Plane madness

Image of David Tang

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

What are your thoughts about modern travels by commercial airlines and passenger liners?

I think the overall design of commercial aircrafts, especially for those that openly declare themselves to be “without frills”, ought to be outlawed for the way they cram as many passengers as possible into the smallest possible space. They must think they are running a battery farm for chickens. It is all because of greed dressed up as utilitarianism – to achieve the greatest income from the greatest number of people paying the greatest amount of money. The argument for making travel accessible to the masses need not imply callousness. It is bad enough before boarding to have to go through “security” like cattle in socks. The whole business of travel is now reduced to moving simply from A to B, without any sense of adventure or excitement.

In business and first class, for which the airlines charge like the Light Brigade, they should also offer more value for money. The loos, for example, have remained for years perfunctory and tight and plastic. Why can’t so-called designers understand that it is more important to make the lavatory more luxurious than the cabin? And isn’t it irritating when over-friendly crew come up and shake your hand, looking oleaginous, and committing to moronic propositions such as “If there is anything at all you need, please let us know”? We have regressed considerably from the heydays of Pan Am 001, which remarkably was launched 65 years ago in the summer of 1947, whose luxury we can only glance at nowadays in the latest television series. People used to dress up properly to go on flights. Now you get appalling tracksuits and multicolour trainers, with unshaven men or haggard-looking women filing up and down the aisle like zombies, invariably mobilised by BlackBerrys and iPhones. Sometimes I feel like a cameo in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

As for passenger liners, just think of the supreme elegance of the Titanic or the old Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth, with majestic funnels that anchor a beautifully streamlined design. Yet nowadays shipbuilders and designers have continued to churn out grotesque-looking cruise monsters whose profiles resemble truncated parallelograms. The interiors of these so-called luxurious liners are enough to make me sick over three oceans. When I left Hong Kong at the tender age of 13, I remember boarding a small 20,000-tonne Greek liner that was by no means as luxurious as any run by the great P&O. But it had a sense of understated stylishness. We called at Colombo, Aden, Port Said, and eventually Athens. It took 30 days. But I think if I had to endure that time in a modern monstrosity, I’d throw myself overboard after breakfast.

“That famous song” (“Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”) was written by George and Ira Gershwin for the 1937 film Shall We Dance and introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Only for the record was it by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and countless other purveyors of the American popular songbook.

Why do you have to jump to the conclusion that we don’t know all that? Of course everyone knows. The fact is that if it weren’t for Ella and Louis, that song would not have become nearly as famous as it has. Just think of “Strangers in the Night”, whose composer I defy most people to name, if it had not been sung by Ol’ Blue Eyes! Which reminds me of the graffiti:

“To be is to do” – Socrates

“To do is to be” – Jean-Paul Sartre

“Do-be-do-be-do” – Frank Sinatra!

Do you have any rules of thumb for new countries you find yourself in regarding tipping in restaurants? I find myself starting to travel much more and will be going to Oman, Pakistan and India for starters.

In the US, you tip your unfinished food into a doggy bag and take it home for your dogs. In countries like Oman, Pakistan or India, you tip your food into a bag with which to feed yourselves and your family or friends. Ditto for China and Hong Kong, where I regularly tip my unfinished dim sums into a bag destined for a cold breakfast the following day. It is also not unusual for one to tip one’s surplus food into a bag to give to one’s domestic staff, who are ubiquitous in every Hong Kong household. It is a very Chinese way of converting a freebie into a perceived bonus. But generally, I think all this tipping is a very good thing. I was brought up by grandparents who would not allow me to leave the table until I finished everything, because they didn’t believe in waste. At all of my restaurants everywhere, I encourage tipping in all forms.

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