First Class is now un-American

On our return flight from Denver last Saturday, the woman across the aisle coughed so many times I lost count before I had a sip of my complimentary beverage. Another woman ten rows back had a speaking voice so loud you wondered how she could hear herself think. And then there were the backpacks, so… many… backpacks. Nothing wrong with carrying your stuff on your shoulders, except when walking down the aisle and the slightest turn of the hips gives me a not-so-gentle whack as I sit in my aisle seat. Which pretty much confirmed what I already knew.  I should’ve flown First Class.

Heads up, weary travelers.  If your brand of travel abroad is a first-class seat, you’d better book one while you can.  American Airlines (AA) just announced they’re removing those premium seats in favor of several more in Business Class. Why? Because nobody wants them.  It’s not rocket science.  Airplanes need to be full (like, 97% full) or airlines don’t make money.  If a class of seat doesn’t interest a passenger the airline will find one that does.  Put the champagne on ice, flight attendants.

Even if dropping the very best seats makes good business sense, it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.  I’ve never deliberately flown First Class but I still get to walk down their aisle on the way to the cozier confines of Cattle Economy.  As I do, I steal a glance to the left and to the right.  What are they wearing?  What are they drinking?  Most importantly, what are they talking about?  After all, these are America’s movers and shakers.

Except they’re not anymore, now are they?  Tell me who (or “what”) you see the next time you pass through First Class.  The domain of the rich and famous is now diluted with passengers who simply rack up enough frequent flyer miles.  Thus, next to the woman in the stylish suit with the glass of Pinot Noir, wrapping her important business call, you have the young tattooed character in tank top, shorts, and sandals, slurping a Rockstar energy drink while obliterating his latest Call of Duty foe.  No wonder these seats aren’t selling anymore.

My kids don’t believe me but there was an era when people dressed up to travel.  When I was young I wore a suit and tie on airplanes, as spiffy as a Sunday morning in church (although church attire has changed too, sigh…).  Instead of a palm-sized bag of peanuts in Economy, you still got something of a meal.  Flying was, back then, a classy step above other forms of travel.

Just because I can – and knowing American’s about to crash the party (poor choice of words) – I decided to book a first-class ticket to London for Thanksgiving.  Get me to jolly ol’ England the day before (so I can overcome jet lag before the big meal) and have me back in my own bed by Sunday night.  I know, I know, it’s practically Halloween already but guess what?  There are still plenty of first-class seats for my un-American Thanksgiving. They’re just a little – ahem – pricey.

My least expensive option on AA is $6,054, which includes two stops, choice of seat (but isn’t every first-class seat equally wonderful?), free baggage, and a full refund if I have second thoughts (which I will).  My most expensive option is $12,966, with identical terms as the first option except this ticket is nonrefundable.  Huh?  Whatever.  Even the least expensive option is more than my annual grocery bill.  Let’s not book this trip after all.  Let’s have turkey at home instead.

You can see where this is headed.  Next thing you know AA will get rid of First Class on all of its flights.  Then passengers will lose interest in Business Class so that’ll have to go too.  Premium Economy will be the last to fold, until all we’re left with is a planeful of Cattle Economy, every row and every seat.  But given the attire and attitudes of passengers these days, isn’t Economy a perfectly-fitting shoe?  As a friend described it, air travel these days is effectively a Greyhound bus with a couple of wings.

I just ran another itinerary on the AA website.  I can visit my son in Dallas over Thanksgiving, flying First Class, for just over $1,000 roundtrip.  That’s a bargain compared to London and I can get my turkey from a smoker (delicious!)  Maybe I’ll splurge.  After all, there may come a day when my grandchildren ask me, “What’s ‘First Class’?”

Some content sourced from the Fox Business article, “American Airlines ditching first class…“.

