“Away, Part Two:” Live From Business Class

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NW Business Class Video Entertainment SystemNothing illustrates a class system in America like the one that exists on planes.  Not only are there separate cabins and bathrooms, but there are separate rules, food, and expectations of behavior.  There are different check-in and security lines, and baggage allowances.  The majority of the time we travel, I’m a coach passenger; lined up in the hellish aisles waiting for the bathroom with the masses of humanity.  I choke down inedible food out of a box and sit with the little hairs on my knees tickling the little hairs on my chin.  From my hunched over position,  I look upon those in business class with disdain and disgust and I imagine ways to storm the curtain and sneak into their bathroom.  Ever notice how they can use ours, but we can’t use theirs?  You know what I mean.

From the front of the plane, on the other side of that curtain, a whole different world exists; a world that I love. We got lucky for our trip to Europe and were able to use miles to upgrade to business class allowing me to step into that world.  Now that it’s happened, I don’t think I can go back.

Here’s why:  “Live From Business Class:”

“Please let us turn left.  I really want to turn left!”  This is all I can think about as we head down the ramp toward the door of the plane. Getting closer, I look at my husband and verbalize my thoughts.  “Don’t you hope we turn left?”  “Huh?” he answers.  How can he not be thinking the same thing?  In an effort to explain I say,”You know, when you get on the plane and you turn left to go into business class and everyone else turns right to head into coach.”  He looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.  Shaking his head, he says, “You know you have a problem, right?”

In my defense, it’s rare that I get the chance to turn left.  A few times, when all the stars have aligned and it’s offseason, and blackout dates haven’t reared their ugly heads, we’ve been able to upgrade using miles.  Petty and shallow as it may make me, I’ll admit, I’ve reveled in the hard left turn. It’s even possible that I have jumped up and down gleefully a few times, instantly ruining the “I do this all the time” nonchalance I was so hoping to achieve.  Not wanting to get too excited though, I remind myself that the last time we won the lottery and flew business class we were denied the left turn due to the configuration of the plane.  I still feel robbed.

Up ahead, I can see the cabin door. There are only a few people ahead of us because, due to our “business class” status, we are among the first to board.  Today only the infirm, those traveling with small children(shouldn’t they board last and have to spend less time cooped up?)  and military personnel are ahead of me.  As is usual, the instant the agents call for boarding, whether in row one or forty-five, people are jammed up against the agents’ kiosks thinking today is the day and this is the last flight out before the earth explodes.

The sea of people steps aside for me as  I make my way through the specially roped off area and walk over the neon red carpet marked “ELITE.”  “Excuse me, excuse me,” I say, smiling condescendingly. “They are calling for me, not you.”  Aren’t I soooo very special?  I know, I’m awful.

Arriving at the plane, I realize that I’m entering the nose which can only mean that there is NO LEFT TURN!  Are you kidding me?  Remind me never to fly this airline again.  Feeling like I’ve been punched in the gut, I turn and punch my husband in the shoulder.  “Can you believe this?”  I think he is horrified by me.  Reluctantly,  I turn right and get my first view of the business class section.  I swear I can hear the 2001 Space Odyssey song in my head and then, “TA DA!”  Oh boy.  Maybe turning left isn’t the end all.  This plane is new and if I’m correct, it looks like those seats recline to a full flat bed.

OMG…Look at the comforter and pillow on my seat.  Are those Bose headsets wrapped in plastic for me?  Oh, what’s in that Tumi kit of “necessities?”  That too, is seemingly mine to keep.  Inside it I find toothpaste and a toothbrush, a sleep mask, lotion and oh so many other fun little things.  It’s like a Christmas stocking full of surprises; a goodie bag at the swanky party.  And then, appearing as if by magic, there he is.  Perky, professional and poised.  I’m so overwhelmed that at first I don’t hear him.

