x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Business class for baby

James Doran and his six-month-old son are bumped up to Etihad's Pearl business class - after nearly missing their flight to New York and a hefty fine.

It seemed fitting, as we taxied down the runway at Abu Dhabi International Airport early on Wednesday morning, that my six-month-old son Charlie's first flight would be aboard the Pearl Business Class Cabin of an Etihad Airways Airbus A340.

I had to wait 39 years for the privilege, but Charlie was born in Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi knows luxury.

As we settled in for the 14-hour ride he seemed quite at home in his plush lined bassinette and certainly enjoyed the frequent attention from the nice ladies in uniform.

But it could have been very different.

I was travelling alone with Charlie and the day hadn't begun well. At check in we were informed that as we were travelling to the United States we had to go online and fill out out a form to be electronically pre-screened to enter the country under the visa waiver programme. We had to pay a US$14 (Dh51) fee and obtain approval at least 24 hours before travelling.

As we had bought our tickets in an emergency the day before, this seemed something of a tall order. In the event, we managed to convince the American authorities that Charlie was no real threat to national security, pay our $14 and get on our way.

But our ordeal had just begun. At passport control we were told, somewhat inexplicably, that Charlie could not travel for another 197 days, which was a little inconvenient as his flight was leaving in an hour and a half.

The immigration agent couldn't seem to understand why Charlie's passport had no stamps in it.

"How did he come here?" the man asked. I didn't know whether to start with the birds and the bees or Jean-Paul Sartre.

But, after the payment of a very large fine for failing to apply for his residence visa on time, we were sent on our way to security where I put Charlie in a baby sling so we could put his stroller through the metal detector. I thought he was about to add a night in the slammer to his first fine as he plucked the security agent's black beret from his head as the man stooped to pat down my legs, and shoved it straight in his mouth.

It was at this point, with just yards to go before the gate, that the Etihad agent informed us with regret that economy class was full. I began to think that I must have really offended somebody somewhere to be suffering such bad karma before nine o'clock in the morning.

Fortunately, she finished her sentence with "So we are happy to upgrade you to Pearl Business Class."

I would have dropped to my knees and kissed her feet, but Charlie was still in the forward-facing carrier.