Window Addressing

My wife and I just returned from a trip to Boston. On the flight home, we took our seats as usual: she at the window and me in the middle. It was a peaceful journey, save for the rather chatty woman across the aisle. But then, as we began our descent into Denver, behold an uncomfortable moment. A glare of sunlight through my wife’s window struck Chatty Woman in the eyes, who immediately turned and snapped, “CLOSE THAT WINDOW!” I just smiled from the middle seat and assured her the glare would move on momentarily (which it did). Chatty Woman gave me a stare and a huff, and turned away. Gee, nice to meet you too.

I’ve touched on the dynamics – er, politics – of airplane passenger seats before, in Flight of the Humble Bee (a taste of first-class), and Center Peace (life in the middle seat), but I always thought window-seat dwellers were far enough to the left or right to escape judgment. No longer. In fact, more than ever the spotlight shifts to them.

Let’s review the powers held by the different seats on the plane. The aisle seat, some would argue, commands the most power because a) the occupant controls the freedom of all others on his/her side of the row, b) the occupant has the easiest access to everyone else and everything else on the plane, and c) the occupant can lean or leg into the aisle as he/she pleases (a power move in itself, albeit a weak one).

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The middle seat [or in larger planes, middle seats. To you, the occupant of the middle seat in a row of 5+, you have my utmost sympathy] has powers inversely proportional to the aisle and window seat occupants. That is, the more empathetic your seatmates with your middle-seatedness, the more likely you’ll get perks (i.e. the use of both armrests, requests to the flight attendants, the window shade setting to your preference).

Speaking of the shade, that my friends, is the power-play of the window seat. Whether the shade is up, down, or somewhere in the middle is entirely up to the occupant (or occasionally directed by the flight attendants). Once upon a time the window shade was a minor prop; only down when the shared overhead movie screens (or sleeping passengers) demanded dark. Today? Every mobile phone, tablet, reading device, laptop, and in-seat movie screen is photophobic. Light sensitivity abounds.

Here’s the change in dynamic you’re not aware of. The passenger in the window seat is not the person he/she once was. Before, people chose the window seat to enjoy the high-skies views, or more importantly, to keep their geographic bearings or avoid the claustrophobia of a closed-up cabin. Today, people choose the window seat to control the shade, for optimal lighting of all those handheld devices.

To further complicate the matter we have the Boeing 787 airplane, which replaced the window shade with electrified gel sandwiched between panes of glass. The gel darkens or lightens depending on the amount of applied current. Cool tech, but also a compromise of power for the window seat occupant. The flight attendants (as they deem necessary), can darken all of the windows during sleeping hours or movie time or even hot days. Might want to check the type of aircraft before you board your next flight.

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I suspect if “CLOSE THAT WINDOW!” persists, the airlines might jump at another opportunity for profit. Someday you’ll find yourself choosing a seat in the “light” or “dark” section of the plane, with a fee placed on one or both types of seats. Not a fan. Then again, if the airlines would sequester crying babies, cell-phone talkers and other audibles into a soundproofed section, I’ll be the first one on-board.

Some content sourced from the 9/18/19 Wall Street Journal article, “The Showdown at the Window Seat”.

Flight of the Humble Bee

Travelling to faraway places – weeks at a time – sprouts a dual bloom of stress and excitement. The stress buds from the interruption of life at home; the need to keep things clicking and intact while away. The excitement buds from the unknown of what lies ahead; the anticipation of new sights and experiences. My keyboard tap-tap-tappings come from one of those faraway places today; Northern Europe, but it’s not my destination I’m keen to talk about. Instead I’m drifting a few days back to the start of the trip, to my outbound flight from Denver to New York. There, in a moment of rarefied air, I mingled for a few hours as a first-class passenger.

First Class. You know – the initial several rows on the airplane, dripping with white tablecloths, champagne flutes, and fluffy pillows. The wider, more comfortable seats. The dedicated flight attendant. Complimentary drinks, WiFi, movies, and magazines. Sounds so clean and expensive, with an almost regal attitude about it, don’t you think?

But what if I said, nein? What if I told you my first-class experience rated – yes – better than coach, but only with the slightest of differences? Wouldn’t you want to know why?

