Saturday, 27 February 2010

Up In The Air

It has been said that I bare a striking resemblance to George Clooney - well OK, it has never been said, but if you look at the things we have in common you might say that we were separated at birth, brothers from different mothers or clones.  Look at the facts; we are both male, we both breath air, speak English and have grey hair how could we be more alike?

OK So the only things we have in common are also shared by about 2 billion other English speaking middle aged, grey haired homo sapiens, I guess what I have more in common with is the character he plays from his new movie "Up In The Air", if you haven’t seen it, it’s about a middle aged grey haired man who breaths air and speaks English - oh and he has a job that takes him all over America carrying out the dirty work for lazy organizations by firing unexpected workers of unconnected companies.  In an ‘un-typecast ‘ and truly original role for George (spot the sarcasm) he gets to  live his ideal bachelor lifestyle, jetting between towns, cities and across states in first class, whilst staying in 5 star hotels along the way.

I am sure the film is more to do with the idiosyncrasies of modern life, how society holds back people’s intimate desires and traps them in a lifetime of turpitude and authoritarian purgatory.  However for the majority the film is all about Clooney’s ability to make a woman’s clothes fall off by just smiling at them, he has the charm of an Italian Piazza and the mysteriousness of the world financial system, any women who can resist him must be made from stone or gay, but probably both.

So again I hear you ask what have you in common with either character. nothing really, what I am referring to is the mechanism for the story, the constant traveling that Ryan Bingham (Georges Character) does, and how he collects airline and hotel loyalty cards like most people collect extra pounds over Christmas and how this leaves him isolated and detached from the real world.

If Clooney’s character is the David Beckham of the Sky, then I am probably more like a current Paul Gascoigne, he plays in the Premier Division, whilst I try to stay up in the Vauxhall Conference division and from going barmy.  Or at least I think I am, my travel last year goes something like this:

London to Shanghai (Return) – 5 Times
London to Hong Kong  (Return) – Twice
London to Sydney & Melbourne (Return) – Twice
London to New York (Return) – Once
Internal Flights in China – 10+ Including, Shenzen, Beijing, Guangzhou, Taizhou
UK to Mainland Europe – 6+ Including Italy, Germany, Holland

This on top of around 50,000 miles of driving on 3 different continents, a dozen train journeys, a couple of ferry’s and the odd bike ride (admittedly the bike riding probably doesn’t count as it was on an exercise bike).  So I guess I have earned the title as a frequent traveler - not quite Judith Charmers, but more than average.  In fact if anyone wants to offset my carbon footprint and pay for me to stay at home for a few years, It may enable us to turn the world’s thermostat down a notch or two.

So I have established my credentials as a regular flyer, but what about Ryans obsession with collecting air miles, loyalty points etc. well, as sad as it sounds I am Guilty as charged, be it Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Marriot Hotels, A-Club, Flyblue, BAA Worldpoints, Luthhansa or Starwood Points I am hooked.  Like any addiction it starts small, manageable, discreet, then before you know it your traveling hundreds of miles out of your way, staying at hotels in the wrong side of town, hiring cars in country’s only the military would attempt to drive and buying your fifth Montblanc pen at duty free - all with the purpose of gaining those extra few air miles, accumulated those all important status points or just because you want to flash your Gold/Platinum/Diamond encrusted/moon dust sprinkled loyalty card.
To give you an example on a recent trip to the US, I booked Purple Parking  Valet service at Heathrow(Virgin Air miles), Spent a couple hundred pounds at Terminal 3 (BAA points - which can be converted to Virgin Air miles), Flew Virgin (of course), Hired a vehicle from Avis (Virgin partner company more air miles), stayed in 4 different Marriott hotels at various destinations throughout the US and Canada (Virgin Partner company), and on my way back picked up my pre-booked duty free (yes you guessed it, by pre-booking you get extra airmails!).  The Oxford English dictionary identifies the term "addiction" as used in many contexts to describe an obsession, compulsion, or excessive psychological dependence", so I guess I should be worried!

I am not alone, to help me with my addiction I found a website dedicated to helping other Virgin Atlantic 'users', after several visit I quickly realized this was a 'pushers' den, a air mile dealing fraud, rather than help me with my compulsion it promoted and encouraged my dependency.

I find myself craving the lounge facilities in terminal 3, the chicken tikka, free flowing champagne, and grabbing a handful of boiled sweets before getting back on a plane. Seeing flashes of red from the corner of your eye and wondering if it’s a Virgin company that will earn you more miles, buying wine from the Virgin wine club, travelling on Virgin trains and dressing up as an air hostess at the weekend... er well not quite that far, but who knows where this may lead?

I decided that I needed to seek help; I needed to wean myself away from this dependency.  Who could I see? Who could I turn to? I tried self help books and scoured the selves of Amazon and borders - but no one seems to recognize this addiction.  I decided that I needed to come off the drug slowly, and turned to a substitute - I tried Nectar but found it unrewarding, Texaco points - but they only led to more air miles, I joined BMI flying club but after several trips wanted to swim across the channel rather than fly. I have almost given up, and have decided to write about my problems in an attempt to see if anyone out there can help, and by sharing hope that at least one other person does not fall foul of this cruel (yet strangely enjoyable) form of addiction. For contributions to help me with this crippling addition please feel free to send me cash or cheques, air miles are of course also accepted!