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First Class
April 26, 2014 7:12 AM   Subscribe

How do you cram a bunch of strangers into an airborne metal tube, charge them a lot of money for the privilege, and get them to rave about it? Hire people like James Park to attract the one percent.

Priestman Goode Aviation
Eleven Amazing First Class Cabins
posted by the man of twists and turns (52 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gulf Air, which is based in Bahrain, reduced its annual fuel bill by a hundred and twenty thousand dollars a few years ago by using slightly thinner leather in the upholstery of its first-class seats—a change that involved just sixteen seats on fifteen planes.

Truly, the little things add up big time.
posted by Renoroc at 7:23 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


I would pay many of the dollars for in-flight child care for my toddler.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:53 AM on April 26 [6 favorites]



How do you cram a bunch of strangers into an airborne metal tube, charge them a lot of money for the privilege, and get them to rave about it?


Optimize your processes for efficiency. Don't rip people off. Treat your newest customers with the same level of respect and humanity as your biggest spenders. Don't make anybody feel like a second-class citizen.

Oh, wait.... We're not talking about Southwest, are we?
posted by schmod at 7:55 AM on April 26 [11 favorites]


An article I read on a plane because I'd forgotten there would be a $10000 entertainment panel on the seat back in front of me, so I spent £15 on magazines in a rush at the gate and bought a New Yorker (amongst others). My seat back entertainment was working fine until they rebooted the whole system as they served lunch, then it didn't come up again. So I read my magazines anyway.

The one of the person behind me worked fine. So they jabbed it hard playing a game of Bejeweled on it.
posted by ambrosen at 7:58 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


I would pay many of the dollars for in-flight child care for my toddler.

It might be cheaper to buy an extra round-trip economy ticket and hire a nanny for the flight than to upgrade to first class.
posted by phooky at 7:58 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


I flew in Cathay's business class from San Francisco to Hong Kong. The truly lay-flat seats are indeed a huge improvement, I managed to sleep a full night. They're much nicer in the wide spaced Airbus configuration. The Boeing configuration feels more like narrow coffins stacked together. Still way better than any economy seat or a nearly-flat-but-back-breaking business class seat.

The weirdest thing about this design is you aren't really sitting next to anyone. There's no two seats together for companions to talk. Which kind of makes sense for a flight for businessmen but feels curiously antisocial.
posted by Nelson at 7:59 AM on April 26


I was recently reading an interesting pdf (page 41) about how many cubic meters humans need/desire for different durations of space travel. For instance, people will be fine being crammed into a tiny launch capsule for low earth orbit, but if you want to send them to Mars (and have them stay sane), you need more living area.

Similarly, I'm happy to be cramped into the smallest of economy cabins for a two hour flight, but for 12 hours, I'd much rather have a large, comfortable seat (that turns into a comfortable bead), decent food, a personal waiter, and not have anyone kick my back. Of course the extra thousands of dollars don't make that super practical, but thems the breaks.
posted by Phredward at 8:06 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


Whoa, that Boeing arrangement is terrifying.

I read this article last night and ended up in a 90-minute google-hole of looking at airplane cabin arrangements. It appeals to the same little bit of my brain that is fascinated by RVs and ship kitchens and microapartments and office supply stores.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:29 AM on April 26 [10 favorites]


What is linked to above as the "Airbus Configuration" is Cathay's new standard business class, and is installed on their Boeing 777-300s. The "Boeing Configuration" link is their old-style business class, not sure whether / where it is still flying.

An interesting airplane nerd / business traveler point is that many airlines are launching their Boeing 787s with "old school" less-suite-like business class seats, reserving their suite products for the bigger long-haul mainstays (777-300s and A380s.)
posted by MattD at 8:37 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Gulf Air, which is based in Bahrain, reduced its annual fuel bill by a hundred and twenty thousand dollars a few years ago by using slightly thinner leather in the upholstery of its first-class seats—a change that involved just sixteen seats on fifteen planes.

