Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Flying the Other Classes

It happened to me yesterday: a business class seat on a five hour flight. No, I didn't buy the ticket or upgrade or anything like that, but it happened. Here are some things about not flying coach that may be obvious to some people, but are very exciting when they actually happen to the rest of us: You get ear plugs and eye masks. You can have a glass of "champagne" while the plane is still at the gate. They hand out menus for dinner. There are breakable dishes. There are quilts. There is Toblerone. And there are all these other people getting the same stuff and you're like "I know how I got here (luck, benevolence), but how did you all get here?" And you assume either big corporations paid for their tickets or they are using miles to upgrade because only an insane person would dole out another $889 on top of their regular ticket price for this junk. Some of them are [all of the above], yes, but a bunch of others spent $250,000 back in 1981 to have the privilege of sitting there forever and it turns out they got a pretty sweet deal. One airline, on the other hand, did not.

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Jacques Vroom? Really? Maybe that's why he flies instead of driving.


@frigwiggin he could drive a Mazda...Vroom, vroom...

The Lady of Shalott

Once I got bumped up to first-class on a flight to Newfoundland and it was AMAZING. There were bowls of warm nuts and hot towels and REAL CHINA AND SILVERWARE and it was superamazing. I was only 17, though, so most of the awesome was lost on me.


@The Lady of Shalott Once I got to fly business class to Ecuador and at dinner time we got tiny little table cloths for the tray tables and tiny little personal salt and pepper shakers. Not packets, shakers.

Sigh. Now I just think fondly about that time every time I awkwardly wedge myself into my coach seat.


@The Lady of Shalott: When I traveled for work a while back I used to get bumped up a lot and it's awesome, but still I wonder, why the hell are the nuts warm? That's just not a natural state for nuts.


@Bittersweet: Aaaaaaand, cue the 'nard jokes...


@The Lady of Shalott The only time I've ever flown first class was when I got bumped up on a flight from Detroit to Salt Lake City.

All I got out of it was an extra bag of Sun Chips.


@The Lady of Shalott I got a bump-up on a flight from Toronto to London, England, in one of those fancy planes with the lay-flat bed. I fell asleep with the glass of champagne still in my hand at the gate, woke up long enough to flatten out my bed and then didn't wake up until the steward woke me up to see if I was okay hours later (in time for lunch! with cutlery!). That trip also included flying Emirates, where they give you meals and hot towels in coach.

Also, I live in Newfoundland and flying into/out of here is always such a crap shoot. It's nice you got the upgrade! :)


I love that article, and that the people were so benevolent about their extra seats (though American was obviously terrible). I flew first class on a red eye a few years ago, and it made me sad that it was a red eye so I was asleep most of the time and didn't get the full experience (but then, my sleep was wayyyy more comfortable.


@thebestjasmine I think being able to sleep comfortably on a redeye IS the full experience!


@thebestjasmine Yeah, I was kind of amazed that they were like fantasy lottery winners, just walking around sharing the wealth. I still didn't feel bad for them, since they could afford ~$500,000 on just flying, but it was different (and better) than the story I was expecting.


@thebestjasmine I commented below before finishing all the previous comments. But my experience was basically the same: it was great, except I slept, but I slept well.


Hmm, after reading the article, I feel complicatedly about this. On one hand, they paid for it, and it sucks for American, but man, they were ruthless about making these people responsible for their own mistake. And traveling is great, but ahhhh the pollution ahhhhhhhh.


@frigwiggin I'm going to pretend you didn't say that thing about pollution and go back to fantasizing about driving out to LAX and getting on a plane to DeGaulle right. now.


@candybeans Oh, I know. I'm flying to see my mom in July, and it feels so far away (in both time and distance) right now. If the choice is between pollution and staying in one town your whole life (which is a false dichotomy, but whatever), I know which one I have to go with.


The thing about getting nice alcohol before you even take off is true?? Daaaamn.

Leon Tchotchke

I flew to Australia a few weeks ago and I was all pumped for UNLIMITED FREE ALCOHOL! Only it turns out that the LAST thing you want after eight hours on a plane with six more to go is a drink. Domestic, though, sign me up. Just start filling up my glass as soon as I get to the gate, honestly.

