Old time magic


My normal readers may think I’ve gone a bit soft. This column is about overnight kits in business and first class sections of airlines. Yes, the little bag of goodies that most business and first class passengers find in their seat-back pockets or have distributed just before flight time.

Any who regularly flies in business class has seen the steady decline of this amenities kit over the past decade.

Once upon a time airlines were defined by their overnight kits in the premium classes. These small kits were a point of competition. Airline staffs spent scores of hours selecting interesting and creative amenities in order to assemble a kit that catered to needs that average travelers didn’t even know they had.

I remember fine, pliable and plush leather overnight kit bags. Some unfolded, some could be hung on hooks, some were square, some were triangularly shaped. All were packed with upscale branded creams, lotions, hydrating solutions, water mists, shoe shine kits, perfume samples, saving cream, the newest disposable razors, cotton swabs, nail files, emory boards, combs, collapsible brushes, ear plugs, tissues, booties to wear during flight, eye shades, tooth brushes, tooth paste, mouthwash and more. Each new kit received by passengers was an anticipated adventure.

I and many of my fellow passengers coveted these kits. Once we had one, we regularly used them (in fact I still use an old KLM leather first class kit). If passengers already had a kit, these became prime gifts. The overnight amenity kits were never left onboard after flights. There was a better chance of a passenger forgetting his sports coat.

The leather kits over the last decade became cloth and then plastic. The amenities were steadily reduced. I began to see more overnight kits left onboard, unclaimed on seats and in seatback pockets.

Eventually, the kits ignominiously morphed from a discernibly shaped squarish bag to simply a shapeless bag that went from being a rugged heavy cloth sack to a light polyester fabric (perhaps useable as a shoe bag for one shoe). The amenities were reduced to a cheap disposable toothbrush, some flight socks, maybe a comb and sometimes ear plugs. They were reduced so much so, that on my last Northwest business class flight, the kit had been done away with. Flight attendants on my Northwest business-class flight from Boston to Amsterdam advised passengers that if they needed any amenities they should ask for them.

How low the amenity kit had sunk.

Last week, I flew on Virgin Atlantic in their Upper Class from Boston to London. Virgin has brought back a bit of that old magic when it comes to their amenity kit. I don’t normally fly Upper Class with Virgin, so perhaps nothing has changed. But the simple process of going through the Virgin amenity kit was fun and a discovery. I had forgotten what a pleasure a cleverly created kit can be.

Only after picking through the Virgin Atlantic amenity kit with a big smile on my face, did I reminisce how it used to be. Hence this column.

Virgin’s kit yielded the normal socks, ear plugs, tissues and eye shades. Ah, but there was more. I ran my fingers over a pen shaped like a plane fuselage. I popped a mint out of a full-sized roll of Polo candies that I rarely see in the USA. The toothbrush was a careful work of engineering and design.

And at the bottom of the kit I found what seemed to be another set of eye shades. Curiously, I slipped them out of their plastic container and examined them closely. “Redeye–fast relief from urban stress and travel fatigue. A cooling eye mask that you cool in a glass of ice for a few minutes then wear, relax and chill out.” They were a new discovery, something that adds a new sensation to my experience.

My companion closely examined the small bottles in the Virgin cosmetic sample pack each Upper Class passenger received–night treatment cream, eye cream, hand and nail cream and lip balm.

Little things to be sure. But they brought smiles to passengers faces and provided a touch of joy — not unlike opening a Christmas package.

The experience of the Virgin amenity kit brought into focus one of the small things that once were taken for granted in the airline industry. They may disappear all together, however, recollecting how it used to be is the first step in recreating the upscale travel experience. (Virgin also provides small amenity kits to their economy passengers with the booties, ear plus and eye shades.)

Yes, the amenity kit is a small thing. However, don’t dismiss them. These kits are tangible evidence of the importance airlines put on the passenger experience. An amenity kit is not the most important thing on a flight. But an airline that takes care of the small things well, will manage to excell in the overall picture.

Thanks for a bit of that old time magic.