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Around the world in economy class

By CNN's Richard Quest

Economy class
CNN's Richard Quest is going around the world in economy class.

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SINGAPORE (CNN) -- It was born out of a simple premise. Our companies are expecting us to travel further, do more when we get there, and do it all as cheaply as possible.

And it has all been made worse by the introduction and promotion of the round-the-world ticket (RTW).

These multi-destination tickets effectively allow you to go anywhere in the globe and pay a fraction of what would cost to make those journeys individually. For instance, the Great Escapade ticket costs around 3,500 in business class.

It allows you to travel 29,000 miles around the world -- roughly the cost of one round-trip business class ticket to New York.

All the major alliances have these RTW tickets (Star Alliance, OneWorld etc) and they are slowly but surely becoming used more and more by business to cut costs.

Certainly they are complex. They stipulate the minimum number of days on the road (usually 10) the number of destinations allowed (up to 15). You have to keep going in the same direction (east or west) and you can't cross certain oceans more than once.

They are often designated by regions rather than mileage etc. But if you manage to follow the rules then the benefits are huge.

We decided to take this one step further: And do the trip in Economy Class. Our Star Alliance round-the-world ticket cost around $2,500 for 29,000 miles around the globe.

Our route would be London to Frankfurt to Singapore to Sydney to Honolulu to San Francisco to London. All in 10 days. And all in economy!

What follows is a diary to show how we did it, how we survived and whether we were able to do any business in our destinations, or forgive the blunt language, were we too knackered.

Some basic facts: I am 42 next month. I am 6'2", I weigh 80 kg. And I will be regularly testing my cardio rhythms and sleep patterns for analysis when I get home.

Thursday

LHR-FRA: Depart London Heathrow for Frankfurt Main. Excitement levels at their height. We are truly going around the world. Our Lufthansa A300 is nearly empty. If the rest are like this then we are cooking with gas! The staff are lovely and are horrified at what we are doing. The cheese sandwich is a bit grim. The spicy chicken sandwich was a terrible mistake.

In Frankfurt, a day of filming downtown, and afternoon tea with some friends (imagine them as clients) in a central Frankfurt tea-shop. This is all going very well.

Back to the airport to catch the late-night Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore. We are all frequent flyer gold card holders so even though we are in economy we have business lounge access. It enables us to shower and change before boarding the plane. An airport shower really does refresh you if you have been travelling all day. They always have towels, toiletries and good facilities.

FRA-SIN: There is no easy way to say this. The 777 Plane Is Full. Youngsters, teenagers, backpackers, older holiday makers. Economy is heaving.

Singapore Airlines tries to take pity on me. Would I like an upgrade? It kills me to refuse. I have to do this bloody trip in economy. A compromise is reached and they kindly allocate us the first row of economy. The bulkhead where there are no pesky reclining seats in front.

The food is excellent. The staff live up to their reputation. I actually manage to squeeze five hours of sleep out of my economy chair. Singapore Airlines in flight entertainment Kris World is in a world of its own. An exceptional selection of movies still running in the cinema, And all with video on demand which means I decide when the movie starts not the airline.

Friday

Twelve-and-a-half hours later, when we touch down in Singapore, it is late Friday afternoon and I am feeling the trip. To simulate the business traveller, we immediately get to work filming at SIN airport. And then onto our hotel for meetings and dinner. Hit the bed around midnight.

Saturday

I know what it is. I know how it feels. I know there is little I can do to prevent it. But the onset of jet lag is always most unwelcome. That nasty deep down inside exhaustion that makes you space out and wonder where you are, arrives with ferocity. But we are not deterred. Twelve hours of filming lies ahead, which also includes a bevy of meetings with hotel officials and writing articles.

Sunday

I have allowed myself a day off -- no, I am not a wimp. This is the last chance I will have to build up any reserves for the next eight days of travel. And, frankly, I don't want to be ill.

You see, I know what is ahead on Monday.

Monday

Following a relative day of rest, I was pleased to note that my stress levels have returned to something approaching normality. I know this because one of the tests I am doing while going around the world is wiring myself up to a "stress heart monitor" on my laptop.

I have absolutely no idea how many heart beats per minute is normal -- mine have fluctuated between 84 (when I seem to be most stressed) to around 69 this morning. Anyway, I am still breathing and the program said it was normal.

