The moment I have been dreading has arrived: I am about to climb on an airplane, the first in my long westward journey over sea and land that has spanned tens of thousands of kilometers. I must fly because the only ocean liner that still crosses the Atlantic, the Queen Mary 2, left without me, and I do not have enough time to wait two weeks for her next trip.
My plan is to meet the Queen Mary 2 in New York, at which point I will resume my journey. Since it’s my fate to fly over the ocean, I might as well enjoy it. So follows my account, from the perspective of someone who has crossed the rest of the planet on the surface.
Cunard has provided me with a business class ticket, so my airplane experience is quite improved from what it would have been otherwise. Check-in is smooth and fast because “premium” customers such as myself get their own exclusive line-up. Following check-in, I’m invited for a complementary breakfast in the lounge. There are nice views of the runway, and plenty of comfy chairs to sit in.
When my flight is announced, I am directed from the lounge through the airport and directly onto the waiting plane. I have often wondered why business class passengers are invited to board the plane earlier than other passengers—who would want to? I discover the answer as soon as I sit down. A friendly and smiling steward immediately appears to take my jacket, which he hangs in a closet upfront so that it doesn’t get wrinkled. When he returns, he is carrying a glass of sparkling wine.
The clubhouse in the air
The flight itself is not only comfortable, but also actually enjoyable. My private pod has a three-way adjustable power seat that can extend completely flat, and there are several cupboards and shelves within reach to stow my personal belongings. Premium noise cancelling headphones are provided, and they make the movie-watching experience comparable to being in a quiet room. A selection of world newspapers and snooty magazines, like Vanity Fair, are available if desired.
The food is the best part of the journey, not least because the ceremony of setting up and taking away the various courses fills a substantial fraction of the time in the air. My meal starts with strips of cold herbed chicken in tzatziki sauce, followed by a mixed salad with pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes, and then a selection of breads. I choose beef tenderloin (medium-rare) as my main. Dessert is Italian cannoli, which, I must admit, has an authentic taste and texture.
When the captain announces our descent for landing, I begin to pack up my computer and return my seat to its full upright position. The steward waves at me to stop. “The captain doesn’t mean you,” he says. “Make yourself comfortable.” Sure enough, the man across the aisle from me is working away on his laptop and sipping a drink, fully reclined, while surrounded by various detritus disgorged from his carry-on, which is lying sloppily on the floor in front of him. Apparently business class passengers don’t have to follow the landing rules.
Escaping the airport
I collect my bag at the baggage merry-go-round and then walk the distance of a pilgrimage to get to the train. I soon find out that the $5 ride takes me only to another train, which costs another $3 or so. The machines on the inside of the turnstiles will dispense only one-time ride tickets, so I must pay to exit, purchase a 1-week New York City transit pass from an identical machines on the other side, and then reenter through a different gate. A customer service agent stands helpfully next to the machines to guide the steady stream of confused passengers through the process.
Over an hour later, I emerge from the subway into Manhattan. The journey from my hotel in London to the streets of Manhattan took about 13 hours, compared with 7 days for the cruise ship. I guess flying has some advantages.
Meeting my ship
The Queen Mary 2 arrives in New York City seven days after I was supposed to board it in Southampton. I take a ferry from the tip of Manhattan to Governor’s Island, which is just across the water from the cruise ship terminal in Brooklyn. I see her, a hulking mass of blue and white painted steel, tied up to the pier, absurdly large and uninteresting, like a toppled-over apartment complex. My nemesis. My Waterloo. Bobbing as she is next to the loading cranes and warehouses of southern Brooklyn, the Queen Mary 2 looks tired and overweight, like the weary wife of some minor dignitary.
I’m sure she’s nice on the inside. Maybe one day I’ll find out for myself.