October 1, 2006

It's important to have a friend who has less money than you. Somebody who reminds you that, as bad as you think it is, it could be worse.

Let's say you're in a situation where you're considering going on a holiday you can't afford. You could spend the money, but you know if you do, you'll be paying off the credit-card debt for years. But all you have to do is think of that friend and the fact they wouldn't be able to consider a holiday at all, and suddenly it's not quite as distressing.

My friend-without-money is Audrey. Whenever I've felt bad that I have to travel economy, I think of her. While I sit next to the crying baby and breathe the flu-infested air, I think of her and how thrilled she would be just to be on a plane. But now things have changed. She's travelling all the time and, what's worse, she's going business class. How did this happen?

The other night we went out to dinner, and as soon as she suggested we have sushi, I realised the changes were far-reaching. In the past when I've said we should have sushi she would hesitate because it was too expensive. I'd tell her not to worry: I would pay. This gave me the chance to appear like a generous person when, really, it was about being inflexible.

Once we sat down she brought me up to date on her new romance. Even though she referred to him as her boyfriend, all I could hear was "business-class facilitator". He is more than happy to pay for things because he is enchanted with her. She doesn't expect him to pick up the bill, which only makes him want to do it even more. Naturally, this never happens to me. Whenever I haven't expected someone to pick up the bill, they don't. It sits on the table until I reach for it myself.

Audrey is somebody who never cared about money before, so the fact that it's now being lavished upon her is a little worrying. Am I going to have to hear about all this fun she's having from now on? It's not like she's going to reject it. Five-star hotels, trips to Paris... What's not to like?

Just then I had a sinking feeling. It hit me: I had become the economy-class friend she'll think of when she's about to complain that her business-class wine is too cold and her business-class seat sticks when she's trying to turn it into a bed.

After years of having been married to a struggling painter, when she paid all the bills, she admits she enjoys being taken care of. "I don't know how I ever went coach," she said.
That's the problem with business class. Once you've experienced it, it's impossible to go back to economy. It's not just that it's better - it's so much better. Whenever I've flown in business class (which is only when I've upgraded with miles accumulated from suffering through hundreds of thousands of economy miles), the air is cleaner and the trip seems shorter. Also, if someone sneezes, the seats are so wide there's no chance you'll catch their sickness. It's an addiction, and having to go back to economy is cold turkey.

As Audrey talked about falling in love, all I could think was that she now has someone who can afford to feed her habit for business-class travel. I've never had any addictions before, and now I have one I can't find a supplier.