Day #38: FM Belfast – “Par Avion”
There’s an episode of Seinfeld that neatly satirizes how we tend to think of the difference between first class and coach on flights (“The Airport,” Season 4). When Jerry and Elaine’s return flight to New York is canceled, they’re re-booked, but, Jerry gets bumped up to luxurious first class while Elaine gets stuck in coach. Of course, Jerry’s flight is perfect. It’s First Class! He and his seating companion, a beautiful model, are pampered with complimentary champagne and ice cream sundaes. “More anything?” the stewardess asks them. “More everything!” Jerry says as they all laugh like self-satisfied aristocrats. Meanwhile, behind the curtain, Elaine is miserable among the lowly rejects of coach class as she sits squished between an overweight man and a guy holding his over-sized suitcase in his lap during the flight in order to save time checking bags (this was before the days of modern baggage fees).
I was 10 years-old when that episode aired, so I was convinced that First Class was like Heaven because you could get all the fabulous ice cream sundaes you wanted at no extra cost. I didn’t get on an airplane for the first time until I was in high school. And though I’ve flown frequently since, I’ve never flown First Class. To me, it’s just this section in the front of the plane that has the most comfortable-looking seats. The section where passengers get to board first, and the flight crew sometimes gets in my way because they try to serve first class passengers drinks while the rest of jerks try to make our way back to our seats in coach. The section that costs more to be in. And, I never did see any gigantic sundaes being served there (0r any size sundaes, for that matter) anyways, so what’s the big deal?
Riding in coach isn’t quite as miserable as that episode of Seinfeld made it out to be, but with all the money-making/cost-cutting schemes concocted by domestic airlines trying to stay afloat (get it?!!), passengers probably do get miffed at things like having to pay to actually sit in a seat, and not getting those tiny bag of pretzels that used to come with the complimentary non-alcoholic drink. You know, as in, “I paid a hundred plus dollars to be on this plane, why can’t you spare your six or seven mini pretzels and the three inch cellophane bag they come in?”
Jesse McKinley recently wrote an interesting article in the New York Times about how even First Class on domestic flights isn’t so classy anymore (see “Whatever Happened to First Class?”). Seriously, we’re talking going from lobster and real silverware to wet naps and bottled water. It’s probably common knowledge that if you really want luxury, you have to fly international. As one of the Times readers commented, “First class does exist… just not on a US domestic airline. Try flying Emirates, Singapore, Thai, Qantas, BA, Lufthansa or any other number of other airlines that can actually make a profit. “ After my brother returned from Spain one summer, he spent two hours just talking about how great his flight was and he was just a coach passenger. On a flight to Paris last year, I saw for the first time seats that converted to beds. That was First First Class. It’s hard to go back to flying shitty domestic flights, regardless of where you’re sitting, once you been on flights like those.