Jean Ainslie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Jean Ainslie, the wife of a retired civil servant in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is correct; when entering a jumbo jet, turning left into First Class is a lot more fun than turning right and bumping your carry-on along the rows until you reach a tiny Economy seat. In First Class the vacation begins with the journey, not with the retrieval of your suitcase at the destination’s baggage carousel.
Because Jamie flew back and forth from New York to Los Angeles so often, he had surpassed Frequent Flyer status; he was more like Constant Flyer. In addition to the weekly cross-country trips, he also consulted with other studios in Michigan, New Mexico, London, and Dubai. His millions – literally – of air miles ensured that every vacation we planned began with our entering the plane and turning left.
Jamie had been working with some executives at a studio in England just before the Presidents Day holiday, so he suggested I join him in London for a four-day weekend. He booked me on British Airways’ Friday night flight from JFK to Heathrow at the same time he made his own reservations from LAX. I was looking forward to the entire trip. Not only would I be in London – one of my favorite cities – but also I would be carried there by my favorite airline.
I like BA’s transatlantic service so much that I would happily do commercials for it. The evening begins with a freshly prepared dinner in the white-liveried restaurant section of the modern airport lounge, followed by an escort to the gate. Once in flight, the attendants offer food, beverages, DVD players, magazines, cotton sleeping suits, shoe bags, and a pillow-top mattress cover during the turndown service when your large seat becomes a decent-sized flat bed. The staff is genuinely friendly and dedicated. It’s like checking into a flying 5 star hotel. Odd as it sounds, I was at least as excited to spend the night in the plane as I was to check in to the Connaught the next morning.
I knew I would enjoy every minute of this mini-vacation. Not only is London full of great memories – when I was at Oxford, my classmates and I took the train down nearly every weekend to shop, eat at world-class restaurants, and see West End shows – but it is cosmopolitan and sophisticated with seemingly millions of things to see and do. This trip promised to be even more fun than usual because we were scheduled to see old friends from New York who had relocated to Surrey.
On the evening I was scheduled to leave, I was bustling around, finishing my last minute packing when the phone rang. It was a representative from BA. In crisp Received Pronunciation, she apologized profusely then informed me that due to unscheduled but required maintenance, my flight was going to be delayed; she asked whether I’d like to be moved to the earlier flight. I explained that delays didn’t bother me as I had nowhere to go and nothing to do because this trip was a mini-break for me, not a business trip. After disconnecting, I kissed the cat and the dog goodbye, checked the instructions for the pet sitter one last time, and tossed my rollerboard in the car. For once, the traffic wasn’t hellacious and in no time I was checking in at the BA counter.
“Good evening, Mrs. Cella,” the ticketing agent chirped. “I see that you have been informed that your plane will be delayed for an hour and a half and that you have chosen t remain on board this flight. Is that correct?”
She reached into a folder and pulled out a packet. “To thank you for your patience, we have a voucher for a complimentary massage at the spa upstairs.”
“A massage?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, madam. Since we have inconvenienced you we’d like to make your wait a little nicer.”
“You didn’t inconvenience me. I wasn’t going anywhere on a schedule, anyway. I’m not travelling on business. I am going to meet my husband in London but he isn’t even there yet. Really, you aren’t inconveniencing me at all.”
“Thank you, madam; that is very kind of you to say so, but we at British Airways know you have a choice and want to earn your satisfied custom.”
I accepted the envelope in a daze. They had ensured my satisfaction by letting my husband collect enough bonus miles to allow us fly First Class. With the gate escort. With the pillow-top mattresses. With the freshly brewed Earl Grey tea and piping hot scones thick with Devon cream and ruby strawberry jam served on the plane. The massage was above and beyond. I was going to take it, of course, but it was still over the top.
I found my way to the spa, enjoyed my massage, and wandered back to the First Class Lounge for dinner. I read my book for a bit. Eventually the gate escort came for me. We bypassed the crowds, entered the plane, and turned left. The cabin was empty. There was no one there but a flight attendant. Hmm. Well, maybe I was the first to board. The flight attendant led me to my seat where I sat down, took off my shoes, and switched on the reading lamp. No one else entered the cabin. When the steward returned with my tea I asked where the other passengers were.
“I’m afraid that it’s just you tonight, madam,” he replied arranging my digestive biscuits artfully on a small plate.
“Just me? Why?”
“All of the other travelers chose to take the earlier flight after learning that this one was delayed.”
He nodded. “As a result, you have three attendants to grant your every wish this evening.”
“Wow. It’s like being one of the super-rich with my own plane,” I giggled.
He smiled as he spread his arms wide. “Whatever you desire,” he said.
I laughed. “Except I am afraid that you will be disappointed in me. I don’t desire anything except to go to sleep since it’s nearly midnight.”
“In that case, madam, I will procure your sleeping suit and make up your bed immediately. Then, however, I must leave you to help in the other two cabins since it is not really fair on the other attendants that I have so little work to do this evening. Regardless, if you need anything, just press that little button right there and I will return,”
“Oh, no problem, really. I will be asleep in no time.”
“Then I will take your breakfast order and leave you to it.”
So that’s what happened. I changed into my BA-issue pajamas and fell asleep, waking only when the cabin lights began to shine slightly and the aroma of brewing tea danced around my nose.
After landing, I caught a taxi and met Jamie at the hotel on Carlos Place in Mayfair. The flight had been such a non-adventure that it became an adventure, something worth remembering. Departure had been delayed, it’s true, but it was handled so graciously that it caused no annoyance; there was no loss of anything, really, except for the irritation that generally accompanies such eventualities and who misses extra aggravation? I had had a great time from the moment my feet hit the carpeted departure lounge.
London was as wonderful as always. We shopped, ate well, and saw Carole and TR for the first time in several years. It was a delightfully uneventful weekend from start to finish. And that is why I remember it so fondly so many years late.