And what if I get one of those funny hairs on my chin while I am away?

I did think about checking my bag in to avoid all this. But no way, not where French baggage handlers are involved. Last time I checked my overnight bag in, they lost it and I had to go to our Paris office in clothes I had been wearing for twenty rather sweaty hours, and face my arch enemy without make-up. My nasty colleague took great delight in my distress. How different I look, she told me, taking in my splotchy face, crumpled hair and suit, and all with an unnecessarily long glance.

I remember that I’m in economy for the return journey. And worse, I’m in the middle seat of the very first row of the section. This is the very nastiest place to be. Not only can you smell the marginally better and certainly more substantial meal that you are missing, but you are constantly aware of the inattention of the stewardess as she rushes past with extra bottles of champagne for her proper customers up front. You are lucky to be thrown a sandwich, which is actually a rock-hard roll with a tiny scrap of dry cheese in the middle, and you nearly die of thirst before she brings you a cup of foul-smelling tea. Yummy.

On the way over, the travel agent had wangled me a seat in business class, which was much nicer. I like sitting in business class; I like sitting in a leather seat so large my feet dangle like a little girl’s. I like being given champagne to keep me going until the hot food arrives. I like looking over my fellow passenger’s shoulder to read that document marked ‘Strictly Confidential – Contains Business Secrets’. Sadly, despite peering while adjusting the air-conditioning and dropping my book on his side in order to get a closer look, I didn’t find out exactly what the business secrets are. However, I can tell you that one major drinks company is up to something rather dodgy with another major drinks company. What do these naughty drinks boys get up to?

It’s obvious the crew don’t like having women passengers in business class. You can tell they prefer looking after important-seeming businessmen by the way they studiously ignore female passengers, yet give the guys a big I’m-happy-to-do-anything-and-I-mean-anything-to-improve-your-trip kind of smile. It’s just the same in the business lounge. Guys wander in and get a cheery wave from the girl on reception. If you are female, your frequent-flyer card is scrutinised suspiciously and your boarding pass held up to the light. Any excuse and you’re not getting in.      

Once inside the business lounge, it’s rather like blagging your way into the latest restaurant and then wondering what all the fuss is about. Ok, so I can pour myself a free glass of Merlot and take a tiny plate of stale peanuts, but there’s never anywhere to sit in peace. There are so many guys on their mobile phone loudly negotiating, or banging away on a laptop, that you can barely hear yourself think. Frankly, I’d rather go straight to the gate where ordinary people who have real lives sit peacefully reading novels.

The least-loved airline announces they are boarding by seat numbers, but no one takes any notice of that, particularly in Paris. All those guys from the lounge, still on their mobile phone, barge in front and there is no space in the overhead locker by the time I get to my seat. Struggling with my bag, I look pleadingly at the stewardess, but she is too busy helping the important-looking businessman who has brought what looks like a trunk on board. The guys either side of me commandeer the armrests and shove their legs wide, so I have to sit with arms and legs crossed to avoid body contact. One guy smells overwhelmingly of garlic masked with cheap aftershave and the other one just plain smells. I hope it is a short flight.

Next time…Candid takes on the dark forces of the firm’s marketing department

Confessions of a benefits manager – January 2007