Richard Branson – Best Dick in the World

Everyone recommended melatonin to conquer jet-lag.

Unfortunately, I was so jet-lagged, I told everyone I had taken methadone, which isn’t the same thing at all, and I then had to make a lot of frantic phone-calls to explain that I was not coming off heroin, nor, indeed, had ever been on it.

Anyway, back to the melatonin. I read up a bit about it and gleaned that the only negative was that it made you dream. As my dreams are very vivid anyway, especially in relation to the US (weapons of mass personal destruction feature strongly in those), I couldn’t see the harm, and so downed one before my long haul flight back to the UK.

It wasn’t good. I dreamed I had killed someone and was heading for Death Row quicker than you could say “Last meal curry and chips.”

I also dreamed that a policeman found a gun just as Prince Charles was about to do a walkabout, and threw the weapon into a bush shortly before HRH’s arrival. I wasn’t happy about this lapse in security but luckily woke up before taking the officer to task.

I was flying Air New Zealand before deciding to transfer my allegiance back to Virgin Atlantic, which I had only left because it was more expensive; but then, I just couldn’t take the stress of the ANZ points. With Virgin, you accumulate points and then use them for a guaranteed upgrade or, as I do, use them to book an Upper Class flight. On ANZ, with the “complimentary upgrade” you acquire with points, you often don’t know until the minute before boarding whether you have it or not.

It can be all the difference between sitting for ten hours next to that fat bloke with BO standing next to you in the queue or having your own lovely pod and hibernating for the entire flight.

There’s also the Virgin lounge at Heathrow, which is like a holiday in itself – salon, spa, massage, great food and beverages. It went through a rough patch a few years back when, to avoid the possibility of the masseurs getting repetitive strain injury, they pummelled you with a wheat bag, which, quite frankly, is like being hit with a bag of Tesco shopping, although probably not as effective. The wine is still a bit hit and miss, although given that they change it often, that hardly matters.

On board, Virgin Business has a bar, which serves as a terrific networking venue; and the in-flight entertainment surpasses ANZ, whose content is not only much older, but comes to you via sets of headphones that enable you to hear everything that people in adjoining seats are listening to.

At least ANZ allows you to watch stuff until the last minute, though; the last hour of the Virgin flight once had the Branson clan advertising various charitable endeavours, followed by hideous music – not what you need after ten hours in the air.

I admired Sir Richard’s altruism, but not when I’m knackered; they now have him appearing with a little chat before each show you watch on the in-flight system, and that’s not half as irritating.

Neither airline has ever come up to scratch on the food: a Virgin dining plate is so small, it could pass for an eye patch; and although ANZ boasts several great chefs, whose menus are fine, the food is ruined by being laden with way too much butter and so much salt you can’t help wondering if Lot’s wife has jumped into the pan along with the meat.

I was informed that salt is a good preservative, which I know of course; but when dehydration is one of the key discomforts about flying, surely the last thing you need is something that is going to exacerbate the problem.

So, I remain very loyal to Richard Branson, who, all things considered, delivers the better product. The newer airlines have replaced the ludicrously complicated Thunderbird 2 style controls of the in-flight system with touch-screens, and the food has improved tenfold (though is still served on an eye patch).

The Dreamliner’s new bar stools, however, barely accommodate one of my buttocks and have been fixed way too close to the bar; and as for the Dream Suite on the Airbus A330 fleet, it’s a disaster. Not only is the Upper Class cabin incredibly cramped, the semi- transparent screens mean that you get the flashing images from about five people around you when they are watching movies. They are now pulling it and bringing it into line with the 787 Dreamliner (for which the suite was originally intended).

But it’s the staff who really make Virgin Atlantic. Loyal and efficient, they are not only wonderful in the air, on land they (mostly) respond to complaints and enquiries with efficiency and kindness. Sir Richard also provides me with a credit card that enables me to acquire so many points, I am fast on the way to owning one of the aircraft.

I was really upset when his home burned down on Necker Island and wondered whether I could give him some points to help the rebuild, but figured I need them more than he does. In terms of flying, he pretty much gets it right, and ANZ’s super dooper planes with white leather in Premium Economy will still never make up for the fact that the reception staff at the Star Alliance lounge used by ANZ at Heathrow are about as friendly as the Gestapo with a hangover.

I haven’t been in their lounge in LA for a while, though I suspect they are still serving the butternut squash soup that wouldn’t look out of place in a urinal.

I still can’t quite believe that after ten years of refusing to fly anywhere, I am spending so much time in the air. It’s rather a good metaphor for where my life has been, but I’m writing a lot and hope to have several books as a result of my new experiences.

Maybe Sir Richard would like to buy them for people to read on his planes. They would sure beat the current reading matter on offer. Forget melatonin; the in-flight magazine will help you drop off even before take-off.