“Welcome aboard.  Do you need any help with any carry-ons?  Would you like champagne, water, oj, perhaps a mimosa?”  I’m struck mute and am slack jawed.  Incapable of moving my lips or processing his words, I just sit there.  It seems he’s used to this type of response and patiently he waits.  So, it seems do all of the coach passengers lined up behind him glaring at me as they wait with baited breath for me to make my drink choice. “Champagne please,” I manage to squeak out.  My husband, casually getting himself comfortable in seat 4B, elbows me, nods and whispers, “What in God’s name are you doing?” The steward hands me a glass and heads to the person in 5C, who seems practiced at this routine and quickly chooses a mimosa.  I think as they pass me, I hear the coach passengers talking about the idiot in 4C.

After I chug down the first glass, I’m feeling a bit more composed. I’m working hard to seem like a regular.  A few minutes go by, announcements are made and I realize that I have to use the bathroom…immediately.  My nerves, the champagne and the soda I downed in the lounge pre -boarding have all made their way to my bladder and I’m about to explode.  As the perky, professional and poised steward passes by with more champagne, I agree to another glass and whisper to him, “Is it ok if I get up quickly and use the bathroom?”  Although I’m pretty sure the cabin door is closed and it would be an FAA offense for me to unbuckle my seatbelt at this juncture and head for the toilet, he smiles and says, in the most calming voice, “Of course, ma’am.  We still have time.”  This is my first indication that not only are there better amenities in business class, there are different rules.

Soon we are airborne and perky is back.  He’s handing out menus.  While I was prepared for this,  I am completely surprised that the quality and the quantity of food would be so amazing.  We are given a hot towel to clean up with,  REAL utensils, linen tablecloths, and an actual glass for my now third champagne.  I have soup, salad, a steak cooked to perfection, rolls and butter for dinner.  Then, a cart comes down the aisle.  I can make an ice cream sundae for dessert! Stuffed or not, I’m eating it.  I feel like the cheapskate at the restaurant who takes home everyone’s leftovers and the teabags.

Stuffed and just a wee bit tipsy, I settle into my flatbed, tuck my soft, fluffy comforter up under my chin, and watch a movie.  I FALL ASLEEP!  Thank goodness, my outfit; casual, comfortable, chic, yet looking like it was an effortless and put together without much thought, performs expertly and well it should.  I spent an inordinate amount of time planning it, shopping for it, and putting it together.  I couldn’t believe when I asked my husband last night what his “plane outfit” was going to be, and he responded, “I don’t know.  Whatever.  Probably jeans.”  Doesn’t he watch “Entertainment Tonight?”  If he’s going to sit in business class, he needs to dress the part.  OMG, what am I going to do with him?

When I awaken, I am almost sorry that I’ve missed time in this little mini heaven.  Perky realizes I’m awake and is over in a jiffy to ask if I’d like anything to drink.  Of course I do.  Then he brings me a hot cookie.  I feel that I might need some Tums, but no matter, I devour it.  I don’t ever want to get off this plane.  I doze some more, wake to watch another movie and then it’s time for breakfast. More menus, more mimosas, more bliss.  I think I’ve gained 5 pounds and have had 4-5 cocktails in the last 6 hours.  It’s awesome.

Damn, it’s time to land.  The usual announcements come on about buckling seat belts, putting tray tables away, putting seat backs in upright positions and turning off electronic devices.  I look around. No one is shutting off laptops, moving seats or clearing food, instead, several people are up, gathering things from overhead bins.  A woman two rows in front of me heads for the bathroom.  Perky says nothing, nor does anyone else in uniform.  There are definitely different rules for those at the front end of the plane.  They must assume that we are smarter and can use common sense better than the average traveler stuck in the back.  Clearly money and an elite mileage status talk.

Sure that people will be tossed around like missiles upon landing, I start to prepare, hoping others will follow my lead.  But, sure enough, by the time we are really about to land, everyone is appropriately prepared.  I guess we do know the drill.  We don’t have to be reminded because we are the “elite;” the seasoned travelers, the special ones, right?

We’re here and I’m excited to spend these next two weeks in Europe with my husband, but I’m most thrilled that in two weeks, when it’s time to go home, I can get back on the plane and do it all over again.  I can’t wait.

Ever been in heaven and flown business or first class?  What did you think?

Tune in for “Away Part III:  “Paris: A Lesson In Vanity”


photo by: dane brian