The day has been taken up with meetings, interviews and lunch. The interview was with a reporter from the Singapore Straits Times newspaper who was fascinated by this trip around the world. She looked at me as if I was slightly mad and shuffled to the other side of the room lest it was catching. She wanted to know my favorite form of holiday. A beach!

Lunch was a delightful affair with representatives from the Singapore Tourism Board who were briefing me about their new campaign, Uniquely Singapore.

They are concerned about the public perception of Singapore as being, sterile and somewhat authoritarian. They believe it doesn't reflect today's Singapore which is a haven of restaurants, nightlife and of course inevitable shopping. The campaign is designed to change that view. They too think I am mad to be subjecting myself to such travel horrors.

But -- remember -- I must simulate the business traveller. So I am spending the final few hours before my night flight in the Time Warner offices here in Singapore. Squeezing every last minute of work before heading to the airport.

Good news: Even though I am in economy on the red-eye to Australia, I think I have managed to secure another bulkhead seat. Yea! That means I should be able to get some sleep as I battle my way down to Sydney. Now I just have to hope there aren't any hyperactive children in the same row, because that is traditionally where they put the children.

I will arrive in Sydney at 0700, and have a full day, finishing off with a cocktail party with the U.S. Ambassador to Australia. I hope I don't slobber uncontrollably out of exhaustion.

Tuesday

SIN-SYD: There was no groveling involved. No pleading. No humiliating myself at the ticket counter. Out of the blue, the holy grail of the business traveller arrived. An upgrade had been bestowed upon me without even begging.

I had already been given my economy class boarding pass for Row 32G Then, minutes before I was about to board the plane the machine,coughed as if it couldn't believe what it was being asked to do and threw out another boarding pass -- this time Royal blue. I was in Raffles Class 17H.

But, I hear you say: "Quest, you are supposed to be going around the world in economy. You Must Refuse!" The gate agent said economy class was oversold they were upgrading the Star Alliance gold-card holders to make room and had already given away my seat!

This, of course, has posed some ethical questions. Firstly, should I accept the upgrade. Secondly, should I even tell you about it. To the second there is no doubt -- of course. To the first ... well, it does happen in every day business life. Regular flyers do get upgraded ... and the 7.5 hour flight was one of the shortest in our RTW trip.

Let me come clean. I love Sydney. So my day started with a morning briefing from our local office about the state of the Australian media industry, which was followed by a lovely lunch at Circular Quay with media representatives.

My speech became an act of confession. I bared my soul about the upgrade. The audience didn't offer much by way of absolution.

The afternoon was taken up interviewing a senior travel agent about these RTW tickets and how there are very much in use by business travellers in Australia because their journeys inevitably involved thousands of miles.

The evening was taken up having drinks with the U.S. Ambassador to Australia and the American Chamber of Commerce. Ambassador Tom Sheiffer is a long-standing friend and business partner of President George W. Bush. The Australian job is one of those quirky political appointments much loved in the U.S. civil service. Sheiffer must have served Bush well to get this plum posting! A long talk on the recently concluded U.S.-Australia free trade pact followed. I now know more about the issues of sugar and beef than is either decent or proper.

It is late. I have been on the go for 36 hours. And I have a very early start tomorrow. I am a guest on Channel 7's morning show Sunrise. I am nervous. To those of you still harping on about that damn upgrade last night -- and think I should have turned it down. Would you?

Wednesday

Frankly it was too painful to write yesterday. It is bad enough to be in Sydney, one of my favorite places, but then to have to be working and only being here for 48 hours ... well writing about it would have meant you were intruding on private grief.

It is always tough to work where there are loads of holidaymakers and every seems to be having a good time. With the weather hot, sunny and with a picture-perfect views from my hotel room it was almost more than I could bear to put on a suit and go to work.

Not that the sun was up when my day started. 4.30 a.m. A morning television interview with my fellow early presenters at Channel 7's Sunrise show. There is a camaraderie about those of us who work the brekky shows. We all know how it feels to get up in the middle of the night while others are sleeping and go to work.

They too seemed slightly bemused by my round the world antics -- and wondered whether this was just a peculiar working practice those of us at CNN do for a bet.

Sydney was now offering up a beautiful day. There is a definite party atmosphere in the city, which could have a lot to do with the fact that this weekend is the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Australia's largest street party and festival .

