How to get an upgrade.

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Fear is an emotion that results in your thoughts going haywire over something that may or may not happen. It is a perception, a reaction to an unpleasant situation, which may be real. Or not.

Everyone has them. They may be huge, or something smaller. Like a spider or a caterpillar. I am a scared of heights and going very fast. So naturally I spent years being fearful of flying. I was not alone. Up to 50% if us are frightened of flying, to various degrees.

My fear of flying was the problem when it came to my biggest love. Travel. Traveling around the world gives me the greatest of pleasures and every chance I get, I take it. I will forgo big-ticket items, justifying things like…

“I could get a new washing machine, or I could use that money for a ticket to Thailand.” The travel always wins out. Damn the washing, it can sit and rot for all I care.

Ditto a second car for our family.

I call it Adventure Currency. It is very important to me.

But back to my fear of flying.

I can pin point the exact time that it started.

The year was 1996 and I had just finished up a little jaunt around Portugal. I was flying back to London, where I was living at the time. It was night. I was flying solo. The passengers were all either asleep or reading quietly when suddenly there were a few loud flashes visible outside the windows. We had hit a thunderstorm.

DING! On went the seatbelt sign and a split second later, the plane went pitch black.

And lunged forward with alarming speed before the nose pointed towards the earth and fell.

It felt like minutes, but was probably only seconds. Everyone was screaming and the airline stewardesses began to cry. It was at this time that I realized I was screwed. When the crew begins to pray, you know something is really bad.

After a few terrifying moments, the plane straightened up and battled through the storm for the next 20 minutes. I cannot remember breathing once during this time, but I recall as soon as I felt we were out of danger, I opened a bottle of duty-free vodka I was carrying with me.

The liquid burned my throat as I took a gigantic swig from it. I handed it to the lady sitting beside me, a lady whose hand I had been clutching like crazy. She said something in Spanish to me, in grateful tones I believe, before taking her turn. I motioned for her to pass it along the row. By the time I got it back, it was empty.

When we landed at Heathrow there was an ambulance there, ready to patch up some cuts and bruises that the poor unfortunates who happened to be in the latrine during the storm, sustained.

Pushing aside my fear of germs, I got onto the ground, much like the Pope does, and gave those grimy tiles the biggest, passionate kiss I could muster.

And then I thought to myself… “How the heck am I ever going to get back to Australia?” Because I knew I was not willing or able to get on a plane again. Ever.

But because circumstance and practicality trumps a 6-week sea voyage to my fair city, I hocked myself up on drugs and got on that plane home. With some reluctance and just a little bit of hallucinations.

I am still not a fantastic flyer, but I have two irrational theories that help me when I do. I think that if you can get an upgrade into Business class, you are safe as houses. Nothing bad can happen to you while you are in there. Ditto if there is a celebrity on the plane. The bigger name the celebrity, the safer you will be.

Miranda Kerr? Good. Especially if John Travolta is flying the craft.

Someone from Big Brother whose face you kinda know but whose name escapes you? Please note the nearest exit.

Another thing to do to ensure your safety is to not book with Iran Air, China Airlines or Cubana Airlines, for these three are notorious for falling out of the sky. Or into a mountain.

So, how exactly do you get an upgrade to the pointy end of the plane?

There are no certainties, but you can try the following.

  • Book a full fare and travel during peak times when economy is full.
  • Dress neatly.
  • Be super friendly and nice to everyone from the check in person to the crew.
  • Do not check in as part of a group.
  • Pray for a broken seat!
  • Chances improve if you have a visible broken appendage, although I do not advocate doing this deliberately. Of course.
  • Join your preferred airline’s Loyalty Program.
  • Be a smartly dressed single man in your 30’s, for it is this demographic that is most likely to be upgraded. Handy hey!

Which brings me to the time that I scored an upgrade to First Class during a flight from Bangkok to Sydney. I am still 100% sure it was a systems error, but I basically sprinted up the aisle and lobbed into a seat that folded back into a real bed, before they finished their sentence.

I was very quiet and mainly motionless during that flight, in fear that they would realize their error. I sat across from a French Businessman who owned many wineries. He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a substitute teacher.

The Qantas steward came and made up my bed with luxurious cotton sheets and tucked me in under a feather down doona. I suspect that she would have obliged, if indeed I has asked her for a bedtime story.

I could have died right there and then, a happy woman.

But that just does not happen when you get upgraded, right?

Are you a confident flyer?

Ever scored an upgrade?