The travel adviser: Business class - is it worth it?

The amount paid may not match the rewards one actually gets, but the overall feeling is one of money well spent.

business class 88 (photo credit: )
business class 88
(photo credit: )
It's the $64,000 question. Or in airline currency, the 64 hundred dollar question. Phillip Kleinman of Herzliya writes to me: "I travel often to the United Kingdom but now find myself planning a journey to New York in a few months with my wife for a family celebration. The idea of flying over 12 hours in economy class is a reality I'd prefer to avoid, but I would be interested in your opinion about spending $6,400 to make the flight with El Al in business class; is it worth it?" Never one to dismiss a reader's enquiry, I chose to investigate first hand, with my wife, whether flying business class across the Atlantic is an "economically" viable decision. Having been seduced by the barrage of advertisements touting El Al's improved business service, we purchased two business class tickets on one of El Al's newest aircraft. Wisely opting to do early check in on-line, we arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport two hours prior to the scheduled 1 a.m. departure. Bypassing the large throngs of passengers checking in for economy class, we made our way to the far end of the airport where a separate check-in facility is open for El Al passengers flying business and first class along with King David members. We were whisked quickly past security after answering their basic questions, turned in our suitcases at the El Al counter and were given our prearranged boarding passes. The entire process did not take more than 10 minutes. An excellent start. Passing passport control, we arrived at the duty free area where I parted company with my wife. To the King David Lounge I headed; no desire to purchase any gadgets, alcohol or perfume. El Al's King David Lounge is an oasis of quiet amid the hurly burly of Ben-Gurion Airport. Situated on two floors, it boasts full recliner chairs, Internet access, tasty tidbits to tide one over and a slight whiff of being a part of some private club. It appeared as if passengers were gliding from one section of the lounge to the other, politely nodding as eye contact was made. Now this was something I could get accustomed to, but after a short time I was asked to board the plane. Meeting up with my better half, we took our seats in the business class section of the aircraft El Al calls "Sderot." Color me blue and white, but naming the plane for a town that is bombarded by missiles doesn't leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling when crossing the Atlantic. Is El Al implying that like the town, her aircraft can take anything shot at it and still survive? I strongly advocate solidarity with the town but prefer the custom of naming ships, and later planes, after individuals. Wouldn't you feel better flying a Menachem Begin or a Teddy Kollek? Perhaps the odd name choice is what hastened the flight steward's quick offer of something alcoholic to imbibe as we took our seats. Not usually one to sip champagne so late after midnight, we felt toasting our comfort was worth it. Our seats, though, were another matter. I am still able to program a video recorder and can master most of the controls on my cellphone, but could not comprehend the plethora of options in my seat. It may be possible to turn into a pretzel, but I observed that armrest, seat rest, backrest, leg rest and shoulder rest all had their own controls. Each could also move in 12 directions, so trying to master the 60 options wasn't something I could tackle at such a late hour. Fortunately for me, the steward said that any eight-year-old kid could figure it out and two rows behind me was just such a kid. Within two minutes, young Eran educated me and I was ready for a sound slumber. The pilot had different ideas. Curtly told to put my seat in an upright position for take off, I meekly asked the steward why I couldn't remain lying prone? Those were the rules, he firmly informed me. Take off we did though and with the clock now firmly past 1:30 in the morning, my natural reaction was to sleep. El Al, though, showered us with menus, wine lists and other sundry items, en route to a post-midnight banquet. I'm obviously in the minority when it comes to eating dinner. I tend to eat it in the evening; sometimes at 7, sometimes later. But at 1:30 in the morning? One of the nice features of business class is the travel kit El Al hands out. Putting on my socks, plugging up my ears and adjusting the eyeshade, I was finally going to get some well-earned slumber. Calling the eight year old to put my bed in a sleep position, I waved to my steward and told him to wake me for breakfast. I should note that any physical therapist would be proud of El Al's new seats, as would the Marquis de Sade. When lying horizontal, they are firm. Very firm. So firm that tears appeared in my eyes. Getting an extra blanket eased my discomfort. Now I'm considered tall, if not by professional basketball players. Fortunately I'm able to sleep anywhere: classroom lectures, busy marketplaces - you let me stretch out and I'll be asleep. But EL Al's bed though took some time to get used to. It's not a fully flat bed, but makes it to 170 degrees. The result is that as you start to fall into a deep sleep, your body tends to slide toward the floor. A bit disconcerting. El Al should rectify this in future aircrafts. Seven hours later I awoke refreshed, revived and ravenous. Gulping down some espresso, I waited for a scrumptious breakfast to be served me. I was not disappointed. Viewing some movies on my personal screen and reading a book made the time go swiftly by. Once more I sat in my upright position and a safe landing ensued. Walking leisurely through US customs, we arrived at the baggage carousel to find our suitcases coming down in the first bundle. I was really ready to hit the city at full pace. So is it worth it? We have three types of business clientele at my office. Politicians who are "guests" of someone, often the Israeli taxpayer. Businessmen, whose companies permit them to fly business class to arrive well rested. And those who question whether or not to fly Business Class. They may be using frequent flier points or they may be spending their well-earned money. It is those in this last category who, for the most part, once they've made the decision and have experienced the full gamut of taking a trip in Business Class, do not complain. The amount paid may not match the rewards one actually gets, but the overall feeling is one of money well spent for a few hours of relative luxury. Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments, e-mail him at [email protected]