“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens once wrote of that time he was dragged off an airplane and it went viral on social media. Or at least that’s probably what he was talking about, that guy could be a little verbose. The point is, over the past few years we’ve come to understand the worst that airlines have to offer. Watching a man being treated terribly on a flight ignites something in us. You immediately get a chorus of, “Oh yeah, that’s how it is to fly these days. Exactly that. Always.”
Sure, air travel can be a nightmare — delays, lost bags, rude personnel, sitting next to a drunk person who just won’t stop talking… we all know how it goes. But there’s another thing Dickens said, right after he went to Palawan for the first time and scored his favorite selfie ever on a beach.
“Please, sir, I want some more.”
Because as annoying as it can be to get on an airplane, we all still want to do it. It allows us to see the world and visit those we love. It gives us the chance to witness the wilds of the Australian Outback or the Great Migration in Kenya or just finally try Kansas City barbeque for the first time. Besides… it’s not always so bad. Sometimes it’s a joy. Sometimes you catch an upgrade out of the clear blue. Flying, like life, contains multitudes.
Anyone who’s ever squeezed their bodies into an airplane seat owns at least a few crazy air travel stories, good and bad. So we asked some of our favorite vagabonds and wanderers to tell us their best and worst airline experiences. These are the catastrophic moments to commiserate with and the joyous trips where everything seemed to line up like corduroy.
— Allison Sanchez, Deputy Editor, Uproxx LIFE
The Best Of Times:
There’s Nothing Like the First Time (Up Front)
The Airline: Qantas
By the time I hit my 28th birthday, I’d traveled to 30 countries across five continents. Being on a perpetually tight budget, 30 countries means tons of layovers and dozens of long flights. It means flying further away from your destination then catching a connection heading back the other direction, just to save a few hundred bucks. In those days, “luxury travel” meant I’d scored a window seat (it became my private tradition to put my hand against the window dramatically as the plane took off, roaring as it picked up speed).
On those long international flights, I always had to shuffle through business class to get to my seat in the back of some massive jet or another. Along the way, I wondered about those 10-percenters, sipping champagne: did they realize how well they had it? The big leather seats that reclined more than two micrometers, the extra legroom, and the smiling, overly-friendly treatment… did they truly savor it? Would I?
Last year, on the way to Australia for the first time, I got my chance to find out — thanks to a perfect storm of accrued miles, a flexible schedule, and low season flights. Little ol’ Nikta Nilchian was going to be flying Business Class on Qantas Airlines. For 15 whole hours. It seemed too good to be true. Seat 6A. I boarded and then boom, it was right there.
I was a little nervous at first, feeling out of place, but I was seated next to a younger woman who didn’t look so different from me. I smiled like a kid on the first day of school as I sat down, “Hi!” She gave me a thin smile, put her headphones in, and turned away. Ouch. I quickly recovered from this rejection when the hostess approached, “Can I get you a glass of champagne ma’am?” I beamed at her. “Yes, please!” And with that, the star treatment began. I was checked on constantly, fed more food than I could have possibly needed (considering I barely moved for 15 hours), watched movies, and got the best sleep of my life.
Of course, there were some first-time bloopers. I thought the sheet for my “bed” was a curtain that would separate me from the snooty girl on my left. As the host walked by I stopped him, “Excuse me, Can you help me put this up?” I was holding the sheet up between the girl and myself. I could tell he was trying to hide a smile as he responded, “darling, that’s your bedsheet, it goes under you. Here, hop up and I’ll set up your bed.” I stood up sheepishly, feeling my cheeks turn red. I’d been discovered.
I arrived in Australia rested, up to date on Oscar nominees, and a little buzzed. I’d woken up to a meal of seared salmon with radish, celery, and lemon salsify and cinnamon ice cream with poached pears. As I exited the plane, I felt 99% filled with gratitude. The other 1%? It was spent wondering: “If business class is that amazing, I wonder what first class is like?”