Friday, September 07, 2012

First class from now on

The seats in first class are wide
enough to accommodate four or
five anorexic raccoons like this one
 My mini-vacation/escape from the RNC to Chicago was pretty good. Double cheezborger at the legendary Billy Goat Tavern! Dinosaurs at the Field Museum! Old Style beer at the Cubs game!
I only get opportunities to take vacations every five years or so, so I'm always appreciative and make an effort to thoroughly enjoy myself to the fullest, even the travel itself. I wasn't too excited about returning to Tampa from Chicago though, because I was scheduled for connecting flights with a three-and-a-half hour layover in Philadelphia. I had made my arrangements through Travelocity and had requested a return to Tampa in the late afternoon or early evening, with the idea that I could sleep in a little bit and maybe even squeeze in a little more sight-seeing before leaving. I would be getting home around 4:00pm but because of the layover, I still had to to be at the airport in Chicago by 6:30am to leave. Stupid computerized service, for doing exactly what I technically asked it to do instead of perceiving what I actually wanted. It's not breaking news that air travel is still kind of a hassle and getting on and off airplanes can be nerve-wracking and exhausting and I was not looking forward to having to do it twice, separated by an extended break. Sitting around an airport for over three hours is only slightly less aggravating than sitting around a laundromat for that long, and only because there's a better variety of food and beverages plus not having to fold clothes. The odds of being trapped in cramped, sweaty quarters with screaming toddlers and parents who wouldn't shut them up even if they could is just about the same.
However, Friday night something very cool happened. I had hit it off with one of the desk clerks at my hotel during my stay and joined her for a cup of coffee at a little place a couple of blocks away after she got off duty that night. She invited her roommate to come downtown and join her. It turns out her roommate works for the airline I was flying home on and after we joked around a while, she offered to upgrade me to first class. "You can do that?", I asked. "Sure. It's no problem. We do it all the time to deal with complaints." I said, "yeah, but I don't have any complaints." She put on a very fake, customer service-y smile and asked, "sir, is there any aspect of your travel experience with our airline that has been less than satisfactory, any aspect whatsoever?" I said, "Well, I..." and she hit what seemed like three buttons on her phone and said "Boom! Done!" I was dubious but thanked her.
Sure enough, when I picked up my boarding pass the next morning, my seat assignment was in the second row, not the 27th that I had selected on line. When they made the boarding announcement, they called the first class passengers first. I went up to the counter and sheepishly said, "I think I'm in first class this morning...". The attendant flashed a big smile and said, "Yes sir, Mr. Brooks. Good morning!" And instantly, upon confirmation that I was receiving a perk that I hadn't paid for or otherwise earned upon any merit whatsoever, I immediately developed an absurdly disproportionate sense of entitlement.
I grunted an unheard, exasperated "ugh" as I walked around a woman who was being aggressively ethnic, blocking my access to my gate as she re-arranged some of the intricate network of scarves that made up her attire. I settled into my wide, cushy seat, one of two in that row on that side of the plane, separated from the other seat by an extra-wide console. In coach, there would be three seats. In first class, the space that would have been used to seat another human being was allocated for my ass, and a place for me to put some book that I wasn't even going to bother to read. As I buckled the seatbelt, the flight attendant asked if I would care for something to drink. Usually, beverage service on a flight is something that happens after you've been in the air long enough to have given up hope that they would offer beverage service. In first class, we were getting it before the other jerks were even being allowed to get on the plane! I settled in and watched passengers file past to the coach seating. One man, for whom I had already formed an intense dislike upon seeing him in the gate area, shot me an incredulous look as he went past. I knew he was wondering why somebody like me was in first class and not him. He was wearing loafers and khaki pants, a white golf shirt with a navy blue blazer. Even though we were flying to Philadelphia, I just knew he was the kind of guy who would eventually wind up in West Palm Beach. He was being as aggressively Caucasian as the scarf lady was being ethnic. I glared back at him and prayed that he and the scarf lady would be seat mates and that at some point in the flight, she'd be futzing with one of her scarves and would whip it around her neck and hit him in the eye. Seriously. The way people pray for their loved ones to arrive home safely for the holidays is how I prayed for that interaction to happen. I thought about bringing the matter to my flight attendant: "Excuse me, miss? I don't want to cause any problems here but one of the commoners made eye contact with me, which is okay, but he didn't make much of an effort to avert his gaze. Is there a Sky Marshall or other member of sky law enforcement on board? I'm willing to fill out a report if necessary..." I didn't do that though, figuring that as a first class passenger, I'd be among the first to get off and would never see him again and that would be good enough. I was and it is.
Meanwhile, I just sat back and judged the rest of the coachies (I decided I would now refer to them as "coachies"; as far as I was concerned, they were more than welcome to refer to us as "firsties", which I considered a pretty magnanimous gesture on my part) as they paraded by. "Mullet...short...too much make-up...stupid tattoo...probably a racist..." I was surprised at how good and how quickly I'd become so judgmental!
The quality of the service never faltered either. I overheard the woman behind me ordering coffee and expressing a request for a particular artificial sweetener: "Do you have Splenda?" "No, I'm very sorry. We have Sweet and Low." "Equal?" "No, sorry. Just Sweet and Low." "Splenda?" and at no time did the flight attendant throw the cup of scalding hot coffee into her stupid face.
Honestly, it was such a pleasant experience that even the layover in Philadelphia didn't get me down. In spite of the fact that a server at an airport restaurant brought me ranch dressing for a Greek salad because "we outta Caesar."
Overall, it's basically impossible to overstate how much better first class is than coach, and I will never fly anything but first class from now on. Since I'm sure it costs about $4,000 more than a regular plane ticket, it's a good thing I only take vacations every five years. I'll need that much time to save up.

No comments: