Boarding an aircraft has become a cruel and unusual form of punishment for many of today's budget-conscious business travellers. Trust me, I'm one of them. As you step from the air bridge, years of J-class experience urge you to turn left. But the smiling stewardess, having spotted your zoo-class ticket, has other ideas. '36G. Across the aisle and to your right, thank you, sir,' she says with what could almost be interpreted as a look of pity. Sometimes the passage to the back stalls is thankfully short. You are allowed to step straight into economy. But all too often (when you have no choice but to shuffle your way through business class) it can be agonisingly slow. Past all those lovely, wide seats. Past all those passengers with even wider, self-satisfied grins. As they glance at you in corporate attire heading towards the back of the plane, you almost expect to hear them chant 'dead man walking'. Even when you reach the relative safety of your seat, there is still one final act of humiliation. If, like most savvy flyers, you are occupying the front rows of cattle class, you get to witness the 'Drawing Of The Curtain', a none-too-subtle reminder that you no longer belong to that old world of privilege and comfort. Welcome aboard the New Age of Reduced Travel Budgets. A sad fact of life for me, and many of my associates, is that business travel no longer means business class. Of course, it is not all bad news. Aware of both tighter corporate budgets and increased competition, airlines are trying hard to make an economy flight feel a little more comfortable. Seats are better designed, and carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines offer excellent seat-back entertainment systems. Catering is not an issue. Food served at 36,000 feet is a dodgy proposition at either end of the aircraft, regardless of how many celebrity chefs an airline might employ. And the booze is still free in economy, even if occasionally your cabernet merlot comes in a little bottle with a screw-top lid. On the one occasion I managed to sneak back into business class recently, I was offered a plastic knife and fork. This would not have been an issue, except that I needed a chainsaw to cut through the fillet steak. Cabin crew in economy are inevitably younger, which can be an advantage if you are fond of high-altitude flirting. Expecting more information about the wine beyond its colour, on the other hand, is likely to result in disappointment. The one thing you cannot escape is the lack of space. Laptops might be getting lighter and smaller, but I defy anyone to work in a seat in the middle block of the cabin, smack bang in the middle of a tour group of first-time fliers. Inevitably, I find myself behind compulsive seat recliners. You know the type: their seat goes into full recline mode from take-off to landing, as if they have not slept in a week. For those of us with unnecessarily long legs, seat allocation takes on a whole new level of importance. Aisle seats, wing exits ... you take whatever gives you those precious extra centimetres. This is where the real value of your frequent flier programme kicks in, assuming it too has not become a victim of cost-cutting measures. With Singapore's KrisFlyer, for example, you can go online and choose your own seat. It is just like picking a seat at the cinema window, except the stakes are somewhat higher. In my early days of business-class travel, I just loved the fast check-in. Strolling up to the business-class counter while the heaving masses waited in long, snaking queues was like VIP access to the hottest nightclub in town. You just breezed through. And the lounge was more of the rock star treatment. Yes sir, yes sir, three martinis full, sir. Now that does not seem to matter as much. Airport terminals are getting better all the time, with the advent of spa lounges, cyber cafes and fresh juice bars. You can usually find a decent coffee, something that is missing from most lounges, and certainly most airlines. (Notable exception: Cathay, I understand, offers a cappuccino in business class. Bravo.) So, at the end of the day, perhaps flying economy is not such a hardship. Just think about what you (or your boss) can do with all the money saved. And, of course, with the spread of no-frills carriers in Asia, you are not even at the bottom of the food chain. There are lots of other punters flying around in even more spartan conditions. If only I could bypass all those smug self-satisfied types sipping their pre-flight drinks and adjusting their flat-bed seats as I board the flight. Perhaps that curtain is not such a bad thing after all.