People are rather thin-skinned these days so it was going to happen anyways.
posted by srboisvert at 8:38 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


Also -- while fancy pants business class is getting a lot of oxygen, the more exciting development is the premium economy product that carriers are rolling out. The non-US long haul operators are using seat width and pitch (legroom) comparable to regular U.S. domestic first class, while the U.S. carriers are a bit more stingy -- same seat but more leg room in domestic and slightly more seat width in long-haul international. (For example, the American Airlines new seating model for its 777s is 10-across, 30" pitch in regular economy, and 9-across, 35" pitch in premium economy, while Cathay and JAL's premium economy is 8 across.)
posted by MattD at 8:41 AM on April 26


Man, I love me a train. It's barely even travelling. Sit in a comfy chair and take it easy. Then you are in a different place!
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:04 AM on April 26 [15 favorites]


It's barely even travelling.

This pretty much sums up train travel in the US.
posted by Kitteh at 9:07 AM on April 26 [42 favorites]


The thing that always bugs me is how people in first class and Delta Sky Club members (or that airline's equivalent) have "priority" boarding so that they have the "privilege" of being the first to board.

I'd rather pay extra to be the last one on and the first one off.
posted by VTX at 9:13 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


they have the "privilege" of being the first to board.

Boarding First Class first makes sense when they have pre-pushback drink service. By the time the plebs in Row 97 are seated, you can already be two G&Ts in. I think that's traditionally why they do it.

It didn't make sense for Economy Plus type seats that don't come with drinks, until, that is, they started doing the shitty charging-for-checked-baggage thing, meaning that now everyone tries to bring their footlocker-sized rollaboard suitcase and shove it into the overhead compartment in order to save $25. That turned overhead bin space from a convenience feature into prime real estate, something that it's worth getting all knees and elbows over. And if you board first, it means you're guaranteed overhead bin space.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:34 AM on April 26 [8 favorites]


Priority boarding gives them a better chance to stow their steamer trunk-sized carry-on and their Sherpa backpack personal item.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:35 AM on April 26


I am in NYC so I probably have the best train options for America. The commuter rails are fine seats for an hour or so, as long as you're not taking them during packed commuter times which is often my fortune. When I ride Amtrak I feel like a champ, and that covers DC, Philly, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, and environs.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:29 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


[Thread is about airplanes? Trains thing is a derail here, har har.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:30 AM on April 26 [14 favorites]


free business class upgrades everytime
posted by bukvich at 10:31 AM on April 26


> I'd rather pay extra to be the last one on and the first one off.

In first class you have guaranteed overhead baggage space, so you could be the last one on the plane, store your carryon in the overhead bin, and be one of the first ones off the plane also.

As someone flying back to Australia for the third time in four months, I'd kill for the lay flat seats of business classes, on boeing or airbus. There is nothing crazier than falling asleep on a plane, getting six hours of sleep, only to wake up and realize there are still six more hours left on your flight.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:36 AM on April 26 [1 favorite]


The premium economy thing is just a scam to torture us with smaller seats until we give them more money to escape.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:38 AM on April 26


I'm getting confused about the carry-ons. Are they footlocker-size, or steamer-trunk-size?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:40 AM on April 26


Yeah, they don't even need to bother upgrading anything in first or business anymore, they can just continue downgrading steerage pour encourager les autres.
posted by elizardbits at 10:40 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


Are they footlocker-size, or steamer-trunk-size?

Footlockers for domestic flights, steamer trunks for international. Obviously.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:45 AM on April 26


I'd just like airlines to enforce luggage restrictions for carry on. I'm fed up of people trying to concuss me wedging their kitchen sink into the overhead locker.
posted by arcticseal at 10:45 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


For example, the American Airlines new seating model for its 777s is 10-across, 30" pitch in regular economy, and 9-across, 35" pitch in premium economy, while Cathay and JAL's premium economy is 8 across.

