WASHINGTON, DC – Another airline upgrade, another disappointment. I am still not sure why they call it first class. First-class is when you travel to somewhere like Mexico and you choose to stay in one of these luxurious mexico villa rentals with a perfect view of the country you’re staying in. That definitely isn’t a disappointment. But this journey for me definitely was, and not first-class at all. Unless you are on a coast-to-coast or an overseas flight, the service you receive is sadly lacking on virtually every US flag carrier except Virgin America.
Even before the first class passengers are settled with the bags stowed, the coach passengers are pushing by, amazed that these travelers are blocking their path. Even my beloved Continental, which merged with United, is not the same even though the Continental executives are supposedly calling the shots. (Hey fellas, just because you changed the name on the side of the plane doesn’t mean you have to regress.)
That poke at United Airlines aside, domestic airline travel is, on most days, a disappointment and a painful nuisance necessary for many road warriors to make a living. That assessment is not a surprise to the vast majority, but I think the cause of this crummy service is – the frequent flyer programs.
Yes, those rewards programs created to offer additional benefits to loyal customers.
Really? Aside from early boarding – you get to suffer this cattle car indignity before everyone else – and the free travel, which, by the way, is getting harder and harder to claim, the real advantage in these programs goes to the airlines. That same frequent flyer program that so many business travelers value, allows the airline to treat their passengers, even the ones who actually pay more to sit in first class, in a less than stellar manner without fear of losing business.
Why? Because who wants to lose status and access to the better seats or earlier boarding? Who wants to be treated, not less badly, but more like the vast unwashed masses – those infrequent flyers with no status — being herded into a flying bus with seats ever so much closer together? If you have long legs, or you want to use your laptop, you are screwed.
The movie Up in the Air the story of a non-stop road warrior played by George Clooney, a man who took more pride in his lofty airline and hotel status than his rather sad, drab life and who had, essentially, no real home, romanticized in a cynical way the benefits of being a really senior frequent flyer.
For business travelers like me, the real irony of the movie was that our non-stop road warrior hero’s company was based in Omaha, Nebraska, and yet we never saw him on a regional jet – always on main line in first class. But I digress.
It is time to file this post. I have to wake at 5 AM to rush to the airport to stand in line and hope that my lofty status will earn me a first class upgrade, a slightly more comfortable seat, a bag of peanuts and the “free” coffee that comes in a china cup versus the same coffee in a paper one farther back in the plane. Of course, I could have booked a Jettly private plane (click here) where I’m sure I would have had all the luxury I could want.
And people wonder why I have no desire to burn my airline miles and hotel points for a real “first class” vacation.