Traveling in Style; Reflections on “Luxury”

An experience by Ahmed Rehab from

It may come as a surprise to some of you that despite having taken hundreds of flights before, today was the first ever time I flew business class. I don’t believe that I deserve to be pampered in life; I mean, I don’t seek to be tormented either, I sort of seek the middle ground, comfortable and cozy. Let’s put it this way, if I get a seat in economy class where I have room for my long legs, I consider that luxurious.

But having just come back from Egypt, exhausted from my activism in the revolution, and further worn out by a sleepless work schedule of speaking tours, media, and office work in Chicago, I was reluctant to accept an invitation to speak in Doha, Qatar, that would see me jet across the Atlantic so soon again. When the conference organizers coaxed me with a business class ticket, it became a functional perk that relieved some of my concerns about traveling while exhausted (and at that point while sick and feverish); so I accepted, and it’s a good thing I did.

This was probably the most comfortable flight I have ever been on. 14 hours? Forget about it. It could have been 48 hours and I wouldn’t have complained. Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi based) is hands down one of the top airline companies in the world; add to that their business class service, and you have yourself a rare treat.

The seat takes all sorts of positions, including a flat bed that comfortably fits a 6 foot 3 oaf like me – and it can give you a three way massage. The HD screen is big and the entertainment listing options are endless. The dining menu offers a wide variety of gourmet meals and snacks that you can order at anytime during the flight, so forget about having to time your naps around arbitrary fixed meal times. The flight attendants are super polite, courteous, and — well, attentive.

The premium lounge at Abu Dhabi airport continues with the luxuries: the leather seating, relaxing lighting, mahogany walls, lush carpets, free open buffet, private rooms, and of course, the “Sixth Senses” spa.

They say that what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you; well, now that I know, I could not help think to myself, man, we sure do get the shaft in economy class. I mean the orange juice in economy is from a carton, not freshly squeezed.

Yes, yes, I know, you get what you pay for. And there’s nothing sinister about that.

But reflecting on the luxuries I was being pampered with lead me to question, what is luxury anyway?

You see, while I had this amazing menu to choose meals from at anytime, I had more or less lost my ability to taste due to this cold or fever I have.

And during the landing in Abu Dhabi, my ears popped so bad, that up until this point in Doha, 5 hours later, I am still at 50% hearing. I tried everything, yawning, chewing gum, blowing my nose. Nothing works. It’s quite annoying. Just have to give it time.

So here I am between luxury and depravity.

Come to think of it, every flight I have taken in economy class may just have been “luxurious.” Business class is a luxury from Etihad Airways, but is health then not a “luxury” from God? A greater luxury? Small things like being able to taste, or smell, or see, or hear are luxuries. But alas, we take them for granted.

It’s kind of like how we gawk over the beauty of Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting and envy the connoisseurs who are able to own the original (who in turn appreciate it so much that they see fit to pay millions for it). But what about the original starry sky itself, the one outside your balcony, the one that’s there every night, the work of the greatest artist, in 3D, in galactic proportions, there for all to enjoy for free? We take that miraculous “work of art” for granted and instead gawk over an image of it and dish millions for it.

What is luxury? It seems to be that which we can’t have, something in our imagination. But if we count our blessings, it could turn out that we are already lavishing in priceless luxuries for free; the only problem is, we are not trained to see it this way. Even sadder, we may be trained not to see it this way.

I lucked out in Doha. As I arrived late, the Sheraton Doha had run out of rooms. And so, I had to settle for being upgraded to a suite: a ridiculously lavish four room, two bathroom, double-level crib fit for a king with buttons I am not even sure how to press. No doubt, I appreciate God’s kindness in hooking me up with comfort I cannot afford.

But as I sit here on the veranda overlooking the waterfront on one side, and the skyline on the other, I am appreciating the starry night, praying for my ears to pop, and thanking God for the luxury of hearing, a luxury I’ve been afforded everyday of my life without charge, a luxury that adds life to life. How many more of those do I have?

“If you count God’s blessings, you shall never enumerate them all” (Qur’an 16:18).

Original story can be found here.