I’ve taken a lot of flights in my life, but I’ve only flown first class twice. Once was when I was nine and my mom’s company paid for it. The other time came as a result of a lucky grab of the last seat in the last flight from Europe to the US after the bureaucratic nightmare that was being stuck Spain following a massive snowstorm four days before Christmas. Believe me—it’s an equally scintillating and frustrating tale of desperation as I was shuffled around from county to country, having to speak gradually weirder languages, and living in two different airports. But that is a story for another time, suffice it to say that, according to my passport, I’ve been in Spain since 2010.
But, getting back to the point, the uniting factor between the two times I flew first class was that it was a way to get from point A to point B. I wasn’t specifically paying extra for it, the extras just happened to be there. I mean, I got all the ice cream my nine-year-old heart could desire. (By the time I was 20, my tastes were somewhat refined, and I got all the Icelandic cookies and G+Ts that I wanted.) But, really, the first time I flew first class, I didn’t know the difference and it was just another flight. And the second time, I wouldn’t have known the difference between a first class seat, a coach seat, or a kayak, as long as it was pointed towards America.
But, I am now a college graduate—a real person, if you will. One of these days, I’ll get a job and a salary. I mean, that’s what people do with English degrees, right? And once I get a job and one or two of those promotion things, I might try taking a first class flight on purpose. But, let’s face it, it’s still spending a whole day with TSA, SkyMall, and 200 of your closest friends in a pressurized cabin 7 miles above the ground. Plus there’s no twitter—and that tends to give me anxiety. And while in first class you’re well-lubricated with fancy drinks, your goal is still to get to where you’re going as quickly as possible.
Now, last week, I flew to California. I was waiting to hear back from a job I really wanted. And I knew that if I got the job, it would be my last opportunity for a while to go across the country on fairly short notice. And if I didn’t get the job, at least I had done something to not go spare waiting around for a week. That and I really wanted to check out some west coast lifeguards. Like really badly.
But, sitting in Logan airport at 6 AM, awaiting my middle seat in coach and the bag of rocks that United was probably hoping to hit me with, they started boarding. There were two lines from the terminal to the jetway, divided by a stanchion. Now this makes sense, because boarding takes a long time and there were two gate agents. So scanning two people’s tickets at once would really speed up the process.
But would you really expect something that makes so much sense from an airline?
Nope. On one of these two lines, they had thrown down a red rug (I hesitate to say “carpet,” as those typically aren’t ragged and muddy). That was the first class line. They got to board first, through the “priority” line. Once they were boarded, it became one of the gate agents’ jobs to literally stand in front of the priority lane so that none of us plebians from coach could walk through it. But then, after getting on the plane through my un-red-carpeted lane, I still had to wait well past the scheduled departure time for the rest of the people to get on.
Now, I’m in business. And I’ve worked many years in customer service. I understand special treatment very well. I’m not offended in the least that my ticket cost significantly less than theirs did so I get a cramped seat and no peanuts. But here’s the thing. The reason all of us were on this plane was to sit down for four hours. And while unlimited ice cream (read: alcohol) is a nice perk, an even nicer one would be, I don’t know, arriving at our destination on time.
Maybe there are people who feel the value of their ticket increases because they get to walk on a red “carpet.” But in my very plane experience, first class or otherwise, the destination is far more important than the flight. And I’m not sure airlines understand that their job is to get you there, and the best customer service they can provide is to get you there on time.