Tips and tricks from a veteran British flyer
British writer Tilly Bagshawe is the New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen novels. Her first, Adored, was a Jackie Collins-style blockbusting bodice-ripper, and she’s also written multiple officially sanctioned novels in the style of Sidney Sheldon. Her latest book is the first in a murder mystery series set in her beloved British countryside: Murder at the Mill, written under her pen name, M.B. Shaw.
Bagshawe estimates that she flies 170,000 kilometres annually between Britain and her current base in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and four children. Her carrier of choice: Virgin Atlantic.
“I’m quite a fearful flyer and I often think, when I get on a plane, ‘Are these the people I want to die with in a plume of smoke?’ ” she laughs, “And the cabin crew are so nice, always laughing. It has the best entertainment system, especially children, and they bring fab ice lollies in the middle of the flight, which is one of my children’s favorite things.”
A few tips from the longtime expat:
• The insider secret to scoring an upgrade with miles? Just two little words.
“We have never bought an upper-class seat; if ever we’ve flown anywhere up front, we’ve used miles to upgrade from economy. If you want to do that, call reservations and drop the name ‘revenue management.’ The reason is that revenue management’s job is to make sure a flight is profitable, so they’re the ones telling [reservation agents] what they can say; they’re like Flying Club’s boss. Not everyone knows that this department exists, and by mentioning it you reveal yourself as someone who knows how things work and understands how seats are released. Say to the agent: ‘Have revenue management released any first-class seats for miles upgrades yet?’ When they say no, ask them to check or just be put through to revenue management so you can ask when they will release some, as well as how many seats are left. Politely respond like this: ‘You have 20 seats unsold? Why aren’t you releasing them?’ Often by the end of the conversation they say, ‘OK, we’ll release one for you,’ or they might tell you to call back tomorrow. Doing that, we’ve had a pretty much 100 per cent success rate.”
• A two-step calming ritual for nervous flyers.
“Though I’ve never not taken a flight because I was afraid – that’s a slippery slope – there have been times when it really debilitated my life, when I’m shaking and crying to even get on a plane. So now I watch the fear-of-flying videos they have [on the in-flight entertainment system]. I watch them every time. I could recite the British Airways one, where the guy sounds like the one in Mary Poppins and says: ‘Turbulence is never dangerous. We’ve all got families of our own to get home to.’ Then I practice a technique called realistic thinking. One of my children had chronic anxiety last year, and we learned the technique together. It’s similar to positive thinking: Find something that is true, and you believe to be true, and repeat that over and over. During turbulence, for example, I think: ‘How many times have you been through this on other flights and how many times has it gone wrong? Never!’ “
• An oh-so-British practice will improve your quality of life in a small way.
“In first class, I don’t want the little glasses of Champagne. I want a cup of tea. But the cups are tiny, so it goes cold, and I can’t stand cold tea, it’s an absolute pet peeve. So I bring a large mug on long-haul flights; it’s not fancy, but it has a photo of my village in the Cotswolds on it.”
• If you want to fly with your favorite fragrance but worry about breaking the bottle, here’s what to do.
“I love the winter scent by the White Company which is literally the smell of Christmas for me – and I’m obsessed with Christmas. But it doesn’t come in small bottles or anything you can really decant. So I have the room spray, and I spray it on absolutely everything: my cashmere scarf, full of holes, that I travel with, always; the inside of my suitcase; any piece of hand luggage; inside my shoes; my socks. I go to town with it. If I am going to die in a twisted, white-hot melting fuselage at 30,000 feet, I want to do it smelling of cinnamon and cloves. I want to do it festively.”
• Making a tchotchke tradition is a great way to keep family memories.
“I’m obsessed with Christmas and always collect some kitsch bauble or other from the places I travel to. It started with trips to Solvang, California. … It’s one of those Nordic-influenced American towns, where there are Danish pastries the size of small family cars, and it also has a year-round Christmas shop, Jule Hus. We’d go there and get little reindeers. Now we have all these kitsch things from around the world in our house at Christmas; it comes from my mother, who, in particular, has a thing for the naffest possible Christmas decorations. My brother got her one from Lourdes, which was an LED Jesus: You plugged him in, and he opened his arms and his heart flashed, then popped out. My sister lives in Singapore now, so she brings [more] back for us. A lot of the flashy ones, you plug in and stand on a sideboard like that. The best ones are from Asia.”