I’m a casual traveler and actually hate to fly, with most of my flights being from Los Angeles to the East Coast or Europe. In my early flying days, coach was just fine. The people I met were generally polite, if not actually friendly. And yes, even the food was decent (as much as people complain about the food on planes, I rarely see people decline it). But I had always dreamed of being one of the chosen few who gets to sit in First Class.
“What is it like to be among the elite?” I thought. Well, I finally got my chance a few years back . I received a sacred “mileage upgrade.” Wow! I get to board first, enjoy a cocktail, talk to interesting people (maybe even celebrities!) and even get a hot towel before dinner. And in fact, I did occasionally sit in a cabin with celebrities (LA to Atlanta, or LA to New York tend to have the most). I even recall one flight in which the Backstreet Boys boarded and I sat there wondering why they were carrying guitars, as I had no idea any of them could play instruments. Celebrities don’t really impress me anyway- I’ve been in the biz and the shine wore off long ago. But still, I was flying First Class!
After the first trip I was somewhat addicted. I scrambled to get miles for upgrades and when that failed, I’d pony up a few extra dollars to pay for an upgrade. After all, if I’m going to be on a plane for four or more hours, it’s a small price to pay for a slightly larger seat and a few extra amenities. But what mattered most was that by being in First Class, I felt like I was First Class. I needed to board before anyone else, just to show everyone in the waiting area that I was First Class! I could imagine them thinking “who is this guy with the spikey hair and funny clothes, what band does he play in?” I often got asked that by other First Class cabin mates, as well as an occasional airport screener.
And then it happened- the day I had to fly in coach again. How could this happen? What will I do? I’ll have to suffer with the common folk, in the back of the plane, eating bad food and enduring endless babble about the latest tabloid sensation. I won’t even get to board first. This was a disaster.
So I worked myself into the back of the plane, with a window seat so I could look out and dream of being up front, with the chosen ones. And then a gentleman sat down next to me with a DVD player, looking as far from rock musician (which is how I look) as one can get. Great, he’s going to watch some mindless DVD and probably won’t even be polite enough to get up when I need to go pee. I say hello and as we’re about to take off, which is the part I hate most, he tells me he’s a flight engineer from the Coast Guard and if something’s going to go wrong with a plane it will be right about NOW. He doesn’t seem concerned so I relax. I end up spending the next couple of hours watching his DVDs. It turns out he was a flight engineer on a helicopter that did rescues during Hurricane Katrina, and his DVDs were of their missions. It was the most entertaining movie I’d seen on a plane, and he turned out to be a really cool person to chat with. The flight ended, I got off, and dreamed of getting back to First Class. But…..
A funny thing happened on the way back to First Class. I flew coach a few more times, including all the way to Europe. Sometimes people were friendly, sometimes quiet, but no one ever griped when I woke them up so I could go to the bathroom (remember, I like window seats), or made the flight attendant reach over them to pass me a drink or food. But, I still dreamed of First Class…..then it happened.
UPGRADE! I got an UPGRADE! I was back. I was going to get to fly with my people! The chosen ones, who deserve bigger seats, better food, and free drinks. So I flew First class, next to a person who wouldn’t move so I could go to the bathroom (this was apparently a very important person with a VERY large discount store chain that shall go unnamed so I don’t get sued). One the second leg of my flight, the gentleman I sat next to was able to muster about two full sentences in 2 hours, both about him. And then it hit me. First Class wasn’t very pleasant.
I started to think back on my First Class experiences. Sure, the food was decent, but not much better than coach (maybe 10 years ago but not now). And yeah, the seats were bigger, but I still had to get the person in the aisle seat to move if I needed to use the restroom. And for some reason, in First Class, people don’t want to do that. Why? Because they are Important! Yes, they are the movers and shakers, the people who pay the wages of the type of people who sit in coach. They also seem to be some of the unhappiest, uncommunicative people I’ve ever met. No, I don’t want to spend 4 hours on a plane talking to every stranger. But I do want a modicum of politeness. Maybe it’s the economy, and a lot of these people are worth a lot less than they used to be. I’m not sure. What I can tell you is that while there may be more comfort in the seats, it’s offset by the discomfort of the personalities. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some nice, relatively normal people like me (my friends would disagree with that statement) sit up there- I just haven’t met them.
So next time, I might just save my miles and fly coach. The odds of having a pleasant neighbor seem to insist on that. And the next time you feel bad that you sit in coach and not First Class, just remember that, based on my experiences, most of those in First Class don’t really seem to be that.