Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch



July 1, 1988 -- Yet another war story for the frequent flyer files.

Last April I flew to San Francisco, stopping overnight before enplaning for a travel industry convention in Australia. I got up about 7:00 A.M. the next morning at the swank new Portman Hotel, never suspecting it would be almost forty-three hours before my head next touched down on a real pillow at the Melbourne Hilton.

Here’s what happened.

After a full business day in the Bay Area and an excellent dinner at the Portman Grill (nouvelle California continental?), I transferred to SFO to catch an 11:00 Qantas departure for Sydney and Melbourne. Flying time would be just under fifteen hours non-stop to Paul Hogan’s fiefdom, with an additional hour-plus Sydney-Melbourne hop. The flight was excellent, although I never really experienced what could be called sleep—my REMs would probably out a shrink into a trance.

As QF 4 progressed deeper down under, the flight deck reported that Sydney was fogged in, and we would divert to Brisbane. Just what the doctor ordered. After several hours on the ground at Brisbane, we flew on, spending another two hours at a now clear Sydney airport while Qantas consolidated three fog-delayed flights to Melbourne. Got into that handsome and civilized city about five hours late, cabbed it to the Hilton, ready to call it a day, or two, only to be met in the lobby by a cabal of colleagues. They told me that unavoidable schedule changes had made it necessary for me to do some TV interviews within the hour. Ever sensitive to the call of duty, I unpacked, shaved and showered, then tried to look intelligent (in short spurts) in front of the camera for the next four hours, had a snack with several associates, and finally checked into bed 42½ hours after my wake-up call at the Portman.

My subsequent travel experiences weren’t that protracted, but not pieces of cake, either. They included highly professional flights on Cathay Pacific: Melbourne-Sydney-Hong Kong, elapsed time between airports of twelve hours; and Hong Kong-Vancouver-San Francisco, fifteen hours, give or take a few minutes. Talk to me about jet lag, anytime.

It’s a noble experiment, indeed, that has taken root in the north country. I refer to Northwest Airlines’s gutsy decision to ban all smoking on its domestic routes, a move that should be applauded by concerned and considerate air travelers everywhere. Minneapolis/St. Paul has always struck me as a particularly wholesome metropolis, a great place to raise a family, despite the long winter cold and equally long summer of the mosquito, and highway construction. So it’s fitting that this model of the all-American life should spawn the revolution to free us from inflight pollution.

NW’s senior vice president of marketing, Sky Magary, explained to Frequent Flyer that smoking was being retained on international routes because passengers from abroad, particularly Asians, wouldn’t sit still for a cigarette ban. Maybe they’ll wise up eventually, as well. Meanwhile, Mr. Magary, his lungs bursting with good health, reports a favorable customer reaction in the early months of the ban. Long may it fly.

I did quite a bit of reading on those flights I described earlier. Among the novels that carried me through long flights and ling nights were these:

Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe’s jaundiced and fiery look at the forces that shape today’s New York City. Hard for me to get into, but ultimately gripping. Brilliantly written, sardonic, there’s not a likeable character, with the exception of a Bronx judge, who’s a bit player. One and all live down to your expectations, if not further. Main personality, page after page, is author Wolfe, who rides a giddy word processor into the fray. It’s like a prose version of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, an immortal canvas that strips the good burghers naked. Hey, Tom! There have to be some OK guys and dolls in the Big Apple. Don’t there?

Bolt, by former jockey Dick Francis. Yet another fine ride over England’s steeplechase courses into a web of deceit and suspense. Francis is real good at creating an atmosphere of low-key menace. Nicely crafted, with admirable heroes and hateful villains. You don’t have to love horse racing to like Dick Francis.

There Are No Spies, by Bill Granger, is another (number eight?) in his November Man series. It’s an entertaining yarn of a CIA agent roused from hibernation. Generally the same cast of characters on both sides of the Cold War that populate the earlier novels in the series.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.