I was on a 10-across 777 on BA from YYZ to LHR and it was hellish, and I'm only 5'3" (and had some quite pleasant strangers next to me). I can't imagine how larger people handle it at all. I practically threw money at them to get me on the premium economy coming back.

I'd just like airlines to enforce luggage restrictions for carry on. I'm fed up of people trying to concuss me wedding their kitchen sink into the overhead locker.

I know I am a bad person, but it does nastily amuse me when a family has all its members bring on massive carryons, plus laptop bags, plus purses, and are then told to put most of it under the seats in front of them due to lack of room. "This wasn't part of the plan!"
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:51 AM on April 26 [5 favorites]


They should have a mock-up of the cabin by the terminal and if you want to bring on the maximum allowed sized carry-on they time you getting out of your seat and pulling out the bag. the fastest X times (where X is the number of bags they have room for) get to bring theirs on. Everyone else gets to check theirs at the gate.

Because I hate when I have to wait for the people in front of me to wrestle their bags down and get off the plane FOR TEN FUCKING MINUTES AND THERE IS NO IN FRONT OF YOU, YOU SHOULD BE WALKING DOWN THE ISLE SO I CAN GET OFF THE PLANE WHY WEREN'T YOU READY TO FUCKING MOVE ALREADY AND WHY DO YOU WANT TO STAY IN THIS CAN ANY LONGER THAN YOU HAVE TO!?

Likewise, if I'm in the aisle seat, I'll get up when the plane stops moving and ask the people in my row if I can get their bags down. They way when the isle clears we're ready to move so that the folks behind me don't have to wait any longer.
posted by VTX at 11:25 AM on April 26 [2 favorites]


The last two times I've flown anywhere for more than an hour's flight the person at the aisle seat was one of those "lol i'm gonna wait for everyone else to get off the plane first" people who are fine if they are in a window seat but RAMPAGING HITLER MONSTERS when they are in an aisle seat.

they too shall be stuffed into the wicker man
posted by elizardbits at 11:34 AM on April 26 [11 favorites]


I've flown first class once in my life, for work. It was with American Airlines, and it was so crazily better than economy it sort of stunned me. Back in AA economy, you're crammed into a tiny space for eight to ten hours across the Atlantic, with some Texan lady with a perma-scowl hurling your foil-wrapped dinner at you.

In First, there was literally a guy with a bowtie called Dale who seemed to be utterly thrilled to give me booze and food, on demand. The seat/bed thing went flat and I actually managed to sleep. It was nuts.

And I'm painfully aware, after looking at the links in this post, that my experience was kind of at the low-end of first class air travel. It's like a microcosm of the whole concentration of wealth in general. As a Westerner who can afford to fly anywhere at all I know that I'm very much at the top of the global pile, but it seems kind of strange how insanely better the high-end experience of travel can be. I guess the rise of 'Economy Plus' is a reaction to that, since airlines have realised that even at $500 or $1000 a ticket for economy passengers they aren't going to be making enough money to cover the rising costs of fuel, taxes and everything else that is slowly grinding away at what will probably be an all too brief period when global air travel is even half-way affordable.
posted by Happy Dave at 11:47 AM on April 26 [4 favorites]


In First, there was literally a guy with a bowtie called Dale who seemed to be utterly thrilled to give me booze and food, on demand. The seat/bed thing went flat and I actually managed to sleep. It was nuts.

I flew Asiana business class not too long ago, and I'm not kidding that the way it's ruined the experience of all subsequent economy travel is actually a strike against having done it. Athough on balance I'm still incredibly glad I had the chance.

