THE BLOG

First Class Flight

04/29/2016 09:26am ET | Updated April 30, 2017
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"It's something everyone should do at least once."

Fall in love? Visit Paris? Buy a gerbil? No. Fly first class.

My son and his wife had moved to California and I was planning my first visit. I knew I'd be happy flying out to see them, but on my return trip to Philly I was bound to feel blue.

Why not treat myself to first class on the flight back, to have something new and fun to look forward to?

Uh -- maybe the whopping $326 price tag? But I'd warned Tom when he moved across the country that he'd left me no choice but to squander his inheritance on cross country visits. So just this once, why not go for an upgrade?

Economy to California. First Class back. So what exactly did I get for that extra $326?

Waiting to board my California-bound flight, I stood in a throng of anxious fellow passengers, while gate agents announced: "It's a full plane. By the time you board, there probably won't be room left in the overhead bins, so why not volunteer to check your suitcase now?"

"This is what we get for flying in the cheap seats," I remarked to the woman standing next to me.

"What are you talking about?" she asked. "We're flying to California. There are no cheap seats."

Excellent point.

I watched enviously as the First Class folks sauntered onto the plane, secure in the knowledge that there was more than enough room for THEIR stuff.

Upon boarding, I nabbed the last available space to stow my suitcase, then buckled myself in. We were packed into those seats like sardines in a can. But, checking out my fellow travelers, I was happy to find that I'd been spared Mr. Morbidly Obese Seatmate, Miss Body Odor and Mr. Loud-talking Motor-mouth.

And the ubiquitous sobbing baby was many rows away.

In flight, to stretch my legs, I'll occasionally leave my seat to stand at the back of the plane. Some flight attendants consider this THEIR space, and discourage passengers from making ourselves at home there.

But today, flight attendants Mario and Taylor, instead of chasing me away, made me feel welcome. After bonding over the topic of working with the public (I'm a librarian), we moved on to current events and Presidential politics.

"Do you like ice cream?" Taylor asked. First Class had ended up with extra sundaes, and he proceeded to gift me with one. As I gobbled free ice cream, (It's a well-known fact that food consumed in flight has no calories) a variety of folks came back to use the lavatory, then stayed to join the conversation, including a bearded fellow in a cassock who responded to my compliment on his outfit with an informative lecture about the Greek Orthodox Church.

By mid-flight, we had a fabulous salon going on at the back of the plane. We were landing in San Francisco before I knew it.

The trip back?

This time I was among the elite to board first. After I settled into a comfy leather seat with ample leg room, Michael, our flight attendant, introduced himself. Then, as the other passengers filed glumly by on their way to the sardine seats, he served drinks. (In actual glasses!)

The moment we hit cruising altitude, Michael morphed into a waiter at an upscale restaurant and spent the next two hours wining and dining us. The food was delicious, our drinks constantly replenished. And for desert? Surprise -- an ice cream sundae!

After handing around a basket stocked with post-dinner snacks, Michael left us to our own devices. (Literally, since everyone in First Class but me was tapping away on a laptop.) I settled in happily and read my book until we landed in Philly.

Am I glad I flew first? Sure. It's something everyone should do at least once. But was it worth that extra $326?

Well, I don't know if this is good news for United Airlines, but I enjoyed the fight out just as much as the return flight. Yes, First Class had fabulous seats, guaranteed room in the overheard, and a tasty meal on actual china. But schmoozing with a couple of cool dudes who make you feel welcome -- not because you paid more but because they're basically nice guys? And who treat you to free ice cream?

It's hard to top that.

Would I splurge for first class again?

I really can't afford that luxury. But the next time I board a plane, I hope to be re-United (HA!) with Mario and Taylor. Any flight they're on is going to be first class.