Flight UL504

We’re off to Sri Lanka on a photographic tour organized by Explore! [That’s not me falling onto the modern habit of over using exclamation marks, that’s part of the company name.] The UL504 Sri Lankan flight time to Colombo is very civilized, taking off from Heathrow at 20:30, so we didn’t have to be at Heathrow until 17:00. I’d pre-booked parking and planned to arrive at 16:00. Mr. Cautious strikes again.

The 10½-hour flight promised to be civilized, too; we’d splashed out on business class seats, doubling the cost of the holiday. There is no guilt about spending the kids’ inheritance when there are no kids.

Our number plate was recognized at the car park entrance barrier and we found a space almost immediately. We clambered on the rather scruffy shuttle bus and were soon checking in at terminal 3. Well, Francine had already checked in online but there’s still bag drop and the clerk issued proper old-style card boarding passes. Good, it makes it feel more like travelling and is quicker than pratting with a mobile phone. We were also presented with entrance invitations to the business class lounge. [Incidentally, I now realize that first class, for the most part, seems to have fallen by the wayside and business class is now it. There are still odd references to first class in the departure area but I don’t know who still does it.]

The lounges are, of course, great, with food and booze laid on. I grabbed a G&T – Bombay Sapphire and Fever Tree so top marks Heathrow – and settled down at a window seat to watch the planes. [I know, some folks never grow up.] Then the modern business world began to encroach. Listening to one end of several mobile phone conversations held in public is bad enough but having to listen to both ends of a bloody FaceTime video call undertaken in public takes the irritation to a new level. Two guys, one sitting either side of us at the same window, both fired up bloody-Face-bloody-Time. The whole mobile phone culture has made everyone but me, apparently, completely unashamed and unabashed about holding personal conversations in public. I pine for the days of telephone booths when private conversations were just that, private. To be fair to the chap on our right, he eventually did plug in headphones so that we were left with just one side of the conversation. Planes didn’t trump peace, though, so we moved seats to get mostly out of earshot and grabbed another couple of glasses of reality correction fluid.

Boarding was punctual and we were soon familiarizing ourselves with the controls of the posh-class seat. I knew these seats went completely flat – we’ve walked passed them enviously often enough – but at 6’ 1”/1.85m, I thought I may have trouble getting completely flat. Not a bit of it; I’d say the seat went totally flat with sufficient room for someone 6’ 3”/1.87m. This cabin is 1-2-1 rather than the 2-3-2 or even 3-4-3 that we’re used to and the clever arrangement of the seats affords reasonable privacy from fellow travellers. The Sri Lankan stewardesses were a delight and, after another little help from a straight Absolut vodka as an aperitif followed by wine with dinner, I settled down for the overnight flight.

This was the first time I’d slept on a long haul flight since Pan Am was going down the toilet many years ago, their flights being so underutilized that I benefitted from three seats to myself in my more familiar tourist class. This seat was a lot more comfortable than three individual buckets with the intervening arm rests raised, though. Travelling like this could become habit-forming.

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Posted in 2019 Sri Lanka

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