Overcome with guilt in economy class

No lunch in stowaway class. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg)

No lunch in stowaway class. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg)


As far as I know, SAA doesn’t serve lunch when you fly stowaway. Something to do with immigration control and austerity measures. Flying stowaway is, after all, a life choice you make when life leaves you with no choice, which, regrettably, includes the option to choose between chicken and beef.

I consider all of this as I live it up in economy on an SAA flight from Harare to Jo’burg.
My window seat has a clear view all the way to the ground and I kind of wish there was a curtain or something the ground staff could draw shut to separate us from the riffraff about to be locked up with the plane’s landing gear.

The captain’s voice roars over the intercom asking us to stow our trays in the upright position. I do it with a smirk on my face. The suckers downstairs don’t even have trays.

In-flight service commences. A hostess in a tracksuit walks down the aisle selling peanuts like a vendor on a train. It’s a surprising move, but just another measure, I assume, implemented in the run-up to austerity. Pushing my seat back I take a Woolworths voucher from my pocket – a gift from a wealthy family member – and see it’s valued at R500. That’s a lot, especially in a country in the throes of austerity.

Guilt rises from my thrombosed feet to my chest. Here I am, a paying customer in economy clutching a R500 Woolworths voucher, when down below countrymen, women and children are hugging the fuselage in an effort to save.

The Woolworths voucher goes back into my pocket. I will spend it wisely on items for drought relief and a “Save Gordhan” poster. The hostess with the peanuts does her little sales pitch (no salt or sugar); I wave her on. Now the tray in front of me seems a bit much.

Are we too bourgeois to eat on our laps? Must everything be served on a plastic platter in real plastic cups made of real recycled rubbish? Is there no end to the extremes a person who earns an average income is willing to go? It’s sickening.

We hit turbulence and I feel intense sympathy for my friends slumming it in the wheel well. No light, no aircon and no way to complain to customer service about the, let’s face it, horrendous conditions. The captain comes over the intercom again. Apparently we’ve started our descent – in more ways than one I think to myself – and it’s time to buckle up.

As the wheels hit the runway, I see a limb fly from the bottom of the plane. We taxi to a standstill. The surviving stowaways scamper across the tarmac to freedom in a brave display of citizenship. I disembark and head outside where an Uber driver is waiting. “First class?” he jokes, opening the back door. “No thanks,” I say. “I’ll ride stowaway, sir.”

JS Smit

JS Smit

JS Smit is a Cape Town-based freelance writer. Formally trained as a copywriter, he took a break from ads in 2010 to write a blog for the Mail & Guardian's Thought Leader and since 2015 has written for the Mail & Guardian. Read more from JS Smit

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