Thoughts of first class travel bring forth a media manufactured image of grace and high society. This has been developed by years of movies and television programs showing the rich and famous sitting in the front rows of a 747 sipping glasses of champagne and having a short skirted stewardess cater to their every demand. The scene in Jerry Maguire where Renée Zellweger (Dorothy) leans forward to listen to Tom Cruise’s (Jerry) story about how he got engaged and then turning to her son saying “first class is what’s wrong. It used to be a better meal. Now it’s a better life” have been embedded in the minds of people everywhere.
Although this might have been based on reality back in the 60s, today the first class cabin is a much different view of what it used to be and has in many ways taking the glamour of high society out of the equation.
Those who frequent the first class cabin are no longer beautiful, rich people wearing expensive clothing and barking demands to the staff although that can still happen. Most who fly first class are frequent business travelers who have been awarded the seat through an upgrade and not by purchasing an outright first class ticket beforehand. The first several aisles are usually made up of men in jeans and company logoed jackets peppered along a few in suits, some desperate housewives and millennials who booked the flight using their parent’s credit cards. People who make a living traveling for work can build up their elite status fairly quickly which enable them to fly in luxury. Their constant time away from home is payment enough and many of them deserve the amenities that go with being in first class.
No matter how the ticket was awarded, the idea of a first class cabin still divides the airport population into two distinct classes: those who sit up front and the scrubs. Again, money is not really the issue. The high flying billionaires with ten thousand dollar handbags and ripped jeans that cost more than my car would never be caught dead in an airport. There are private airports for them that most of us will never see or experience. No, the first classers experience the flight in a different way than the scrubs starting from when they board to the plane, to the minute we step off at the final destination. They board first which makes sense in regards to priority however is not actually rational seeing that it would be easier for everyone to board the back of the plane first and build towards the front. Of course, logic is not a part of aviation so let’s not even analyze this little detail right now. The scrubs go through the preflight ceremonies, fighting for position amongst the others in their randomly chosen boarding group while the first classes are settled in, drinks in hand and ready to face the skies. The one fascinating thing about the first classes are their ability to quickly be engulfed into some sort of work or entertainment before the rest of us even get on board (BTW…why are first classers the only people on the planet who still read physical newspapers?). Looking at them you would think that they had been sitting there for hours before having to endure the throngs on desperate eyed wannabes shuffling to their seats in the back. I have to hand it to the flight attendants and their ability to get the first classers drinks prepared and to them so quickly. Most of the time, they slip past you without you ever knowing they were there.
During the flight, the first classers are waited on by a prompt designated flight attendant and depending on the size of the aircraft, they have a separate restroom as well. Although, I have personally never flown first class, I can’t imagine it being any better than the ones in a normal cabin. Jerry Seinfeld’s questioning of the types of flowers in the bathroom are just another example of the media fed fiction that engulfs the first class world. Again, depending on the plane, the flight, the airline, etc., etc., the first classers can have many more advantages over their economy counterparts including free drinks, meals, enhanced entertainment options and sometimes seats that fully recline. When the expression “you get what you pay for” was first coined, I imagine the author was sitting in the cramped, middle seat in row 32 looking north and seeing a better world many aisles away.
One thing about the first class experience is that it really does begin and end with the flight itself. Many airlines have now even limited the access of their lounges to those who straight up bought a first class ticket and not someone who has been awarded one through their status or miles. There are no first class restaurants or parking options available and like the rest of us, they still have to lug their own bags on board or go through the painful ritual of baggage claim for checked luggage.
Even at the gate, until you start getting up to board, there is really no designated area for first classers and they are forced to sit with the rest of us scrubs. This keeps the first classers humble and their advantages concentrated to just one part of the overall flight experience.
I can say whatever I want about the first classers in order to justify my position but the truth is I would trade places with any of them in a second. Let me on first and give me my damn drink is what I’m shooting for and hopefully in due time, my own flight regiments will earn me the right to check that upgrade button and see my name flash across the confirmation screen. Until then, I will continue to waltz past them towards my place in the back and may or may not purposely let my shoulder bag brush the sides of their heads as I walk by. Enjoy yourself thoroughly first classers, I coming for you one flight at a time!