United Airlines Exploring Viability Of Stacking Them Like Cordwood
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:50 AM on April 26


My international flights are mostly for work. Our tickets cannot be upgraded. The only, desperate hope I have us that my flight is Star Alliance so that I can try and snag an economy plus seat at checkin. At least my pitiful Silver status gets me priority boarding so that I don't have to knife anyone's grandmother over bin space.
posted by wintermind at 11:52 AM on April 26


oliverburkeman, I know it's from The Onion, but United would do just that if they could. On the plus side, it would eliminate the need to interact with the most resentful flight attendants in the industry.
posted by wintermind at 11:57 AM on April 26 [3 favorites]


In First, there was literally a guy with a bowtie called Dale who seemed to be utterly thrilled to give me booze and food, on demand. The seat/bed thing went flat and I actually managed to sleep. It was nuts.

Premium Economy, the couple of times I've taken it is actually not insanely dissimilar to this, at least transatlantic. Someone hung up my coat and brought it back to me 5 minutes before landing, and I was amazed. Then they spent ten minutes searching for green tea just for me when I refused the orange juice. Then they came by offering fresh issues of the New Yorker and various other magazines along with my menu and Real Non-Plastic Big Girl Cutlery and I would have fallen over had I not been reclined with my feet up. Plus the staff at least pretend better not to hate their jobs and customers. It's a hell of an upgrade from economy.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:59 AM on April 26


Not to get further off track, but the instant I read about the 'sleeping compartments' I began thinking about the recent Pullman-car revival thread. There was a poster who was concerned about those who wanted the Pullman experience but, you know, without the black porters, literally using the word whitewashing. I acknowledge the framing but think it's dismissive of how the black porters' union was important in offering professional employment for many African-Americans outside of traditional roles (even while it created a new sort of carefully controlled role heavily defined by personal service and what we now, in these somewhat more enlightened times, believe to be demeaning and subservient). So, to bring this back around, I was curious why the job of black porter was in one fell swoop reconstituted as female stewardess back in the days when those two things overlapped and, indeed, competed for travel business.

The book (which as you may infer heavily trends toward my more complex point of view on things) Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class has a few pages on the topic. The reason, of course, is what you think it is, unfortunately. To summarize the main points:
* black passengers were deliberately excluded during booking, or in some cases, given isolated seating (back of the plane, or a particular single right-hand-side front seat on DC-3).
* stewardesses were not to accept tips, nor were they to do maintenance tasks (sweeping up) in front of passengers
* naturally, stewardesses were white until American began hiring "Negro" stewardesses in the 1960s, which gave them a progressive cachet
* New England & Western^ was the only carrier (a short-lived one) to transplant the porter experience to the air (but perhaps only white males?)
* other airlines, however, were involved in the transformation of the rail station redcap into the skycap, and as air travel stole business from rail, many workers made that exact transition themselves
* and finally, in 1978, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (later "of Porters and Maids"), and that of the Railway Clerks, merged with its counterpart to become the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks. Today part of the IAM after a stint as the Transportation and Communications Union.

Obviously a job that is all but exclusively assigned to a minority isn't ideal, but in an era when many adult black men have limited job opportunities, I wonder what we lost in this transition. We certainly still have the travel concept and the associated personal services down.
posted by dhartung at 12:15 PM on April 26 [7 favorites]


I've flown first class once in my life, for work. It was with American Airlines, and it was so crazily better than economy it sort of stunned me.

For what it's worth, I've had the opposite impression whenever I get bumped to first class (which to be fair has only been a handful of times.) I always leave thinking: well, that was more pleasant than economy, but it sure as hell wasn't two thousand dollars more pleasant. Not even close. I have often shelled out $80 for an economy plus seat, because I'm tall and it's nice to have the legroom. But I'm not sure first class offers much more than that. If I want someone to smile at me while they give me orange juice and a magazine I'll go to a coffeeshop once I get off the plane.

Plus the staff at least pretend better not to hate their jobs and customers. It's a hell of an upgrade from economy.

