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Written by Eric on 23 January 2013.
Trying to decide on a favourite airline is no easy challenge. I have a bit of a pragmatic outlook nowadays, as most Americans probably do given the decline in airline services over the past few years. We look for the cheapest ticket that gets us from point A to B, and the airlines are offering less and less to the customers while in transit...or they charge for more and more amenities that were once free. I'm talking about those peanuts that one would never touch any other time in life but which become as delicious as Christmas dinner while in a plane. And, yes, I'll wash those down with a deliciously cold Coke in a tiny cup of ice. Bliss!
But so it seems that flying has become a perfect metaphor for its own industry. The golden age of flying has soared through a time when flying was an experience in and of itself, and now this mode of transportation seems to be coming in for a landing at the airfield of common, utilitarian need. Flying is becoming a mundane task akin to riding the bus, which seldom calls forth a feeling joy and privilege in passengers. However, recently I was sent on a business trip that gave me the chance to fly on British Airways, which was something I had always wanted to do. I could tell immediately that this was a different kind of airline.
When I boarded, I took my seat in the last row of the section, right in front of the bulkhead. Sitting next to me was a Scottish couple returning home after visiting their son for vacation, or so I believe, because to me the Scotts accent often sounds like random phonemes that I can't make heads or tales out of, and yet I smile and nod in understanding. I nestled in and got comfortable for the flight. I was surrounded by that rich blue color and swaths of red that covered the seats. The top of the cabin was a crisp, light color like the heavens, and everything seemed brand new. I opened my little plastic bag that contained the dark blue blanket and made it my lumbar support, then turned to the in-flight magazine to pass the time until take off. When the plane started down the runway I would commence my usual in-flight activity of craning my neck to see out the window, even over the two people sitting next to me! I was feeling quite comfortable on my first trip on BA.
After take off, it wasn't long before the the attendents were coming down the isle offering beverages. I decided I would get my typical Coke instead of venturing into some unknown territory like orange juice or coffee. When the attendant got to my row, he started serving the Scottish couple next to me, and they ordered something that sounded as if they pronounced the letters on the top row of this keyboard as a word, but at the same time, what they ordered sounded a bit like an alcoholic beverage. I watched with eagle eyes as the attendant opened up a tiny little bottle of whisky and poured it into an icy cup of ginger ale. "Oh," I thought, "they're ordering a little something to relax. That's a good idea. I wonder if that's about five dollars or so." And I waited for the money to be exchanged as it would normally be on most American flights, but the attendant simply returned things to the cart and threw the trash away. He began to look at me and open his mouth to speak, but.....then time slowed way down because I had to think something through. Did I just see these people next to me order an alchoholic drink and not have to pay for it?
Question: Is there something about this transaction I am misunderstanding, perhaps a cultural difference?
Question: Do I order one as well?
All that had to be weighed in the space of time it took the attendant to ask me if I wanted a refreshment. And so nervously, I looked him in the eye, and said, "You know what? I'd like one of those that they're having."
"A whisky ginger?"
"A whisky ginger," I responded as if I had known all along that's what it was, although inside I was patting myself on the back for playing it cool. Then, even though it should not have been a surprise by this point, the attendant mixed up a whisky ginger with a smile and let it flutter down to my awaiting tray. I was briefly mesmerized as the bubbles fervently arose in the greenish liquid. And I kept my eyes on it, half waiting to be asked to pay, but by the time I sheepishly looked to the isle, the attendant had moved on without any further concern for me. I was left with the same sense of amazement and wonder as if I had just seen a far off celestial body through a telescope for the first time. Such is the power of free alcohol.
I relished my whisky ginger, and ordered the same when the chance arose again. To this day I'm still not sure what the rules are concerning these drinks...what's the catch? I run on the belief that whisky gingers are so culturally entwined in the UK, that everyone is entitled to a free one when flying. I thank you British Airways for showing me that there is still an airline where the ideals of the golden age of flight are still upheld. If there is one way to secure yourself firmly at the top of my list of preferred airlines, this is it.