For starters, let’s deplane and go back to the terminal. A first-class ticket entitles you to a dedicated always-short line at the check-in counter. You already know that. Me, I missed that line. Whether the signage was on its morning break, or the harshly voiced commandant-of-the-queue distracted me with her “line up he-ah!”, or “print your boarding pass he-ah!”, or “do not leave your luggage he-ah!” (add German accent), I missed first-class check-in. Me and the “coachies” dawdled together in the snaky commoner line for a good forty-five minutes instead.

Fast-forward to the wait at the gate. My wife shrewdly pointed out the “Delta Club”, which I assumed was an exclusive members-only hideaway. Turns out, a business-class international ticket (i.e. the only reason I got first-class on the domestic leg) gets you and I access to the Club. Through a set of dark, imposing doors, past a couple of guards (who really do “guard”), we were treated to a light-but-no-cost breakfast buffet, comfortable chairs and tables, and blissful quiet (except for the gent next to me with the persistent cough). I hereby admit, the Delta Club was a sweet perk of first-class, if only to hang with less rats in the airport maze.

When a flight is even slightly delayed, and the passengers have nowhere to escape to outside of the boarding lounge, the ensuing chaos is a predictable study in human nature. No matter what kind of ticket you hold, “pre-boards” walk the plank first (defined as anyone needing extra time to get to their seat). After, Delta welcomes a mix of military, first-class (me!), and “Sky Priority” frequent flyers. But here’s the thing about rats. The line to board the plane is hopelessly windy and long, snaking between the walls of the concourse and the rows of boarding lounge seats. Try pushing to the front of the line – first-class ticket frantically waved above your head – when you’ve been standing in the back. Not-so-nice stares from other rats.

After taking my seat in 2a (or spoken with attitude, the second row), the complimentary glass of orange juice or champagne (or both please – mimosa!)… never materialized. Then I realized why. The logistics of serving drinks in first-class is virtually impossible when all the coachies board down the same aisle. No, this was not one of those planes where you “turn left” for first-class and “turn right” for everything else. One door. One aisle. All rats in the same maze after all.

<Cue disconsolate, sad music – solo violin or muted cello.  First-class is dying on the vine.>

How about breakfast? First-class meals are pre-ordered – on-line. That’s cool. Choose from blended steel-cut oats/quinoa with fruit, or an egg/cheese souffle with chicken sausage. My wife chose one and I chose the other – borderline-healthy airplane food requiring forks and knives! Not only that (insert smirk), turbulence prevented the flight attendants from serving anything in the main cabin, not even so much as a glass of water. Hope y’all bought some pre-packaged self-serve snacks before you boarded.  Ha!

But there it is. Attitude. Just when I think I can comfortably digest my first-class privilege; attitude rears its ugly head. Suddenly the passengers in row five and beyond are – ahem – somehow lesser. Not right. Time to pull my head out of – ahem – the clouds, and drift back down to reality. First-class may start out a little sweet, but the aftertaste can be a little bitter. Better to take my rightful place with the coachies from now on.

certitude

Several posts ago I told the woe-is-me story of leaving my Kindle e-reader in an airplane seat pocket.  Much to my chagrin I wrote, this was the second time in two years; exiting a plane without my prized portable technological wonder.  In the post I made two predictions about the eventual destination of my e-reader.  The first was into the hands of the Delta employee who cleans the plane.  The second was into the hands of the next traveler who reached into my seat pocket (“Congratulations!  You’ve just won an Amazon Kindle!”)  So one or the other of these scenarios was the end of the line for my e-reader.  I drew those conclusions as if they were fact.  I wrote with certitude.

Here then, “the rest of the story”.  On the eventual destination of my e-reader I was wrong – way wrong.  In what I would label a small miracle, my Kindle ended up… in my own hands.  The perseverance of DALLIRT (Delta Air Lines Lost Item Recovery Team) won the day.  Perhaps my Kindle was found immediately or perhaps it traveled on to one or more exotic destinations.  Either way, a human took pity on me and made things right.  Imagine my disbelief (and chagrin) when I received an email from DALLFC (Delta Air Lines Lost & Found Central) that began “Dear David Wilson:  We are happy to tell you that we have located an item that closely matches the description of your reported lost item”.  Twelve dollars and seventy-seven cents of postage and three days later, my Kindle was dropped on my doorstep.  No damage.  No note.  Everything intact.