Again, the exact opposite as far as I'm concerned; flight attendants routinely get treated like crap and no matter what people say to them they seem to be able to maintain the Professional Mask of Pleasantness. Do they all meditate a lot? Is it drugs? I don't know, but it's damn impressive.
posted by escabeche at 12:48 PM on April 26 [4 favorites]


I agree that the cost seems ridiculously excessive compared to the amount of time you're sitting in a business/first class seat. Occasionally I think about getting a nicer flight and then decide against it when I remember how much the money would have matter to a younger, poorer me (or indeed, other people) and throw it in my 'fund for starving artists'.

But on the times when a big company wants me to fly out to a thing and they agree to business class, goddamn does it make a difference. I once flew from the UK to Brazil overnight and had to give a talk a couple of hours after I landed; not only was I feeling fine but I appeared to be more alert than the other local people there. Given the cost of their event, etc. etc., it probably made economic sense to them to spring for the business class flight.

This also reminds me of a great bit in Ken Macleod's Cassini Division SF novel, where we're all living in a socialist semi-utopia, and airports are bereft of shops but full of libraries; and drinks and food on planes get served by bored passengers who want to do something nice.
posted by adrianhon at 12:57 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Fun Fact! Earning Elite Status on American Airlines requires giving yourself radiation exposure equivalent to a Head CT scan, or around 40% of your yearly normal background radiation exposure.

Calculations:
5k elite miles for round trip between NYC and LA == 80 microsieverts
~ 0.016 microsievierts per mile.
100k/year elite miles necessary to earn elite status

100,000 miles * 0.016 microsieverts = 1600 microsieverts.

Head CT scan? 2000 microsieverts.
Normal yearly background radiation exposure: 4000 microsieverts.

In a banana equivalent dose? That's an extra 16k bananas per year you are eating on top of your normal 36k bananas per year.

Source: http://xkcd.com/radiation/
posted by Freen at 1:13 PM on April 26 [7 favorites]


It didn't make sense for Economy Plus type seats that don't come with drinks, until, that is, they started doing the shitty charging-for-checked-baggage thing, meaning that now everyone tries to bring their footlocker-sized rollaboard suitcase and shove it into the overhead compartment in order to save $25. That turned overhead bin space from a convenience feature into prime real estate, something that it's worth getting all knees and elbows over. And if you board first, it means you're guaranteed overhead bin space.

It really makes me wonder what's wrong with valet check. I never put anything important in my carryon and then just volunteer at the gate to check my bag. I get checked luggage for free and don't have to wrestle anything into the bin. But people will howl like wounded bears if they can't drag their giant rollon bag into the plane.

I guess you can't guarantee that it works, although all the planes I've been on in the last two years have been so crowded the gate staff practically weep on my neck when I do it.
posted by winna at 1:19 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


escabeche: "For what it's worth, I've had the opposite impression whenever I get bumped to first class (which to be fair has only been a handful of times.) I always leave thinking: well, that was more pleasant than economy, but it sure as hell wasn't two thousand dollars more pleasant. Not even close. I have often shelled out $80 for an economy plus seat, because I'm tall and it's nice to have the legroom. But I'm not sure first class offers much more than that. If I want someone to smile at me while they give me orange juice and a magazine I'll go to a coffeeshop once I get off the plane.

Oh, fully agreed. I have never paid and probably will never pay for first class air travel. It was a work perk and was probably semi-justifiable given the value of the work I was doing and the distance I was travelling.

I think it is emblematic of many, many things that there is such an economic division in our society whereby $2000 is just crazily over the top for a huge majority of people for a six hour flight and essentially pocket change for the people who buy it as a matter of routine.

Frankly I'm heartily sick of every measure of quality of life resembling a hockey stick. I'd much prefer a gradual slope.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:31 PM on April 26 [4 favorites]


winna, I usually travel for work, and I try to pack very light. I avoid checked baggage whenever I can because, in my experience, my bags are lost or damaged about half the time. This is consistent across airlines. I prefer to not risk that if I don't have to.
posted by wintermind at 2:04 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


Back in the 80s, I started working for a publisher which had an inflexible 'same class for everyone' travel policy. As it was a privately owned and insanely profitable publisher, that class was first.