There were numerous outfits being worn around the city that, frankly, if I tried them on would get me the sack!

More interviews this time with ABC Newstalk Radio and more filming followed.

Finally, I could take it no more. My Speedo's were calling my name. Bondi Beach beckoned. I had to have half an hour in the Pacific. (don't worry, no filming or pictures exist of that episode).

Dinner with colleagues and contacts finished off what should have, could have, and might have, been a perfect day -- except for the fact that another early start beckons.

Still, I did a late stress test for Business Traveller and am delighted to say that my half an hour at Bondi has worked. I am no longer in the manic region of the stress chart. Now just simply mad.

I am still not sleeping a full night's sleep. My body clearly knows I am doing something unnatural.

Thursday

It is just after 6 a.m. and I am waiting for my film crew to arrive at my hotel door to film me packing for the next leg of the journey. We are going on the Air Canada flight to Honolulu in Hawaii.

This should be interesting because we are crossing the date line as we head into the northern hemisphere.

This always requires a tremendous leap of faith and understanding. All of a sudden you literally jump back 24 hours. We will arrive in Hawaii on the same day. It has been explained to me many times how this works, but I still think there is something of the black magic about it.

(Incidentally, I know some people have wondered why we made this journey eastwards, well, that is the reason. If we had gone westwards around the world we would have LOST a day crossing the dateline which we would only have recovered incrementally, an hour or two here and there as we continued, so it could not have been done in 250 hours.)

My cameraman and producer have just arrived. Both are grumpy as neither has had a good night sleep. Jet lag is taking its toll. It is going to be a grim ride.

Thursday (again)

SYD-HNL: Pleasure and Pain. The theme of the past two days. First Pleasure! My misgivings about flight AC34 from Sydney to Honolulu (around 10 hours) were unfounded. Economy was a dream. The Airbus A340 was half empty. Yippee again. I had an entire row of four middle seats to myself. This is what we always hope economy will be like. It rarely is these days with capacity cutbacks ... but for some reason Air Canada's flight to Hawaii onwards to Vancouver was very light indeed.

Sleep and eat was the hallmark of the journey. The crew, who almost offered us the keys to the plane, could not have been better. Even insisting I try a business class meal as well as the economy meal so I could compare and contrast. (You try eating two airline meals one after the other.) Frankly my four economy seats easily beat a full business class section. I felt for those in Business!

The Pain arrived in Hawaii. One of our six checked bags didn't make the flight. It was an important one: It had the camera batteries and charger in it, as well as the TV lights. Now, to some extent, we plan for this, so we had a couple of batteries in another bag. Even so, frantic calls to AC in Hawaii, London, Montreal and Sydney ... and we have been assured it WILL be on tonight's flight arriving at midnight. We will see.

Sorting out the pain meant less than four hours sleep before I had to be up and about to swim with the dolphins. Our boat eventually found them and I jumped into the ocean. An entire pod of them swam past -- even they seemed amused at what we were doing around the world -- or maybe dolphins always smile like that!

I had half thought they would come up to me and wave ... well that's what happens in movies. They didn't. They just swooped majestically passed me and wondered what all the fuss was about. After all, how would you react if someone just arrived in your home or office -- just to watch you!!

There was more pleasure -- the Humback Whales who come to Hawaii during mating season put on a show. Spouts, breaches and tails ... 40 feet long and weighing as many tons. And they were everywhere!

To pay for the pleasure, has to come the pain. Total exhaustion arrived. You really can't survive with three hours sleep in economy . An afternoon nap was rudely interrupted by my producer insisting it was time to get back to work. More Pain. Filming on the beach while beautiful men and women did extraordinary things on surfboards. I have only tried surfing once -- and prefer to draw a veil on the unfortunate episode.

Tomorrow after a bout of filming, our next Star Alliance carrier, United Airlines, will take us to San Francisco. This will be a visit of less than 24 hours, and quite possibly might polish me off!

A correction: Remember I told you I always got confused by the date line? Savvy readers will have noted my error. Our flight from Sydney didn't arrive on the same day -- it arrived the PREVIOUS day. Hence I have had two Thursdays. Now I just have to convince CNN accounts to allow me to claim Thursday's daily allowance twice. Doing THAT will make going round the world in economy seem like a doddle.

Visit this page tomorrow to read the next instalment.


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