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Published: 7/5/2003

Some transatlantic flights are more posh than others

You know the purported derivation of the word “posh,” don't you?

Well, it has nothing whatever to do with Spice ... or Beckham. But rather it is thought to be an acronym for Portside Out, Starboard Home ... the preferred cabin locations for upper-crust travelers of yesteryear who rode out to the colonies - Indjah et al - aboard sailing rigs and steamships. And probably required sunshade to help down those gin and tonics.

Well, our latest and recently completed transatlantic foray - Detroit to London and beyond - while not precisely “posh,” was certainly the next best thing - “BO-BH.” Business Out, Bulkhead Home. Which is as much as a couple of shallow-pocketed, economy-sized scribes could possibly hope for.

For those of you who have never been so serendipitously upgraded ... either as the recipient of corporate largess, or by laying out trunkloads of hard-earned greenbacks for the privilege ... herewith are a few personal impressions of Business Class, British Airways-style, 2003.

The first positive thing that happens is that you get to escape the madding crowd thanks in part to a quiet Executive Lounge with comfy armchairs, free drinks and snacks, and an amiable BA nanny to make sure you don't miss your flight in the lap of all this luxury. It's a lovely, civilized way of whittling away the odd hour in preparation for the seven-hour nightlong journey ahead.

Once inside your Boeing 767- which you can board at your convenience - the up-front seating configuration is a really spacious 2-2-2 instead of the scrunched-up, short-sheeted 2-3-2 World Traveler Class ... or the 3-5-3 of the 747s that used to fly this route.

Not only is there plenty of breathing space between you and your neighbor, but best of all, the wide padded seats recline to virtually horizontal and come with special lumbar support options and a pop-up leg rest. In lying back, you don't bother the person behind you, something that even the slightest inclination back in steerage will inevitably guarantee.

There are also personal TV screens, special programming and fully maneuverable reading lights.

Thus comfortably ensconced, along comes the hot towel treatment sure to soothe the furrowed brow (and wash away any remaining thoughts of all that money disappearing down the BA slipstream). For your mental comfort and edification, there's also a selection of the day's British papers.

After take-off, things start happening fast - a tad too fast, perhaps, for those infrequently pampered.

Drinks come in real glass instead of plastic and are accompanied by packets of cashews and pistachios, something that for reasons of economy ... or allergies ... have now been replaced by pretzels in the rest of the aircraft.

Supper's next. And main courses are selected from an actual printed menu - another BA tradition that's long since disappeared from the other side of the great divide.

White linen tray cloths set us up for our dining experience ... but the plastic utensils wrapped in starched napkins do have a somewhat sobering effect, reminding us that security is nothing if not classless. Butter, however, is still potted, not foil wrapped. There are cute little jars of balsamic vinegars. And toothpicks become dental sticks in this rarefied atmosphere!

After an inconsequential Greek salad - which, curiously, arrived at the same time as the wild berry tart for dessert - the advertised entrees show up. Filet of beef, mushroom marsala sauce, and olive oil mash, and roast breast of chicken wrapped in prosciutto with garlic-creamed spinach and rosti potatoes.

Back in economy, these selfsame dishes ... or some facsimiles thereof ... are offered up without any additional explanation or hyperbole as “chicken” or “beef.” And quite frankly, while not wishing to kick a gift horse, etc. ... that's about all it was in Business Class.

It's also quite ridiculous, in our view, to even offer a “filet of beef” when it cannot possibly be cooked to order and comes seriously overdone with its selected mush. The chicken was equally disappointing.

As the sun starts to show through the windows and Heathrow airport is just an hour away, our morning menu arrives also bearing little or no resemblance to the advertised fare. But at this point who really cares ... for very soon we'll be in the home of the Full English Breakfast, and we've had a truly comfortable and restful transatlantic crossing.

Two weeks later, on a sunny Sunday morning, we were back at Heathrow. Total chaos reigned and it took us a good 11/2 hours to reach the check-in desk despite arriving a full three hours before flight time!

Somehow, however, we lucked out again, and while returned to our regular economy mode, we did manage to snag a couple of bulkhead seats.

But bulkheads, while offering unlimited leg room, also come with a built-in risk factor, as families with young children are invariably seated there to accommodate cots, baby seats, and other paraphernalia.

Sadly, this time, we were right next to one such family - replete with screaming, kicking, and crawling children - and suffered through an eight-hour flight, hardly helped by the unsympathetic flight attendant's comment that “we were all children once.”

Still, as long flights go, one out of two isn't bad ... but we'd settle for “posh” any time!



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