The Curse of Perspective

On July 4, 1997, I couldn’t believe my luck. It was my first summer as an intern at America West, and this was my first attempt at traveling on my benefits. I, and every other person working for America West in Phoenix, had the same brilliant plan. Let’s get the heck out of Phoenix and head to the beach. I was hoping just to get a seat on the airplane, but incredibly, I found myself in First Class, sitting in row 1 on our decade-old 737. It was all downhill from there.

The Curse of Perspective

Sure, I had flown up front a couple times before, but it was a rare and special event. That’s how it felt on this short flight as well. I was downright giddy at having what was effectively a free drink and a slightly wider seat for an hour in the air. And I know I’m not alone. For a lot of you, an upgrade on even a short flight is a remarkable thing worth enjoying.

After this flight, however, I began 5+ years of interning and then working full time with America West. I traveled a lot, and a First Class seat became pretty routine. I’ve had more than 100 flights in a premium cabin since that day. With routine comes a sense of normalcy. In some cases, I’d pick my flights based on the chance of sitting up front. I became disappointed and jaded if I didn’t get the upgrade.

Of course, this was a domestic airline, so I could still be wowed. Fast forward to May 23, 2001. A friend in the alliances group was able to get me approval to upgrade on British Airways on a trip I had planned to visit a friend in the Army stationed abroad… if there was space. I agonized over the plan for days, trying to pick the flight that would give me the best chance. A friend of mine at BA looked at the aircraft routings to find one of the airplanes that had a flat bed in Business Class, one of the earliest examples of that now ubiquitous product.

I settled on flying through Newark, and on a dreary day, I landed myself in my first flat bed in the sky. I was more excited than a kid at Disneyland. I may have had a flat bed, but I didn’t go flat for long. I was just too amped up playing with everything. I watched movies, I listened to music, I stared at the moving map endlessly. Morning came quickly, and I should have been tired. I wasn’t.

Since then I’ve had my share of highs, but like a drug user, it takes more to get me going now than it used to. I’ve flown British Airways in Club World a few times since then, and each time it becomes less captivating. I’ve flown several other airlines in a variety of different types of seats. I’ve even turned down short trips that were only offered in coach because I didn’t think I’d get enough rest. My experiences to date have ruined by perspective. I simply can’t appreciate flying up front nearly the way I did on that short flight from Phoenix to Orange County nearly two decades ago.

So why do I bring this up? I was reflecting on the trip report I just posted flying back from Honolulu in First Class on Hawaiian. I was bothered by so many of the little things on that flight… the overbearing seatmate, the mediocre chicken, the dry dessert. How stupidly entitled does that sound?

Back in 1997, that report would have been completely different. I would have marveled over the seat not only being wider but having a foot and leg rest. I would have been incredibly impressed by the attentive service from the smiling flight attendants. Heck, I would have been taken aback by the multi-course meal, regardless of how it tasted. But this isn’t 1997, and I’m a lot more jaded.

Of course, I’m not alone in this. The road warriors out there have it far worse than I do. Sitting in First Class, or at least in an extra legroom seat, becomes a bare minimum to survive the grueling week. But for the vast majority of people in this world, a ride in First Class is a special event worthy of far more enthusiasm than I can muster these days.

I wish I could deliver trip reports that captured that sense of awe that I used to feel so much more frequently, but it’s incredibly challenging. Certainly some trips will naturally give me that feeling (like a trip I recently booked for next year flying in Suites on the Singapore A380), but that bar keeps moving ever-higher. Despite my best efforts, I know that I won’t be able to write a report that captures the feeling that so many of those who are lucky enough to sit in a premium cabin have.

So what can I do? I can certainly keep this in mind when I write up my reports, and hope that I can use this to bring perspective to my trips. But other than that, I can just consider this post to be a disclaimer for my future trip reports. I’ll do my best to write something that you can relate to, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty amazing flying experiences that can color my point of view. Of course, you always have the comment section to smack me around as well.

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39 Comments on "The Curse of Perspective"

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SirWired
Guest

Well, at least you, unlike a great number of travel writers, do not moan like you are undertaking the Labors of Hercules if you suffer the horrors and indignity of setting back in Steerage/Cattle/Torture/etc. Class.

You would not believe the number of columnists that seem to not notice that coach class is where the majority of the flying public always flies, and most of them don’t whine nearly so much about it as a member of the travel media.

