Why flying first class is the Carr's pyjamas

Who would have thought the humble pyjama set would be trending on social media? But thanks to former foreign minister Bob Carr it has.

In the past couple of weeks, political commentators have been having a lot of fun with Carr's newly released memoir, Diary of a Foreign Minister, in which, among other things, he lambasts public service rules for denying him confirmed first class seats on planes, leaving him to suffer through long-distance flights in lowly, inferior business class.

One entry, in particular, is causing much mirth. On a trans-Atlantic flight, our short-term foreign minister is particularly irked about finding himself shut out of first class. "Business class," he notes grumpily. "No edible food. No airline pyjamas. I lie in my tailored suit."

Let's not get into the argument about whether our hard-working, peripatetic senior ministers require the comforts of first class to do their job properly. But let's talk airline pyjamas, for Mr Carr is clearly at a loss without them.

Even on a relatively short flight (by Australian standards) across the Atlantic, he's forced to sit rigidly in his seat, unaware, perhaps, that the flight attendants will happily hang up his jacket so he arrives uncrumpled and give him a blanket to keep warm and free of spills from the abysmal business class food.

Life is tough on a plane when you don't have pyjamas, and passengers from first class all the way down to the back of the plane in economy, will tell you that. That's why you see so many Australian travellers dispense with the inconvenience of changing and front up to check-in in their jimmy jams. I dislike this trend, but I have to say that 24 hours in a narrow seat wearing Peter Alexander's soft and fluffy bunny-print PJs is probably more comfortable than trying to sleep in a lie-flat bed in your suit, tie and polished shoes.

Now, it is probably quite easy to become dependent on airline pyjamas, especially if you fly Qantas, which no doubt Mr Carr did once or twice. Qantas offers complimentary pyjama sets in both business class and first class on long-haul flights. A Peter Morrissey-designed "flying kangaroo" set of soft grey cotton with a black kangaroo emblazoned across the chest is offered in business and they're such a fashion statement some of us have been known to wear them in the street.

Fashion icon Bob Downe even wears a pair in his latest show, Bob, Sweat and Tears. He told me: "I wear them for cycling. And the PJs are so comfy! I've got somewhere to put my pump." More than once I've been caught out with inclement weather while travelling and find the lightweight Qantas pyjamas work well as an extra layer. If I wear the top as a sweatshirt with the kangaroo logo displayed, people in other destinations think they've been made by a groovy street wear label.

Virgin Atlantic distributes black tracksuits to its upper class passengers. I've kept the tops and always pack one in my carry-on to keep warm on the plane and to keep myself clean when I invariably spill wonton soup down my front in flight.


Cathay Pacific gives first class passengers organic cotton pyjamas by Hong Kong brand PYE. Singapore hands out Givenchy pyjamas in its suites and first class. British Airways' pyjamas are emblazoned with the word "First".

The smartest pair of airline pyjamas I owned were given to me when I flew first class on Etihad to Abu Dhabi. These were not really pyjamas, but a "sleeping suit" of black cotton pants and a top with Swarovski crystals embedded in the collar. Put on some heels, bouff up the hair, and you could probably get away with wearing them to a nightclub in the United Arab Emirates. (Etihad has since replaced them with sensible brown sleeping suits.)

With so many attractive options, it's easy to see why our erstwhile foreign minister was caught short when he was demoted to business on that flight. Let's face it, airline pyjamas are probably the perk of a foreign minister's job.

Without them, flying is no pyjama party.