One of the “perks” of flying for work, seemingly all the time, is the frequent upgrades to first class (I’m an MVP on the airline I fly the most and so I qualify for first class upgrades when there are empty seats). The extra leg room and more importantly, width room is bliss and I’m ashamed to say I sometimes am quite put out to be relegated to the shoulder to shoulder, armrest wrestling world of coach (and let’s not even talk about the time the flight attendant checked, instead of gate-checked my bag).
The First Class domestic clientele is predominantly made up of road warriors; men and women who are the embodiment of George Clooney’s character from “Up in the Air.” These are people who are texting or emailing on their Blackberrys and iPhones until the door is closed and the announcement is made to please turn them off in preparation for take-off and you better believe that the minute those wheels touch back down those crackberries and iPhones are powered back up and put into use. The biggest benefit of First Class to them is likely being able to run off the plane the minute the door is opened.
To “reward” these regular riders of the “friendly skies,” First class is also one of the last places where you can still get a free meal. Now, stop those film images that are racing through your head, First Class domestic is not a world of champagne and caviar. Those treats can only be found these days on international flights (and even then the ability to find caviar is questionable). Domestically, First Class equals free beer (Budweiser, Miller and if you’re lucky a microbrew option), wine (and I use that term generously), liquor, a bag of snack mix and a “meal.” For now.
Along with baggage fees and eliminating coach meals, First Class is experiencing its own degredation. When I first started on my upgrade swing about three years ago, First Class passengers were greeted with a pillow, blanket, fun-size water bottle, a ramekin of hot mixed nuts (and yes, I know it’s juvenile, but I do laugh when typing “hot nuts”), and asked if you would like a cocktail or other beverage before take-off. Now, you get a plastic cup of water, take it or leave it.
Once 10,000 feet has been reached, the always friendly and attentive First Class air hostess will come through the cabin taking drink orders. And you better believe, there are always several passengers lured by the free alcohol of First Class. In the evenings the drink orders are varied and predictable. But I’m always surprised by the morning fliers foregoing the screwdriver or Bloody Mary in favor of Bacardi and diet coke at 8:30 a.m., especially when they then whip out their laptops and start working on financial documents.
When your drink order is taken you are generally asked if you would like to “join them” in whatever meal has been allotted for the flight. If you are a vegetarian you’re in luck if the meal of the month is ravioli (3 largish raviolis and 3/4 plate of lettuce), but if the meal is pork pot stickers (gyoza really – three – with more lettuce, on a single salad plate), you’re out of luck. If you’re really hungry too, expect to have the edge taken off, no more.
Perhaps it’s concern for our health, a desire to keep us trim enough to fit down the aisles or in coach seats should the need to be seated there arise, or more likely the desire to fatten their pocketbooks, but First Class meals these days largely consist of lettuce with a 1/4 of a salad plate portion of entree. Surprisingly, these meals are fairly good – I mean it’s pretty hard to mess up lettuce – the tomato sauce on the ravioli is generally similar to a better brand of sauce in a jar and the gyoza is comparable to that found in the frozen section of Trader Joe’s. There is no rubber chicken or over-cooked meat here, because there generally is no chicken unless it’s a few cold strips on top of a salad and I haven’t seen meat domestically in years. But you will still need a meal when you eventually deplane.
Somewhat surprisingly, I have yet to see anyone bring food into First Class. Are we afraid of offending the air hostess/food-warmer-upper? Or is it because we’re going to get our free meal no matter what? I don’t know, but sometimes I miss the option of the snack pack (although Jim tells me that if you ask for one they will give you one, gratis), or just bringing on my own bagel sandwich or salad. It’s almost enough to make you think the freedom of bringing your own food on that coach gives you wouldn’t be so bad. Almost.
So, what are the real perks of flying First? The extra room, the ability to be one of the first people off the plane, the faster security line, and getting your bags checked for free. Oh yeah, and knowing you’ll never have to fly in a saddle seat. Giddyup!
Thanks to the Ready-Bell Group for alerting me to that Western style flying treat 😉