Front of the Bus

When you have financed a major move down the East Coast, partially furnished an apartment, and placed a moderate down payment on a bottom-of-the-line VW during an end-of-model-year clearance sale–all thanks to a generous credit limit on an airline affinity MasterCard–you suddenly realize you can treat yourself to an upgrade. In this case, I had spent enough to garner a first-class upgrade on a one-way ticket home from Colorado.

I felt absolutely no pangs of guilt about using my hard-earned mileage points this way. I had spent a little more than three days straight in the car, driven several thousand miles, and knew saying goodbye to RG Daughter would be tough. Thus, rather than horde the miles for a future coach flight, I cashed in the ones I had for this rather frivolous perk.

First class is anything but these days. But I am not really complaining. The seats are slightly bigger and the alcohol is “free,” and I am guessing that some airlines still feed you a sort-of meal, although mine did not on this day. But beyond that–well, let’s just say the pamper-the-passenger days of air travel are best experienced in a quick walk-through tour of the American Airlines Douglas DC-7, which used to be one of the more popular exhibits at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in D.C.

Does anyone actually pay for a first class airline ticket any more? You know, the $750 one-way price tag (double that for a roundtrip ticket) for a four-hour jaunt connecting through Dallas? I am pretty sure no one does. Because if even a handful of my fellow cabin mates had done so, I think we might actually have been served a snack beyond a sack of pretzels I couldn’t eat.

But never mind; as I said, the seats were slightly bigger and the wine was on the airline. No, what really struck me about first class was the striking resemblance of my cabin mates to the assortment of characters whom I see during any given shift in any restaurant.

There was the family seated in the bulkhead making every effort to distract their adorable 11-month-old toddler. You know them–they’re the ones seated in the booth next to you, usually on an evening when you are conducting business or celebrating an anniversary and had expected to be surrounded by adults at this late hour. Mom’s dog-and-pony show of stuffed animals does the trick for about 30 seconds. Next, it’s taking turns walking the baby up and down the aisle, followed by jiggling the baby on Dad’s lap, then soothing the baby in Mom’s arms. Repeat all of these actions a dozen times. This family did not bother me in the slightest, however, because the baby was just being a baby, and the parents were held captive in the cabin just like the rest of us.

There was the angry, demanding passenger who scolded the flight attendant who was trying to properly latch the overhead bin, because, she told him, “You are crushing my things! And I believe I asked if that seat over there was taken, because that’s the one I want.” You know her, too, right? The guest for whom no table is ever right the first or second or third time you show her to one; the guest about whom you sneak a laugh with the host after the you’ve crossed off her laundry list of her complaints in your mind with an image of “Whatever!” scrawled in giant letters with a red marker.

There was the exceedingly polite young woman who thanked the attendant for any and everything, never once making a fuss. That guest, as you know, is the one you covet but rarely remember when he/she is sandwiched between the louder, more difficult ones. Some days, however, she is the welcome respite that helps put the shift back into the zone.

There was the hapless guy wearing a crumpled suit on a Sunday of a holiday weekend, snoozing as best he could in the confined quarters. You remember him, of course–the guest with whom you’d like to chat it up, even a little, because he’s alone and from out of town, visiting your town on business. But you’re just too busy at the height of the dinner rush to do more than glance his way after an initial welcome.

In the future, I don’t know as I would waste my mileage points for an upgrade on anything less than a cross-country or international flight. And I don’t anticipate either anytime soon. But during my flight back to Florida, sitting in first class served a greater purpose that should, at the very least, make my GM happy–in an unexpected, homesick way, it made me look forward to going back to work.






7 responses to “Front of the Bus”

  1. Katie Avatar

    I never thought of flying like that.

    Now that you mention it, I am in total agreement with your descriptions of your fellow travelers.

  2. Julie Avatar

    Welcome home, RG. Sounds like you had a wonderful time with your Daughter.

    I’ve only flown first class once. It was a business trip (6 hour flight) just after I had knee surgery. It was totally wasted on me, though. I’m one of those people who gets lulled to sleep by the engines. I usually sleep through most of any flight.

  3. Ex-Restaurant Manager Avatar

    Fun post, RG! Reminds me of the times, many years ago when AirTran was starting out, where you could upgrade at the last minute to 1st class for $25 if there were empty seats. Quite the cast of characters could be found, but it was fun, and for those of us of the long-legged persuasion, a welcome stretch (of leg and budget).

    I really used to enjoy flying, but now avoid it at all costs. Got a flight coming up in November, the only saving grace is the fun I have people watching.

  4. Andrew in NZ Avatar
    Andrew in NZ

    It’s a bit of a shame when ‘exceedingly polite’ consists of saying thank you and not making a fuss… 🙂

  5. Restaurant Gal Avatar

    Katie–Worth a try, just once or twice.

    Julie–You can always sleep better in first class!

    Ex-RM–You can still upgrade on Airtran–it just costs a bit more, but still worth it for the space and those great snacks 🙂

    Andrew–Ah, you got that, eh?

  6. Christine Avatar

    I don’t know about first class in the glory days of flying, but 2 summers ago, on my way home from Spain, Iberia screwed up my ticket and fixed it by putting me in first class. That was very nice. The seats were large (actually, they were the ones that lie all the way back creating a bed), the food was decent, and I had a wine list.

  7. Car Avatar

    What’s up colleagues, nice piece of writing and nice arguments commented
    here, I am in fact enjoying by these.