I remember the first time I travelled in business class. It was in 1999. I had to make a trip to the US for meetings on both coasts. For some reason, the economy class fares were coming out to be quite expensive. A friend then mentioned to me about a special Round-the-World business class fare from Cathay Pacific (and its partner airlines). As long as I met their conditions (single direction travel, minimum stay abroad of 10 days), I could get a business class ticket for a few thousand rupees more than what the economy class ticket was costing.
It was an amazing experience. Even though the seats were not flat-bed then, they reclined enough to enable a good sleep on the long flights. The access to the lounge was a novelty. The overall comfort was something I had not experienced before. I was so much more productive with my reading and writing; I was less tired when I landed. And it was then that I decided that when it came to international travel, I would only travel business class. And so it has been for the past 23 years. (I still travel economy for short-duration flights.)
I am at my most productive best on flights. Business class seats are very comfortable. Flat-beds now enable one to sleep well. The lounge access and easy boarding make travel less stressful. Without Internet access and any distractions, a long-distance flight is great for thinking. I am a captive of the seat – literally, with the seat belt! I let my mind roam free and the thoughts flow. I fill tens of pages in my spiral notebook as I write and doodle what I am thinking. On my return flight to Mumbai from an international trip, I typically use the time to summarise all my notes from the trip. I also use the time to read and, of late, listen to music.
For US travel, my preferred airline is Air India. I like their non-stop flights to Newark, NJ – though I wish they would upgrade the interior. Nothing has changed since I flew the non-stop for the first time in August 2007 – on the first flight out of India. I am delighted that there is now a non-stop from Mumbai to San Francisco – it will save me the transfer in Delhi and reduce total travel time by about 5-6 hours. The magic of air travel: New York and San Francisco are both now 16 hours away from Mumbai!
Of course, there is a price to be paid. Business class fares are typically three or four times economy class fares. But I think it is worth it – for the experience. I figured that I do about 2-3 trips a year. The delta on each trip is about 2-3 lakhs. So, that is about 8-10 lakhs extra a year – about $10-12,000. Definitely a price worth paying for the extra benefits – especially if one’s mind and thinking is the key to future success.
For me, business class is not about the food, drinks or networking. It is about sleep and comfort for my body and mind. For any travel longer than 4-5 hours, business class is a good investment. It provides excellent RoI (return on investment) in terms of thinking time and idea flow. And I also figured that over the rest of my life (I am 55 years old), it probably means an additional extra investment of $100-150,000. Given that I have very few other needs (or vices), international business class travel is one luxury I have no hesitation in spending money on!