The aviation media is going overboard with the new stories of The Economy Class Wives which was published yesterday by the Daily Mail, UK. It screams, “The economy class wives: Their husbands fly first class while they are forced to slum it in the cheap seats… read on to find out how on earth these men get away with it!” You can read it here.
The story is written in a very chic lit fashion, and leans on the stories of a few to make a trend out of the discussion on hand. It seems they got some of these people chatting in a party, after a few drinks, and that’s where they poured their hearts out to these paparazzi. Hear this,
But what if it’s your husband that’s heading off to a seat with extra legroom, a delicious meal with proper cutlery and unlimited top-ups to his wine glass — leaving you in cattle class?
One can imagine it would test any marriage to breaking point. But, astonishingly, an increasing number of men are insisting on taking a business class seat — whether they’ve been awarded an upgrade by their employer or have forked out for it themselves — with little thought for their wives sitting behind them on the plane.
Tina Kumar, 30, who lives in Wimbledon, is one such neglected economy class wife. Her husband, Arrun, 38, who runs his own natural stone business in Croydon, South London, regularly travels in business class while she languishes in the cheap seats — a decision she has come to accept because, she says, her husband is ‘the definition of a walking, talking workaholic’.
After reading the article, I thought to myself, here is a story of successful men who travel in premium cabins, enjoy the extra legroom, get served a delicious meal while their wives slog it out in economy either because they are just 5’3” in height and hence don’t need a comfortable seat, or because a choice has to be made between a 3500 GBP v/s 600 GBP ticket or because the kids need to be taken care of down the back, but mainly because they are WIVES.
This is what my 3 year old travel diary says so far, ‘83 flights together, 83,000 miles hand in hand, 3.4x around the earth’. Whenever my husband travels in a premium cabin, he makes it a point to get me a seat next to him. Sometimes we pay for it, occasionally we use his miles to upgrade my ticket and rarely the airline offers an upgrade. But, when traveling on the same plane for work or vacation, I always occupy the economy, business or first class seat next to him (in one case across the aisle because it was a last-minute upgrade!).
And yes there was a time when we were both booked in economy and he got upgraded to business. Guess what, he gave up that seat and still decided to sit by my side. I remember I was quite upset with him on that flight but in retrospect here is why I love traveling together by my husband, right next to him.
We experience something new together
It is always great to enjoy something new together. Traveling together in a premium cabin is just not about that seat with the extra leg room and fine dining. I still remember the ride to the JFK airport in the limousine that Etihad organizes for their first passengers, the red carpet welcome into the airline’s premium lounge at the airport and how amazed I was looking at the make-up mirror in Etihad’s A-380 First suite on our way back from New York. An experience in a first class is just like a culinary experience at Noma, it begins right from the time you make a reservation and lingers on much after the dinner is over. So why enjoy the meal alone when you can share the entire experience with a loved one.
And the division between them doesn’t end there, as Tina admits, in what for many wives would be the final straw. ‘Even when we get off the plane we’re like strangers to each another. Arrun will have a chauffeur waiting for him. The car whisks him straight to meetings.
‘I have to find myself a taxi. At least he does text me to check I’m en route to our hotel.’
Arrun is unashamed about his love for business class travel without his wife
We make memories together
3 years ago, Ajay swept me away to Paris for a surprise proposal trip. He still chuckles about the twinkle in my eye, when the lady at the check-in counter handed me a business class boarding pass to Paris when I was expecting an economy boarding card to a different destination. Last year, days before our flight to LA we spent hours discussing what we would pre-order from book the cook menu offered on SQ First. It was my birthday and the crew surprised me with a cake and a handmade card. When the crew converted our first seats into a double bed and closed the doors behind them, we jumped on that bed like kids. More importantly, that night we slept mid-air in each others’ arms and dreamt together.
As for ever-patient Tina, even she sometimes gets lonely in economy.
‘When we go to romantic destinations such as Italy or Sri Lanka, the plane is always full of couples. I do observe them rather wistfully.
‘The husband will help his wife with placing her bag in the overhead locker. He’ll make sure she is comfortable, too. I do miss that. It’s moments like that when I think I’d love for us to be together.’
We build on our trust
I think about the incident when Ajay gave up his upgraded business seat, without a second thought to sit by my side in economy. He is Platinum and I am still Gold, so he frequently gets an upgrade above everyone else on an overbooked flight, and this was a product he wanted to really check out. He asked for a second upgrade, but the J cabin was sort of booked up by now and we were delaying pushback.
I insisted he travel comfortably and gave every possible logic including that I’m only 5″1′ tall and I don’t really need the extra space. All he said was that felt more comfortable by my side. I said he was a fool to give up a 180-degree reclining seat to a random stranger but in my heart felt secure that he did not trade my company for the upgrade.
‘And the first question people ask is always the same: ‘Has your husband ever offered to change seats with you?’ Hand on heart, he hasn’t ever suggested it.
‘It really used to bother me — did he think his comfort was more important than mine? What did it say about how much he respected me? I’ve got used to it, though.’
Tina, who met Arrun in 2009 while visiting a stone quarry in Verona, Italy, doesn’t believe her husband’s actions are down to stinginess.
‘He’s not tight with money. But when there’s a choice between a £3,500 ticket for business compared with £600 for an economy ticket for me to join him, it’s difficult to justify it. Do I need the extra legroom? No — I’m only 5ft 3in.’
We escape and live in the moment
Not everything in life is perfect. As a working couple, the everyday life, the stress, the demanding boss, everything affects us. And that is the very reason we consciously escape the everyday life once in a while. Buying a ticket last minute and an impromptu flight to a new destination together also brings out the adventurous streak that often hibernates in the daily routine. The feeling is magical when hold each others hands and peek out of the aircraft window and all you can see is the blue waters and glimpses of the islands in the Maldives.
‘John finds economy unbearable,’ she says. ‘He doesn’t like the chatter, hates that too many people are in close proximity and can’t bear being crammed into his seat.
Michelle Sedgemore, 49, endures this fate when her husband, John, who works in IT, leaves her to look after their two children, Alexander, 13, and Saskia, nine, while he swans off to business class
‘I discovered this when we went on our honeymoon to the Maldives in 2001 — our first long-haul journey together since we began dating two years before.
‘But the 12-hour flight was a disaster. John didn’t stop moaning and grumbling. I had to have a few glasses of wine to try to drown out his whingeing.
‘Eventually, the cabin crew found us two other seats with more legroom. But it was too late for me — I refused to move with him. I’d had enough of his dramatics and didn’t want to spoil the remainder of my flight.
‘After he left, the stewardess promptly delivered me a topped up glass of wine. I needed it.
We discuss our future
Over the last few years, I have learnt that mid-air is really the place when we are not worried about our worldly duties and have dedicated time for each other. Conversations vary from discussions to squabbles to playing scrabble to introspections to a vision of our future together. We often make our travel plans in airport lounges or on board the flight and on those long haul flights we talk to each other for hours, and share expectations, hopes, and dreams, over a flute of champagne. Planning something new together, like flying the A380 or hopping onto the Dreamliner on our next trip does add excitement in our relationship (we are both aviation nuts, he for real and me an acquired taste!!).
Now thinking about the number of times I have cozily snuggled by side I have to unapologetically admit that I’m a proud first class wife not just because I travel first class with my husband but because I am married to a man who loves and respects me so much that he makes sure I am always by his side and not behind him.
What are your experiences traveling as a couple? Stuck in the seat behind the curtain, or both of you stay at the same side of the curtain? Look forward to hearing your stories…