Friday, June 14, 2013

The Rarefied World of First Class Air Travel

Flying sort of runs in my family--not my immediate one, my extended one. My uncle, Byron "Pop" Warner (1905-2001), started his career as a pilot in the early days of flying (flew stunt planes, was with the Army Air Corps, and was the oldest and most senior pilot of American Airlines until his death). His wife, Francenia Elizabeth Warner, was a stewardess before she and Byron were married (back in the days when married women could no longer hold such jobs). My cousin K.G., their son, is currently a pilot with American Airlines.

However, whatever perks they may have had did not extend to free flights for my side of the family and I didn't take my first flight (as a passenger) until I was in my late 30s.  All along I have always looked for the best deals on flights--so  I had never flown 1st class. That all changed this May when we were able to use our frequent flyer airline miles to score first-class seats on our recent flight to Paris (but not on our return)!

Here's my report on what I experienced -- and found that I have been missing -- at least on international flights:

  1. It all starts when you get to step to the front of the line and go in with the preferred seating group (expecting to be exposed as a fraud any moment!)
  2. The staff addresses you as by name vs. "Thank you" as you hand them your boarding pass. 
  3. You get to go behind magic curtain -- the curtain that takes you to a section normally hidden from from the "hoi polloi"!
  4. Your overstuffed seat is more like an armchair than a seat. An ottoman allows you to prop your legs up if you so desire.
  5. Before the plane is in the air, you are being offered a warm washcloth and a drink of your choice.  
  6. You receive a "treat" bag. Inside are toothbrush and paste, lotion, a superior sleep mask, slipper socks, and best of all -- lounging pajamas.
  7. If you comment that it is too cold, a down-filled comforter is immediately brought to you. 
  8. The ratio of attendants to passengers is about 1:3 meaning that they are falling over themselves trying to bring you something to eat or drink.
  9. The menu and meals are superior -- as are the wines. 
  10. Your utensils are of metal; you have a real glass; the napkins are cloth.
  11. Your area has its own restrooms. 
  12. When you slip into the restroom to change into your pj's, an attendant makes up your bed. Using your seat, the ottoman, and a bit of magic, your bed becomes quite comfortable for stretching out and sleeping -- which to me is nothing short of miraculous since I rarely am able to sleep on a flight.  
Whereas a normal international flight in coach is for me somewhere between tedious and terrible, flying 1st class was so comfortable and fun that the flight time could have been doubled and I still would have been happy. I was so busy eating, reading, and sleeping that I didn't even have time to watch a movie!

However, after that treat, I found myself dreading the flight home because it was going to be in coach class (BA calls it "Voyager"). Interestingly, we were  scheduled to fly home on what turned out to be the 1st day of a traffic controllers' strike. Fifty percent of the flights out of Paris had to be cancelled on that day. Luckily, ours was not and we experienced only a 45-minute delay. 

The plane was packed--except for two seats, the ones between me (on the aisle) and the window. That looked promising for stretching out, but I knew it wouldn't last--and it didn't. Other people wanted to have more room so, understandably, they moved in. 

All things considered, the return flight was not bad. Long and boring, but with the aid of three 2-hour movies, I made it through. Having considerate fellow passengers helped--no children's crying, no one kicking my seat back, etc. 

Still, now that I have tasted the world of 1st-class flying, I am wondering how I can ever manage to score it again!

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