For a couple of years, I - a lowly section editor on a tech magazine who happened to have a lot of reasons to go to the US - started every damn flight by turning left. Virgin, which had just started up, was the default carrier, and I'm pleased to say it was intent on wooing its top tier passengers.

Our company abandoned its travel policy when it went public, This was a couple of years after I joined, which was sad - oddly, the strict fiscal disciplines imposed by the process magically made all the money vanish, not just that supporting the Devonian FL360 fine wine habit - but by then, Virgin was convinced I was very special and I managed to carry on turning left for a little while longer under my own steam (though not my own bank And, gentlemen, let me assure you that sending a first-class SFO-LHR return ticket to a woman you met on AOL is both effective and very, very stupid).

Since then. my airborne life has been firmly in the back of the Boeing and at the arse end of the Airbus. Those two years plus a bit seem like a fever dream, and I could never in a million years actually make myself pay the sort of money it costs to turn left. Just couldn't. But I can so understand that if you're spending someone else's money making it happen and you get the chance to keep that happening even if - shockingly - it may not be for the good of everyone in your company, you'll do it.

First class air travel is so much part of the wage inequality feedback loop, it isn't funny. First class for all, or for nobody, say I.

(As evidenced by that beacon of egalitarian technology, Concorde, which has just one class.)
posted by Devonian at 2:07 PM on April 26 [2 favorites]


The only times I've flown business have been random upgrades due to rescheduling and Etihad's random 'women and children first' upgrading. I fly a ton but my NGOs policy is economy only so I am used to sleeping bolt upright (60k miles this year already, ugh).

I sat next to a Lady (capital L) coming back from the US once, she asked to borrow my pen and didn't give it back. I was furious that someone with that much money, a title, and monogrammed luggage could happily swipe my 1quid Muji pen. I eventually had to feign some excuse to ask for it back.

Then again, on that flight I was the hypocrite reading "No Impact Man", a book about not having an environmental footprint, in business class.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:09 PM on April 26 [1 favorite]


she asked to borrow my pen and didn't give it back

I work for and collaborate with a lot of actual 1%ers and they are the worst fucking pen thieves I have ever, ever met.
posted by elizardbits at 3:54 PM on April 26 [15 favorites]


dhartung: So, to bring this back around, I was curious why the job of black porter was in one fell swoop reconstituted as female stewardess back in the days when those two things overlapped and, indeed, competed for travel business.

A salient detail: The airline stewardesses whom airlines hired in the 1930s - beginning with Ellen Church - were originally nurses.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:26 PM on April 26


It probably isn't helpful to point out that real 1%ers don't fly First Class when private jet charters get you all of the luxury that you want on your own timetable. Those suites that we envy are the cakes that they expect us to be eating.

Also, for me, everytime I am tempted to spend money or blow points on a first class or business class upgrade, I stop and reconsider what kind of hotel room I could get in my destination for that kind of indulgence. Suddenly, twelve hours of free booze and being able to put my feet up on an ottoman looks like a righteous scam compared to four days in a hotel suite. Then I wind up doing neither and instead spend that money on another trip somewhere else.

Then again, on that flight I was the hypocrite reading "No Impact Man", a book about not having an environmental footprint, in business class.

Aww, man, I was on a work business class flight from LA to Sydney, watching the 11th hour and if there was a pop up option to max out my credit card with carbon credits, I would have done it so hard.
posted by bl1nk at 6:16 PM on April 26


For what it's worth, I've had the opposite impression whenever I get bumped to first class (which to be fair has only been a handful of times.) I always leave thinking: well, that was more pleasant than economy, but it sure as hell wasn't two thousand dollars more pleasant.

First-class domestic US or first class international?