David
Guest

Next time you are in Europe, could I suggest trying a 7am flight for 4 hours from Stansted on a Saturday morning in summer too see how some of us fly ? It’s not hell whatever journalists might say but should give you a good idea of how those of us who pay from our own pockets without FF miles have to fly if we want to fly often…

Durcy D
Guest

Or try connecting in the evening in FRA with 45-50 minutes connecting time during any period of heavy traffic – you’re more likely than not to end up in an airport hotel…

Don’t worry Cranky, we get it. We all get spoiled after a while… If you feel bad enough to take one for the team, how about doing a trip report on Spirit or Allegiant? I’m super curious to hear how they stack up against others. More precisely, if I’m looking at 2 hour weekend hop while carrying just mu backpack, are they good enough option?

James S
Guest
Excellent points. I’m a road warrior (in a plane at least twice per week every week for the last two years) and am fortunate enough that my employer, or my status, puts me in an F seat about 85% of the time. It becomes something you expect, and when it doesn’t happen – particularly on a mid-con or transcon flight – you worry about how you’re going to get through the trip. Of course that sounds petulant and entitled, because it is. I flew Chicago to San Jose in Y last week (the F cabin was sold out completely and… Read more »
southbay flier
Guest
I hear you on this. I remember my first flight was on a Cessna and that was fun. My first commercial flight was on a United 737 in 1987 (737-200?). It was fun. The seats seemed spacious in coach and they served finger sandwiches and cheese on a 50 minute flight (you don’t get that in F anymore). My first flight in F was awesome (except for the smoking) and my first flight in int’l J was in a British Airways recliner in 1989. After that, I was spoiled. Today, the flight experience is just not what it was back… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
The times I’ve been to Europe was always in first class and I’m not sure I could ever make a long international trip in coach, I give credit to the thousands of people who do it every day. I do think it’s funny on a narrowbody when everyone loads from the front door that first class passengers (mostly upgraders) will be sitting in their F seats while coach passengers line up in the aisle to board. What’s funny, well the first class aisle passengers who forced their way to the front on the line to board first, are now sitting… Read more »
Jeremy Anderson
Guest
My first experience in First Class was on Delta, probably a 757. I was headed to LAS for a job interview, the flew me out in first. This was probably the 3rd or 4th time I had ever flown, it was post 9-11 (as all my flying has been). I was not the AV geek I am now. I was so nervous about the idea of the job interview, the thought of moving from Ann Arbor to Las Vegas, I barely noticed the 4 hour flight. I was offered a hot towel and I looked at the FA like she… Read more »
SEAN
Guest
Bret, What you describe Is similar to the concept of diminishing returns. Is this why the blog is called The Cranky Flyer as aposed to “The Jated Flyer?” LOL As I was thinking about what to post, you jogged my memmery on my various trips to Las Vegas over the past 20-years. When I first went back in 1994 the city & the Strip were much different then compared to today. Looking back, MGM was the only megaresort & it was a lot easier to get around then now. But to watch the regions transformation on so many fronts has… Read more »
SEAN
Guest

As a follow up.

james
Guest

Logical and well put. So: When are you booked on the Emirates suite?

Don Murray
Guest

I used to work for a US airline. Back in the 1970s, we flew coach to Rio for our honeymoon. We didn’t get very good weather, so the next month we flew on a pass to Saint Thomas. The only other people in First Class were the pilot’s wife and son. (It was on thanksgiving day.) It was a great flight (except they couldn’t find the bags at Saint Thomas for a while).

I definitely agree that if you can flew in a premium class, go for it!

Laurala
Guest

It’s really good of you to notice this. For what it’s worth, I’ve never noticed you sounding particularly jaded.

I still get mega excited when I get to sit up front, even if I’ve paid for it myself. Last time, it was on Air Canada and I was so giddy that I tweeted them that I loved them just before takeoff.

malbarda
Member
I think apart from the fact that your perspective that has changed, the airlines have changed, too. The upfront product is now so “generic” across airlines that it all feels the same (unless you are lucky enough to be able to go for the super-first-over-the-top service). I have flown on many, many different airlines in Business and it all feels the same, more or less. I remember flying on British Airways when the “sleeper service” was introduced, only my flight originated in the UK (as I lived there at the time) and being amazed at the idea of a bed… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest
I hear ya. I never flew much, let alone in a premium cabin, until I was nearly 30. Then, my former employer asked me if I’d be interested in working with our fledgling practice in India. Said employer’s travel policy allowed business class for flights in excess of 7 hours, so needless to say, I got hooked on international business class really quickly. After I was done with that role, I ended up in a new one that required a decent amount of domestic flying, and thanks to the status I’d built up from years of buying international business class… Read more »
airmm
Member

To add to your perspective, make sure you write some reports from the back of the plane, including flying international. I can’t fly in business for my job, even intl, so the travel planning takes longer and the trip is more painful. Just reviewing the front of the plane is not the full story. My most recent DL flight was probably the best ever, partly due to new Y interiors and new IFE. I didn’t know it would be that good; it was dumb luck.

broadcreek48
Member

When I asked a BA flight attendant whom I met at a social gathering, I asked which aircraft he flew. Usually 747; sometimes 777. When i asked if he ever worked in coach, he looked horrified. Never! There are more than passengers who want to be up front.. And it shows.

broadcreek48
Member

When I met a BA flight attendant whom I met at a social gathering, I asked which aircraft he flew. Usually 747; sometimes 777. When i asked if he ever worked in coach, he looked horrified. Never! There are more than passengers who want to be up front.. And it shows.

