Joining the mile-high club


I don’t think I can ever fly economy again.

I recently flew home from New York in business class. Ordinarily I’m sobbing away back there in economy with the rest of you, but this time I had work to do, and it was a 30-hour commute and … oh, why am I apologising? I did it because I could, and so would anyone with any sense.

But now I think I’m ruined, and it’s not the French Champagne or the sensitively mixed cocktails or the seat that becomes a full-length bed at the touch of a button or the semi-pods that leave you in pristine isolation from even the other people in business class. No, it was the realisation of how thoroughly differently you’re treated on the other side of the curtain. You become like a foreign diplomat or an elite sportsman: you’re protected by your status.

Here’s what happened. I was concerned about the possibility of jet lag and spending the next week after landing lying awake all night. New York is the city that never sleeps and some of that always rubs off on me, so an American friend had pressed upon me a small vial of Melatonin.

It turns out that Melatonin is a synthesised version of the hormone secreted by your pineal gland, regulating your sleep cycles and circadian rhythms, and it’s quite the thing for avoiding jet lag. But I’m a nervy consumer of hormones, synthetic or otherwise, so once we were underway, to pass the time before the second martini arrived, I used the in-flight Wi-Fi to do some research, and it turns out that some doctors tut cautiously and warn against taking too much of the stuff.

If you’re sensitive to Melatonin, flooding your system can disrupt your ability to process it. That sounded grim. What if I spent the rest of my life jet lagged? I’d be stumbling around like a zombie, not quite dead but not wholly alive, a red-eyed Des van Rooyen.

But how do I know if I’m sensitive to Melatonin? No way to know till you’ve tried it, but the recommended first dose is somewhere between 0.2 and 1mg, to be safe. That didn’t sound like much. I checked the label: bilateral capsules, 3mg each. Panic! What if I take too much? But why package them in 3mg units if 3mg is too much?

Then again, I never really questioned the provenance of these pills. They might be some rogue, supersized, unapproved, black market Mexican contraband. My friend is a good friend, but she doesn’t always make sensible pharmaceutical choices.

You can’t snap a capsule in half as though it’s a tablet, but you can carefully separate the two halves and pour out the white powder onto the armrest of your seat and divide it into three mounds of roughly 1mg each. Now how to ingest it? Too bitter to swallow, surely. But what if I were to tightly roll my boarding pass so that it becomes a narrow tube …

And it was then, thoughtfully lowering my face over a thin line of white powder with a furled boarding pass hovering tentatively at my nostril, that a perfumed shadow fell across me, and I looked up to see my personal assistant – or air hostess, she’d be called in economy class. She looked down at this sorry scene.

‘Oh!’ I said, ‘No, I can explain…’

My mind raced. Would she call the police? Are there police on a plane? Would she handcuff me with cable ties and forbid me to lie down flat? Would she cut off my martini privileges? But of course, that was just me thinking like an economy class passenger. Life is different in business class.

She turned to make sure the curtain was tightly closed.

‘Don’t let them see,’ she said. ‘Or everyone will want some.’

 Getaway, 2 September 2016