I must own up to one other aspect of this story.  A day or two after I filed the lost item report with Delta, I promptly logged onto Amazon and bought another Kindle.  That’s right; before I gave Delta’s process a chance, I purchased a new e-reader.  I even upgraded to a newer version (“Voyage” – oooo).  That’s certitude in a nutshell.  Zero faith in the alternative.

14 - certitude

I suppose the lost dollars to Amazon represents my penance (another good word for my blog) for not trusting a process designed to correct my mistakes.  But to further cleanse my guilt, I sent DALCC (Delta Air Lines Customer Care) a glowing email, complimenting them on their lost item recovery process.  And they wrote right back, beginning with the following line: “It’s so easy to leave something important behind while flying”.  Gee, thanks for making me feel better.  Except I did it twice.

My son will probably inherit my recovered Kindle.  Yes I should probably keep it because things happen in threes but I’ll take my chances.  I’ll trust the process.  And I’ll certainly consider Delta Airlines the next time I fly.

chagrin

A year or so ago I left my Kindle e-reader in an airplane seat pocket when I deplaned.  Those seat pockets contain just a few things – an in-flight magazine, a plastic card that describes safety features, and the timeless airsickness bag.  So there’s plenty of room to lose an e-reader in there.  Does that sound like an excuse?  Well imagine my utter frustration and disappointment – my chagrin – when I did it AGAIN this past weekend.  Same drill.  I stowed my Kindle in the seat pocket along with some magazines before takeoff.  I did all of my reading in-flight.  And then in my haste to deplane, I took the magazines and left the Kindle.

photo - chagrin

There’s an interesting dance you do when you realize you’ve left something on an airplane.  It typically begins when you’re unpacking your bags.  You take out the clothes and bathroom stuff and then you get down to the little things.  About that time you start to wonder when a particular item will surface.  Laptop – check.  iPod – check.  Kindle – oh no, not again.  You double-check (okay, you triple-check) your suitcase and your carry-on.  You tear your car apart to make sure it didn’t slip between the seats on the way home.  And then after you’ve bounced around the bedroom cursing at the walls, you resign yourself to the fact that your Kindle is now in the hands of Delta Airlines.  Or one of its enterprising employees.

Delta has a promising process to claim “lost articles”.  You go on-line and fill out an official-looking form.  You describe the lost article to prove it’s yours.  And then you wait.  And wait.  After three days I got an email reply.  It started positively enough. “Dear Mr. Wilson:  The search continues… “.  But the paragraphs that followed are collectively referred to as “form letter”.   It was painfully obvious Delta was not going to drop everything to unearth my Kindle.

My theory on the current whereabouts of my Kindle has two endings.  In one, a Delta “cleaner” finds my Kindle and pockets it; or gifts it to his/her child; or stocks the nice little black market he/she has going on the side.  In the other, Delta doesn’t have enough employees to clean the seat pockets after every trip so my Kindle just continues on to the next destination.  To the person who got my seat after me, I say “you’re welcome”.

Here’s a great invention inspired by my Kindle-down experience.  It’s a wireless “leash”: a band that goes around your wrist with a removable Velcro button that can be attached to small personal items (i.e. Kindles).  When the wrist band and the Velcro button are far enough apart, the band beeps and you realize something is not right.  Not bad, huh?

In my defense for having abandoned my Kindle twice, a laptop is too big for the seat pocket so at least a portion would be visible.  iPods and mobile phones are too small to risk putting in the seat pocket and forgetting about.  But a Kindle?  The perfect size.  Small enough and flat enough to disappear into seat pocket oblivion.

This story will have an ending, happy or not.  Remember, according to Delta, “the search continues”…