On a recent flight to Sydney on Air New Zealand, I experienced for the first time, the power of the pod – Air NZ’s answer to a good night’s sleep at 37,000 feet.
Now 3-weeks later, I am dismally confident that this experience has set impossible expectations for all future air travel, and find myself daydreaming about what I will happily borrow, sell or steal in order to pod hop again.
Initially though, I was not a believer – I did not drink the pod Kool Aid, thus my conversion from cynic to advocate makes me an eminently trustworthy critic, incapable of either greedy intent or personal agenda. Indeed, if my story can inspire even one person to change their life and fly Air NZ Business Class, then my struggle will all have been worth it. And in the unlikely event anyone from Air NZ reads this, I have been a proud, card-carrying Air Points member since 1997. Hey, no shame, no gain.
I have flown Air NZ many times back and forth (and back and forth) to Auckland and to Sydney from LA. However, I had not experienced pod travel. I confess that when we boarded the flight to Sydney turning left through the door, I was surprised that someone had replaced the roomy leather Business Class seats with what appeared to be a cross between a high-tech fainting couch and an office cubicle. As we headed to the very first row in the aircraft, I began to panic as I worked out that these were our seats for the entire journey. Taking note of Stuart’s obvious pod-approval, I stoically took my seat, um, pod, as passenger 1A, feeling a little bit like Lt. Ripley in “Alien”. Without the whole stomach-alien thing. Or the killer bicepts.
As I sat, and eventually lay in my little capsule of comfort, video monitor angled just so, glass of champagne within easy arms reach, tucked into my downy comforter and safely ensconced in the nose of the Southbound flight, I was perplexed by an ambivalence of feelings.
On the one hand, here I was in the very first row of the plane, pampered and prostrate, my every possible in-flight whim addressed with lightening speed, professionalism and the Kiwi good nature abundantly and consistently displayed by the always-polished and lovely in-flight crew. Yet given the layout of the pods, I felt just the slightest twinge of…loneliness. Stuart, parked in the next pod over, may as well have been on a different flight. He was the France to my Elba as the sense of isolationism became more and more pervasive. I realized there would be no sharing of dinner, clinking of champagne flutes, or conciliatory expressions of exasperation at the slow beverage service or Philistine passengers who can’t work out how to use the video monitors. Worse yet, there would be no opportunity to meet and shoot the breeze with my fellow travelers, something I have come to realize is as vital a part of my journey as boarding the plane. An interesting revelation to me, though not significant enough to register even a blip on the radar screen for those who are familiar with my unparalleled gift of gab.
Being positioned in the very nose of the plane did not help the problem. Remote and quiet, with nothing in front of me but a tan wall, I had the distinct and somewhat disorienting sense of being in my den, watching TV late into the night while my household was asleep. On the odd occasion when I actually caught a glimpse of another passenger, my instinct was to grab a baseball bat and call the dogs, so engrossed was I in the homey creature comforts.
Stuart, it goes without saying, was completely and utterly blissful. For him, there could not possibly be a more auspicious start to a holiday. Let me see…Business Class to Sydney? Check. Seats that promote the notion of isolationism in the modern world, while at the same time allowing one to lay down? Check. A three-inch stack of gossip mags to savor slowly without the disapproving eyes of anyone in possession of a soul? Check. Lesley within eye shot but conveniently out of speaking range? Enthusiastic check. Had I been able to see over the wall of my pod and get a clear line of sight on him, I’m sure his expression would have beamed with a combination of smug satisfaction and something akin to a spiritual rapture. Like the Mona Lisa. If she were in a pod.
Fast forward to the end of the flight, and wouldn’t you know it, I found I had warmed to the experience of the pod. I attribute this change in perception to the restorative powers of a seven hour, uninterrupted sleep. The kind of deep sleep that often accompanies the vibration of an object in motion, particularly with a full stomach and eased mind. The kind of deep sleep that can only be experienced when laying flat. Why was I surprised by this? For years, I have remarked that I can only sleep on a plane if I am laying down. And in my quest to achieve this feat in a constrained space, I invariably begin to compromise my position, bending knees, tucking legs, or folding forward, all while wearing a blanket over my head, like a chenille-covered Cousin It. Why the blanket? To cut out the light, of course. But as I consider this further, it occurs to me that fully enshrouding myself in my blanket is really a way of isolating myself from the din around me, creating a little cocoon of comfort and privacy. One might even call this a pod.
The flight back home was the tipping point, sending me blissfully careening into pod-eration. The trick, I’ve learned, is not to sit in the first row, thus minimizing the disorienting sense of being on my couch at home while providing the all-important opportunity to socialize. And to this end, I have learned to slum the galleys during flight, where other socially-minded chatter boxes find themselves drawn in the wee hours, like moths to a flame.
And while the pods still position me farther away from loving husband more than I would like, I recognize that they have been designed primarily for the business traveler who, astonishingly, does not want to be cajoled, spoken with, distracted, or otherwise bothered in any way, in order to obtain that pre-meeting freshness that only an 8-hour sleep on a trans-pacific flight can provide. Whatever. And my own happily ever after? I have been assured by each and every Air New Zealand staff member kind and patient enough to listen to my pod harangues, that the new planes will have double pods (with a couch, too!) Just perfect for us. Well, for me. Naturally, Stuart is not thrilled.