Tuna Surprise

Flew first class to Hawaii and Delta greets you with a Mai Tai with a little umbrella prior to take off. Best day of my life, thus far.


@Tuna Surprise


I would like someone to greet me with a Mai Tai right now!


@DH@twitter It is not nice! My one first class experience: everything smelled like a dead animal rotting in the wall for a week and I was so sick I couldn't stay in my seat because the smell was making me vom, but all the stewards were like "uhm, what smell?" because smells are weird on planes. I realized that it was because the guy next to me (who fell asleep with his glass full) ordered a totally nasty red wine. Red wine is bad juju on a plane.

Smelled EXACTLY like a dead skunk that had been decomposing for a week.


Join airline's frequent flier programs! That's how lots and lots of those people get upgraded. If business class is empty of people who actually bought expensive tickets (which it normally is) they upgrade all of the people with high mileage in their f.f. programs. My boyfriend flies a lot for work and gets upgraded every other flight or so. If you bring people with you while flying (say, your awesome mandala loving girlfriend) they often reap the rewards of your status and get upgraded too! Champagne and free movies!!!

The Lady of Shalott

@Mandalas This is my dad, too. He flies all the time for work and gets bumped up pretty frequently. My folks were on vacation a few weeks ago and they got a seat upgrade, and my dad gave it to my mom because he was like "oh, first class is boring, I'm just going to play with my ipad."

Different worlds, my dad and I.


@The Lady of Shalott Something is wrong with that man!!!


@The Lady of Shalott If the boyfriend and I are flying together and he gets an upgrade he tends to give it to me because he sleeps the whole flight anyways. Seriously, he sits down and that seat and is out like a light. It's like his mutant ability, sleeping on planes.


@Mandalas The Billfold just had an article on this subject last week! I don't fly like ever, but now I'm inspired to get all the miles.


The fiance and I managed round-trip business elite class tickets to Ireland once, and it was AH-MAZING. Though I would argue there is no need for a two-course meal four hours after a three-course meal. I actually ended up feeling sick. BUT the unlimited red wine totally made up for it. Also, leg room. LEG ROOM. Dear god, if I could afford to fly that way ALL the time, I totally would.


One time I sat in the seat behind first class and I could almost see what was happening! Almost.


The only time upgrades have ever even been on offer was one time when our flight was overbooked and we would have had to wait 2 days, but we were flying back to Australia for my birthday and wouldn't have made it so we couldn't. BOO HISS.

I would LOVE to fly non-cattle class!

Elizabeth Switaj@twitter

I once got bumped up into first class on a flight from Amsterdam to Beijing, and it was amazing. In addition to everything stated above, the seats had built-in massagers. I didn't want to leave the plane!


@Elizabeth Switaj@twitter OH MY GOOOOOOOD.


I've never been upgraded **sad face**

really interesting article- can't believe I ended up sympathizing with rich dudes who bought gazillion dollar airplane passes. Seriously, American, did you not see this as a potential outcome?


I got upgraded to the exit row seats once and I thought THAT was amazing. I apparently do not fly enough on United to get the real upgrades.


@ImASadGiraffe I fly a fair amount and I still get excited when I get "upgraded" to an exit row! I remember the days when you could just book those seats without having to pay an extra 50 bucks, so if I can get it for free I'm pretty psyched.


First class tickets aren't as expensive as you think on some airlines. American has this great early first class rate. I am flying to NYC first class in a week or so for less than $800. That's a lot of money still but once in a while, I like to save and treat myself. The leg room is sooooo great.

I've loved this lifetime mileage club story because I'm so surprised the airlines didn't anticipate this would happen. People who love to fly and do these kinds of things are very intense. I once dated someone who would fly extra segments to nowhere to keep Platinum Status and as I watched them pack a day bag I'd say, "Really?" And then I got a look. Because mileage status is serious business.


@FoxyRoxy It's true! Once you have mileage status, you see the world in a new way! And with Platinum, between waived baggage fees and being toward the top of the upgrade list on almost every flight, paying for a really cheap day flight would pay for itself in no time!


