It's not that I haven't flown first-class. Not, of course, that I'd paid for it, but neither does anyone else up there. In my case though, it was neither a matter of dogged diligence in accumulating miles, or questionable use of some firm's stockholders' funds that got me my seat. Or seats, actually, because for some reason, Varig Airlines, late and much lamented, took to regularly upgrading me and my whole family.
The first time this happened, I got so excited, particularly when the champagne came around that I was retching in the bathroom by the time we stopped in Lima. But by the second or third trip, I'd stopped feeling obliged to finish the Veuve Cliquot that they'd opened for me. Let them pour it out. Let them open another. The luxury was boundless, and where was my second pillow, and some pudding for the children?
So, fine, there is my disclosure. I liked it, you would like it, and I would like it more if you were there, too, and everyone else in the plane, which is what separates me from much of the world these days, but not from Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines, which have no first or business class, which is why they are my new favorite airlines.
For one thing, the seats are more comfortable, since that inordinate, unseemly amount of space is not taken from the plane for those ridiculous seats in the front. And then, too, one is spared the strange ritual of filing past those privileged ones, who not only are seated much, but much, more comfortably than you and everyone else around you will be, but also were permitted to push past you right from the get-go. Smiled onboard ahead of the rest by fawning personnel, while you cool your heels among what is suddenly made to feel like the lower orders.
And then, even as you are finally allowed to trundle your way back to steerage, your progress is impeded as the flight attendants hustle through the front of the plane to serve drinks even before take-off. Lest you wonder how good it is for them up there, which is precisely how bad it will be for you back there. In fact, the last time I flew Continental to Houston, the bloody Mary's were already served in front before I was even on the plane, but we didn't get our waters until we were landing.
Which I why I typed in "Southwest" this time. And right from the start, it was working for me. My bag was free, which meant I checked it rather than struggling it down the aisle and then up into the overhead bin, and so did a lot of other people, which greatly simplified the act of boarding. But best was that there was none of that nonsense in the front. We were Americans here, not some pre-French Revolution nitwit princeling culture. There were babies in the front, and old women. People who needed to be there. In seats like everyone else's, with space divided equally among us.
And the attendants were nicer, too -- much nicer, perhaps because they too were spared the bowing and scraping and catering to the front of the plane. Everyone got their peanuts and Ritz crackers. I traded seats with someone traveling with a child, so was given a free glass of wine.
I had forgotten how bad wine could be, but I drank it. There was ice in my water glass, which helped. The attendant came by with a refill. I hesitated.
"Twist your arm?" he said.
I laughed and took it, put in the last of the ice. It didn't seem so bad any more. It came to me that I hadn't had a pleasant interaction with a flight attendant in a very long time.
"Is this a good company to work for?" I asked him.
He told me it was. Said they "took real good care" of their people. I wasn't surprised. When I got home that night, I signed up for their mileage program.
Not that the planes are terribly nice, or overly clean. And there wasn't the movie screen, or the infinite TV. But it was worth it to me, to be back in an egalitarian America, and if Southwest flies where I'm going, that's the way I want to go.