When I travel by air, I warn myself, You're not going to win today. That helps me to not get impatient about inefficiency in the airport, or upset about discomfort on the plane.
During my odyssey back from Hawaii this past weekend, nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong, including five and a half hours of turbulence over the Pacific, and a blizzard in my destination city of Milwaukee. But my misadventures took an unexpected turn when a cancelled flight resulted in me being re-routed back home through two other flights - both in first class seating!
You'll notice that I used italics and boldface above. I don't use those effects often and I don't use them offhandedly. I've never before experienced first class air travel, and it was both comfortable and glamorous...what flying is supposed to be, or so I learned from the movies.
I didn't realize until the last minute that I'd been re-routed in first class. I casually glanced down at my boarding pass and noticed that I was in the first boarding group. I thought that was odd, since I'm used to being in the fourth or fifth group - something that has never bothered me. I can't understand why people are in a hurry to be jammed like a bunch of SUVs in a gridlocked intersection.
Yes, my boarding pass did say "Group 1," and when I looked further, I noticed the word "first" printed in very small lower case letters. Could this possibly mean first class? I wondered.
Without hesitation, I jumped into the Group 1 line, where I discovered that yes, I was indeed scheduled in first class seating.
For the first time in years, I was excited about boarding a plane. I took my seat (1A!!) quickly, and entertained myself by watching the parade of unfortunates troop into the economy section. I wondered if they were glancing at me like I always gaze at people sitting in those wide first class seats, wondering who they are and how they can afford it.
A large console separated my seat from my neighbor's - as if the two chairs occupied two separate territories. For a long time, seat 1B remained empty. Just before the door to the plane was closed, a man showed up and sat beside me.
I looked up to greet him, but he never met my eye. He wore a sports coat, dark jeans, and dress shoes that looked like they came from Allen Edmonds. He never said hi or any other word during the entire flight. Ah, I thought, Perhaps first class passengers are less chatty than those in the economy section. Fine with me. I like it quiet.
And quiet it remained while a beaming flight attendant saw to my needs.
1. She offered me water or a drink early on - and repeatedly - throughout the flight. That drink could have been free booze, had I wished.
2. She stayed up front, with the paltry ten of us in first class, for the entire flight.
3. She served warm cashews and almonds in a small heated white china cup, along with a beverage in a glass glass.
4. She asked me if I'd like a meal and didn't mention anything about a cost. I said sure, I'd take a salad, thinking, Dang! I just paid a big price for a small meal in the airport.
5. She asked me if I'd like a heated wash cloth before my meal. I had just washed my hands in the bathroom, but I took her up on the offer just because I could. The damp cloth was so toasty that I considered wiping it all over my face and neck (I'd been traveling for nearly 20 hours by that time) - but I thought maybe it wouldn't seem "first class" if I looked like a cowboy after a long ride on the dusty range. I delicately used the cloth on my hands and fingers, then performed a mime for the benefit of my neighbor, should he care to look through the corner of his eye: I used the cloth to wipe off the tray as if I were being cautious about germs.
6. Again wearing her gleaming smile, the flight attendant served the food. I had only requested a salad, but the meal - all on white china - included some sort of fancy cold strips of steak, dressing on the side, soup, a wheat roll with butter, and tortilla strips. I ate the salad with real silverware and wiped my mouth with a real white cloth napkin, feeling nostalgic for my beloved old Milwaukee-based airline, Midwest Express, which offered such amenities for all passengers.
7. After the meal, I luxuriated in my wide leather seat. I noticed, with pleasure, the lack of any hard metal bars pressing into my arms, which I had experienced in my previous economy class seating. There was also a distinct lack of another human arm or leg impinging on my own limbs. The leather seat was so wide that I could fold my legs under myself. Why, I would have been comfortable even if I were much fatter - not a notion that often leaps into my mind.
8. I leaned my head back, and snoozed. There was such a well-formed leather head rest that I didn't even think about reclining. I fell into a quick, deep sleep.
9. Toward the end of the flight, the attendant offered some warm chocolate chip cookies - more echoes of Midwest Express.
10. We had our own first class toilet. I didn't see it at first, and thus wandered to the back of the plane, where I was forced to wait in line with the proletariat mass. Later, when I realized my faux pas, I could only hope that my fellow first classers hadn't noticed.
I started the experience wondering if the attendant or the other first class passengers could tell that I wasn't really first class, only an interloper. By the end of the trip, I was enjoying myself too much to care. I've always found it easy to adapt to luxury. I had become both comfortable and glamorous.
I learned, however, not to get carried away with the luxury when my suitcase didn't show up at the baggage carousel, no service reps were on hand for me to report it, I had to deal with an 800 number and someone whose English I couldn't understand in order to report it, and I'm still waiting for my belongings as I write this.
I'm serene, though. I knew that I wouldn't win.