Flying high

Broadsides from the pirate captain of the Jet Set

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‘Where did it all go?’ asks Mark Steyn in the National Review, talking about airline service, or the lack of it, rather. Well, I read the piece before getting on a BA flight from the Bagel to London in order to prepare myself for the worst, and I had a very nice surprise as a result. Mind you, I had a first-class sleeper-bed and was lucky with my fellow passengers. Jeremiah O’Connor and his wife Joan are not your usual travellers. (Why, oh why, do slobs travel so much?) They were friendly, polite, quiet and had a sense of humour. I was obviously a little worse for wear when the real-estate tycoon introduced himself and told me he was an avid reader of The Spectator. It’s rare to find American tycoons reading the world’s greatest weekly, but Jeremiah (I love that name, it reminds me of 18th-century American patriarchs opening up the south-west) was very well versed in the Speccie. His first concern was about Boris’s future. My answer was that winning generals are not relieved of their duties, not unless they work for Castro or his ilk.

But back to airlines. On this particular BA flight, the service was superb. None of those hatchet-faced American stewardesses — sorry, flight attendants — graduates of the Gulag charm school. There is something very wrong when American, privately owned airlines provide disgraceful service, and are outperformed where charm and smiles are concerned by state-owned companies like Swiss. I guess it has a lot to do with feminist bullshit, and we know who started that rot. Some stewardesses on the shuttle flight to Washington from the Bagel are far more like prison guards than attendants.

Which brings me to the good old days of yesteryear. Thirty-five years ago, in Amman, just before King Hussein moved against the Palestinians during Black September, I tried to pick up a very beautiful woman working at the Royal Jordanian Airways desk in the Hotel Intercontinental. A New York Times bore, the name could have been Eric Pace, but I’m not sure it was him, immediately warned me off. She’s married to the King’s brother, he told me rather pompously, as if I gave a proverbial you-know-what. Thirty-five years ago, I was 30 pounds thinner, had thick black hair, and my face did not resemble the Gaza Strip. I also had illusions and lotsa charm. So I parked myself in front of her desk asking all sorts of questions until the right moment came along. ‘Why don’t you come with me for a quick trip to the South of France?’ or words to that effect. She thought it a cute suggestion, her words, but politely declined. ‘My husband wouldn’t like it...’

A couple of weeks later, while in Beirut, Hussein went after the PLO and the airport was shut down. I drove with two Paris Match photographers to Irbid, where we were picked up by a Palestinian unit and put under house arrest for the duration. (I have written at length about the love letter to the King from one of his French girlfriends that I was carrying, and how the three of us ate it just before they let us go.) Once back in Amman, I went to see the love of my life but she was no longer at her post. She had wisely been flown out days before the shit hit the fan. And I did meet her in the south of France, after all. She was with a Greek shipowner, Stavros Niarchos, and her name is Princess Firyal of Jordan, and we are good friends to this day.

I write all this because the Steyn piece mentions another friend of mine, Jay Nordlinger, as good a music critic as exists, who is always hanging around the King Hussein Centre and writing how ‘it’s stocked with lissome young ladies...’ Jay is right. Middle East airlines know how to put butts on seats. Fill the plane with lissome young hostesses and the dirty old men will follow. United States airlines are broke and getting broker by the minute because they have only Ilse Kochs on board, ignoring the fact that Buchenwald shut down its disgraceful doors 65 years ago.

So here I am in London after a beautiful flight and ready for some serious partying. There is Prince Pavlos and Marie-Chantal’s dance in Athens this weekend to celebrate the christening of their son Odysseas (that’s Ulysses to you non-Greeks), Rosemary and Wafic Said’s ball in Oxfordshire the week after, Gunilla Bismarck’s three-day bash in Spain following that, and Annabel Goldsmith’s fin-de-saison party after that. Like George Best, my fellow inmate at Pentonville 21 years ago, I shall be applying for a liver transplant sometime in late July.