James Clarke Masthead
June 25 2012 at 10:41

In these tetchy days when we all try so ludicrously hard not to offend each other – I am referring to all this “politically correct” nonsense – I stand amazed that airlines still retain “The Curtain”. (Rises from desk to stand amazed.)

It is surely the world’s most unsubtle class barrier. I speak of the curtain that separates first class or business class passengers from tourist class.

Virgin Atlantic is particularly unsubtle about it. 

It calls the section in front of The Curtain “Upper Class”. This infers that those on the economy side of the curtain are “lower class”.

At take-off on all airlines, The Curtain is left open. This is so that if the take-off is unsatisfactory – for instance, the plane ploughs through the perimeter fence and leaves a muddy trail through the mealies – the poor in tourist class can use the first-class exit to disembark, which is really jolly considerate of the people up front and I salute them for this. (Struggles to feet and salutes.)

One always knows when the crew is happy about the take-off because at this stage a first-class stewardess – Miss Hoity Toity – immediately snaps The Curtain closed, thus separating hoi polloi from the upper crust.

The Curtain also, I suppose, avoids unseemly clashes between the haves and the have-nots by preventing a deep sense of deprivation building up among the usually meek passengers in economy class as they see first-class passengers being spoiled rotten by perpetually smiling air hostesses straight out of pampering college.

I have, on a very few occasions, travelled first class and I admit to a definite feeling of superiority when I do. The feeling begins even at the airport as I crash my trolley through the queues of meek and down-trodden economy class passengers and take my place on the red carpet leading to the first-class check-in desk with its bowl of flowers.

I then saunter as nonchalantly as possible to the airport’s first-class lounge with its deep armchairs, free snacks and drinks, where I sometimes have to be restrained at the snacks counter.

The feeling of superiority wells up again when I am ushered into the front section of the aircraft and offered French Champagne and a hot towel before take-off and I sit there wondering how I’ll ever be able to descend to the level of my family and friends again.

They are all so terribly economy class.

Not that I’ve ever paid for my first- class tickets. I don’t think anybody personally pays for them.

Businessmen charge the fare to the company and politicians and officials have their fares paid by the taxpayers  sitting in economy class.

When I sit on the poor side of The Curtain and have paid my own fare and I spot a politician sitting at the front while hostesses pop grapes into his mouth I am seized by a desire to send him a note: “In view of the fact that I am paying for your seat, why not send me some first-class cashew nuts? We just get peanuts back here. Signed JF Clarke, taxpayer, 8914035656578336/6.”

Sometimes, when in first class, I am overcome with compassion and a strong desire to scatter my superior cashew nuts among the huddled masses at the back.

But I suppose this would cause an unseemly scramble – even, perhaps, a mid-air riot with people fighting and scrabbling on the floor for dropped nuts.

My heart goes out to them and I know that although those in economy look inferior when viewed through a gap in The Curtain some could well be my equal, almost.

Contact Stoep: E-mail: jcl@onwe.co.za; Website: www.jamesclarke.co.za;

Blog: http://stoeptalk.wordpress.com


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