In Style + Design

First Class Flying: How Not To Shower At 41,000 Feet

It really shouldn’t be surprising that having a shower at 965km/h is a logistical, physical and mental challenge. Sometimes, though, you have to work hard for the little luxuries in life and being offered an in-flight shower – in a cubicle with a heated floor no less – is one of the unexpected bonuses of flying First Class.

Those used to sitting at the pointy end of an Etihad A380-800 are wise to the whole thing and know to book in their shower time as soon as they get on board, thus taking up all the slots just before landing, when you’d actually appreciate one.

Sadly I was too distracted by the many other joys of life in First Class, located beyond the velvet rope at the top of the aircraft stairway. Billed as a world apart, it felt like ascending to join the nobility in the Royal Box at Ascot.

Below your shower’s drain plug, business and economy travellers have mere seats.

Top-deck First Class delivers a private suite with a facing leather lounge, which later doubles as your king single bed; multiple storage spaces to the side and below (no overhead lockers, lifting your arms above your head is so gauche), a vanity cabinet, a huge TV, and two sliding doors to seal off the passageway and your serving staff.

The aproned chef introduces himself before the flight, offers an extensive wine list and a three-course menu with choices including filet mignon (how would you like it cooked, sir?), sea bass and chicken biryani, all served on fine china.

Black pyjamas of the softest cotton, comfy slippers and a toiletries bag stuffed with niceties such as hydration spray, lip balm and body lotion (who applies body lotion on an aircraft?) are part of the pampering.

Before being given access to the shower, important instructions are provided by the stewardess. Regrettably a tired, jetlagged brain has the tendency not to fully process useful information, much like safety briefings before take-off.

So once inside the bathroom, all that could be meaningfully recalled was something like: “blah blah, short duration, blah blah, when the lights reach red it stops, and keep the door tightly closed”.

No problem. It’s just a shower, right? On the wall (well, the fuselage to be precise) is a chrome twist knob with LED lights progressively shading green through to orange and red. Ah, shower duration. I remember that part. There’s also a button. Hmm, don’t remember anything about a button.

Twisting the control knob back and forth, yanking on it, and simultaneously pressing the button achieves absolutely no result. Not so much as a dribble. Serious contemplation was now given to pressing the call button but the thought of fronting the stewardess clad in just a flimsy towel felt entirely undignified.

And she would make the rightful assumption that the passenger from 3A is yet another idiot who failed to listen to instructions. So should I get dressed again and then call for assistance? No, stuff it; it’s a shower. It can’t be that complex. Try again.

With one finger now firmly on the button, a twist of the control knob, and another important function is forgotten: temperature regulation. At 41,000ft, the external air is below freezing so it’s not unreasonable to assume that the cold water feed to the shower is somewhat similar.

And that’s exactly how it felt as an Arctic-fed stream of water gushed from the shower head.

Reeling back from this icy aquatic attack and manfully suppressing a scream-cum-squawk of shock, the back of my head smacked the plexiglass with a thump louder than a landing-gear retraction.

Blindly attempting to duck the sub-zero assault and fumble-twist the now-identified temperature knob, finally blessed warm water arrives.

Am I bleeding? Jeez, those lights are now down to orange. Did I black out? Emerging from the compartment, dry but somewhat discombobulated, I endeavour to appear nonchalant and very First Class while swanning back to 3A.

The stewardess appeared, looking concerned.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Of course,” I lied. “But do you have any Aspirin?”

(Lead and all images: Both courtesy of Emirates

Published 31 October, 2018