Because I agree, there isn't much difference between an Economy Plus (or whatever your airline of choice calls it) and first-class domestic.

But the difference between first-class international long-haul and economy is huge, especially on non-US carriers.
Of course, then you're paying $5000 or more for the difference.
posted by madajb at 6:18 PM on April 26


Back when economy flights to London were in the multi-hundred dollar range, not the multi-thousand dollar range, I used to simulate my own lie-flat seats by buying the entire 3 across row.

I don't drink on planes, so I didn't really miss the free booze, and you didn't have to spend 2 hours in the airport pre-TSA, so the fancy lounges never really mattered.
Grab some pillows, wedge them up against the window, wake up at LHR 7 hours later.

Of course, now that would cost as much as a first-class ticket bought straight up.
posted by madajb at 6:24 PM on April 26


Even on domestic flights without the full space-pod first class experience, the upgrade is worth it.especially if you're 6'2" with the shoulders of a linebacker. I used to love flying, until the seats and legroom began to shrink year after year.

I was also ruined as a kid, because my mother worked for an airline and we flew first class all the time. And this was pre-deregulation when there was still an element of class to flying. Back when the pilots would pin wings on all the kids on the plane, and delayed flights would get buffet dinners rolled out to the passengers waiting in the terminal.

Despite traveling a lot as adult, I only recently (past 4 years) started really paying attention to rewards programs and working towards elite status. Doing your homework pays off. I fly enough to maintain silver medallion on Delta and I pretty consistently get first class upgrades. The trick is to do everything you can to avoid heavy business routes. Delta doesn't even give upgrades on flights from NY to LA, SF, or SEA. I fly NY to LA and Seattle a lot and I usually connect through Salt Lake or Minneapolis. Supposedly it also helps to check in for your flight as early a possible. Not sure if that really makes a difference, but I do it anyway.

I haven't really ever tried to get upgraded on an international flight. I usually just go with the cheapest non-domestic airline I can find. In my experience going to Tokyo, I can usually find a cheaper JAL, ANA or Korean Air flight, and the service and seat space in economy on those airlines is like flying economy-plus on a domestic.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:06 PM on April 26


My awareness of "first class" runs like this:

U.S. Domestic short hops. Not much to recommend it. You sit in a bigger seat for an hour, that's about it. I assume that most people who I see doing this are making a connection and booked their entire trip first class. I did this once, I got a cup of coffee in a porcelain mug, that was about the only difference between this and cattle-class.

U.S. Domestic longer flights. Is a real meal involved? Am I on the plane more than an hour and a half? This I'm open to. It can be quite comfy. The "culture" around this seems to be shifting, I'm noticing that it's becoming more common for upgrades to be offered at the airport checkin kiosk for a price ($90 last time I experienced it), which might shift these upgrades more towards a profit center and away from being a kind of travel secret that people could finagle for free.

International first class. This is something mythical that I've heard second- and third-hand tales of. I think Frodo got upgraded to this on his final voyage to the Undying Lands.
posted by gimonca at 10:15 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


Even on domestic flights without the full space-pod first class experience, the upgrade is worth it.especially if you're 6'2" with the shoulders of a linebacker.

Oh good lord, yes. I was sitting in the coach class exit row (hooray, leg room!) on the NY-DC shuttle yesterday and while I'm also 6'2" I have a pretty normal-width frame; the guy next to me was fairly angular and didn't look all that big but his shoulders were physically pushing me out into the aisle.

This also was following a long-haul flight where the teenage girl next to me started crying because she had a peanut allergy and couldn't find her epi-pen during the snack service. Yikes.
posted by psoas at 9:43 AM on April 28


U.S. Domestic short hops. Not much to recommend it.

It's all about the free booze.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:01 PM on April 28


Okay, that's true. The hop I took was first thing in the morning. For me at other times of day, or for some other people at any time of day, that's worth considering.
posted by gimonca at 5:11 PM on April 28


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