And, y'know, flying cheap seats ain't so bad. I will endure a grueling amount of uncomfortable travel if it means I have more money when I actually get somewhere.

Although I will admit that the nicer overnight Tufesa bus tickets where you get lie-down seats and a baloney sandwich were pretty (relatively) comfy. But sleeping was still out of the question because they wake you up 2-3 times to show your passport and put your bags through security machines.

Craving Brownies

The company I work for flies business class for overseas travel. Most of those travelers are like myself or they fly even more frequently get frequent flier mile upgrades. If you ever get an upgrade, request the upper deck if it's appropriate for the plane you are on! It's much quieter with fewer people and far less motion up and down the aisle ways. Similiarly, not all business class cabins are equivalant. Some new planes have a business class that is better than an older plane first class. This depends greatly on the airline. Side note: share flight attendants have frequently thought that I must be traveling with the man next to me because I'm young and female. It can produce awkward moments.


How do you even get upgraded? Do you have to ask? Do they just come up to you like "Here, have an upgrade! You're welcome!"(I'm leaving for Paris in a few weeks and it would be AWESOME if I weren't stuffed into a seat from hell.)

Tuna Surprise

Generally, you can asked to be put on the upgrade list if you are a frequent flier with status (for example, Delta opens the upgrade list a few days before the flight and then ranks people w/in their status levels - platinum, gold, silver, etc).

If you don't have status with the airline, your only hope is for the flight to be overbooked. At that point, it's generally a crapshoot. I got upgraded once because they changed planes before takeoff and my row no longer existed in the new plane so they had to put me the only place seats were left.


I once traveled for work with a co-worker much older, wiser, and richer than me. He convinced me to do the (cheaper but still like, PURSE expensive) upgrade on a virgin america flight. His argument was, "flying is a terrible experience. If it is at all in your power to take control of the experience, by all means, do it." Then I got a foot massage in the airport and got on the plane in the big cushy first class seat. First I was like "a LITERAL class war! I am a woman of the PEOPLE, why am I here?" and then 5 mins later I was licking my plates clean and muchin' on toblerones and ordering wine and watching bravo and 7 hours later the plane landed and I was like "5 more minutes, mom!!!!!!!!!!"


If I had one of those passes I don't think you'd ever see me on the ground... I wouldn't even leave the airports.

Betsy Murgatroyd

I was just pleased when Horizon Hostess gave me the last of the bottle of wine on the jump from Medford to Seattle. It's the little things in life that matter.


I got to fly business class once! However, I don't think I got the full benefit. It was only an hour-long flight, for one thing (so no food); also, it was a result of having been on a train that got stranded in floods in Thailand, leaving us stuck on it for four days. Eventually (when the water ran out) my parents decided to take us and walk to the nearest road, where we managed to get a taxi to take us across the border to Malaysia and all the way to Penang airport, where we got whatever seats were available on the next flight to Singapore. I was too grateful to be on a plane and going somewhere I could have a proper bed and a wash and everything to care much about it. Also I was youngish (eleven that day) and not hugely keen on being separated from my parents and seated next to an unknown businessman.


On the way home from a tradeshow a few years ago, someone in my company offered me his first class seat and he sat in my coach seat. Everything seemed so awesome. Unfortunately, I slept through the whole thing (I'm pretty sure he gave me his seat because he could tell how ridiculously hungover I was). But it was also the best sleep I've ever gotten on a plane, so there's that.


I was once upgraded to first class because we had a nightmare experience in which our connecting flight was canceled (due to construction being done on the runway??) so we were stuck at the Minneapolis airport for over 12 hours only to have to fly back home the next day because it seemed likely our return flight would also be axed. I remember being so angry at one particularly condescending airline employee that I wanted to punch him in the face. The upgrade felt earned at that point, but it was still pretty amazing... plus we were able to get a full refund on our tickets so we essentially flew first class to nowhere for free.

New Hoarder

I've never flown, or been upgraded to, business or first class. However, from my domestic and international flying experiences I've concluded that any Virgin flight is a definite upgrade over most carriers. Really, any non-US airline is an upgrade...

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