Flying First Class is Not Awful (and other obvious observations)

first class airline travel
When you're finished we'll take your half-chewed omelette and send it back to coach.
first class airline travel
When you’re finished we’ll take your half-chewed omelette and send it back to coach.

I’ve never once complained about flying coach.

Let me quickly qualify that before you label me an elitist asshole. I’ve only ever flown first class once, and that was because a boss upgraded my ticket for a short flight to Birmingham. But I’ve been flying since I was a kid, so I’ve shuffled past hundreds of first class passenger over the years. When I say I’ve never complained about sitting in steerage, what I mean is that I’m not one of those people who scowl at the fortunate souls in the first class cabin. I don’t assume they’re horrible people, or that they’re lucky. And while I’m not huge into status, I love the idea of being able to buy a first class ticket. To have the means to plunk down 3k on a flight to Newark if I was so inclined. In fact, when I walk by the first class passengers I often think, “I should work a little harder!” or, “Gotta save better!”

I fly probably 6-8x a year, and never for work. I’m not making quarterly treks to Indonesia, and the total miles flown per annum is not enough to warrant even a thank you text from American Airlines’s CFO. Plus, I don’t have the dough to spend on first class when I’m visiting my sister in Tampa. It’s $2,500 for a 90 min flight, and that doesn’t appear to be a logical use of my savings. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the airport yesterday and my boarding pass read “Premier First Class.” I freaked out because I assumed I must have “butt-dialed” an upgrade when going through security. “Would you like to upgrade to first class for only $1700?” Shit. I checked my credit card – no charges. I even went back to see what I paid for the ticket. $300. Hmm.

I briefly thought about asking the gate agent what “Premier First Class” means, but that’s so not a first-class move. A true first-class flyer doesn’t go, “Why does it say first class on my ticket?” I was afraid they’d go, “Oh no! That was meant for a shiek. We made a mistake. You’re seated in the last row, middle seat, across from the bathroom that smells like doody.” No way I’d forgive myself for queering this deal.

But I didn’t know what “Premier First Class” meant. I assumed it wasn’t regular first class, so I quickly Google’d it while they were about to start boarding. Right as the results came back the gate agent announced, “First class passengers can board.” I threw caution to the wind and got in line. I elbowed past all the other people waiting for their group to be called. This was a full flight and several hundred people were waiting. All eyes were on me as I inched to the ticket person. If I misread this ticket, I’d be shamed in front of the pack. And, that’s exactly what happened. Well, not to me. There was a family in front of me from some country that doesn’t speak English. They misunderstood and got yelled at trying to board during first class boarding. I put my phone on the screener thing and the woman goes, “Go ahead Mr. Paris. They’re waiting for you.”

By the way, you’re only allowed two carry ons, but I always carry three because one is a CPAP. Every time I fly I have to answer the question why I have three carry ons, and because I don’t use a CPAP while flying I often am forced to check the bag. This gate agent witnessed my three bags and smiled at me with a look that suggested, “Only three carry ons? Well, okay – if you want to travel light, that’s your business!”

The best part about first class isn’t the free stuff, or the leg room, or even the private attendant. It’s the camaraderie. Everyone’s instantly your friend, and everyone is smiling. People are joking around, talking with one another, and being hospitable. Don’t have room in your overhead compartment for your messenger bag? No problem – the guy behind you will make room in his bin.

Oh, and the attendants know your name before you come aboard. When I sat down, Ron shuffled over immediately and said, “Hi, Mr. Paris. I’ll be taking care of you. So excited to have you. Hot towel?” I turned down the free glass of champagne since I don’t drink. Oh well – they hooked me up with freshly squeezed orange juice. In a real glass! If you didn’t know this, in first class they like to feed you. I had an egg dish of some sort with a cheese I couldn’t pronounce. It wasn’t bad. The glass of fresh berries was a nice touch. When I got up to use the bathroom the attendant patted me on the back like we were old pals. After six more hot towels we touched down in Phoenix and I had a connecting flight to catch.


I have to tell you, two days ago I got a random check in the mail from the State for three grand. No explanation of what the check was for or why it was cut. I asked my accountant and she couldn’t figure it out. She told me to keep my mouth shut and cash it immediately. I’m sure I must have overpaid something and it was just a refund, but I’d like to keep thinking I was the recipient of a clerical error like that one Community Chest card in Monopoly. So, to recap, I got an unexpected check from the government and two unexpected first class upgrades in the same week.

But what about my travel back to Chicago? Could I be looking at a first-class upgrade hat trick? Sadly, no. My flight on the way home appears to be regular old coach. I’m in row 26, and nobody with any status chooses that number. I’m going to ask my Hindu friend to educate me on a chant to appease their God of Luxury Travel. I’ll cut out meat and whatever else is required to earn back their favor.

And, oh yeah, I should work a little harder and save more.

I coulda been a contender
I coulda been a contender! I coulda been somebody!