Erik B
Member

I like this post. I think the best thing to do is just to recognize it. That’s probably the best way to combat the issue, but even there, it’s probably a bit hopeless. I feel the same thing happening to me, especially with hotels. We try to keep it in mind when booking things, but it’s hard to fight the upward creep.

A
Guest
Personally for me sitting up front is still a big deal. I get it maybe 2-3x per year and it’s always a treat. Heck, getting free lounge access is appreciated. Maybe that’s why the trip reports aren’t always my favorite posts. Ho-hum, another write up about luxuries that I probably won’t experience anytime soon. Meanwhile I’m hoping that my next flight is at very least on mainline metal and not another CRJ! That said I have a friend who is a true road warrior. Flies out every Monday and back on Friday with easily 4+ flights between cities in-between. He… Read more »
Dan
Guest
Hi Brett, As a former airline employee, there was a stretch where a confirmed seat in coach was actually something to look forward to. There was some strange feeling of satisfaction knowing that the airline *has* to get you there, even if the timing isn’t guaranteed. (While on-time percentages suck, completion factor is generally higher than 98%, so if you’re on a non-stop flight, you can pretty much count on getting there that day. Missed connections are a different story.) I hear you on how the “impress me” bar keeps moving higher and higher. I’ve done really, really with the… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

AFAIK, Alaska lowered the price of their first class to aim for selling more seats instead of upgrading folks, for this very reason. They’d rather fill the cabin with people who have been selected to sit there. CF, Has there been any news on how that has been going for them?

Although the last time I was in AS first, it was the only seat that I could redeem my DL miles for on that plane.

haolenate
Guest

I think its done quite well, although as an MVP Gold I can buy into First Class (Y-UP) for sometimes $100 – $200 more than the fare I am looking at buying, including the longer hauls to Hawai’i. I think that averages about $100 over the fare we presently pay.

It has been a bit more difficult to upgrade this year compared to last – at least on the flights I’ve taken. And I’m buying more-and-more Y-UP tickets than I previously had.

Geoff Canyon
Guest
If you haven’t seen it, check out Louis CK’s rants about everything is amazing and nobody cares. At one point he’s talking about how when the high-speed internet went out on a flight, the guy next to him was complaining that it was BS, and Louis CK says, “How can you be disappointed that this thing you only found out about ten seconds ago is broken?” And, “Are you disappointed? Are you disappointed that you get to ride in a chair, in the sky?” And further, he lays into people complaining about delays, saying, “You fly from New York to… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Geoff, thats a great video.. I found it over here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEY58fiSK8E

Sadly the aspect ratio is off, and the sampling quality of the video sucks too. How did they live forty years ago with only three channels and no VCRs and rotary dial phones? Must’ve been torture.

markpappai
Member

Why do I feel this photo needs some caption, like the Dos Eques most interesting man commerecials.

“I don’t always fly, but when I do it is up front with a scotch in my hand and protectors over the head phones.”

partim
Member
Back in 2002 I finally went on my first long-distance flight. I didn’t know anything, so I was late for check-in and got a middle seat way back in an overbooked A340. I couldn’t even plead my case, no knowing what 51E on my boarding pass promised: hell on wings. And, because this was Frankfurt to Vancouver, it just wouldn’t end. I dreaded the return flight. Waiting in the boarding area, my name was called and a stern German lady (in itself a shocking thing after two weeks in Canada) demanded my boarding pass and instructed me: “You are now… Read more »
Chris
Guest

There are worse things than not getting an upgrade. Cancer, Bankruptcy, False Arrest, etc.

haolenate
Guest

add “getting downgraded from First to Economy, only to find yourself in 32E.. middle seat, last row” ^_^

(but Alaska flyers beware — that is one reason to avoid booking in row 4 on shorter-haul flights. If Alaska swaps out a 737-800 for a 737-400, your seats will vanish. *pOoF*

DesertGhost
Guest

Much of life is exactly as Brett has written about regarding his airline experiences. Things get mundane and we tend to seek something better,

jboekhoud
Member

I believe the phrase is “chasing the dragon”. It’s as real for premium cabin travel as for any other drug.

SEAN
Guest

What Brett says is sharp & honest, but as said above flying itself has degraded over time in the persute of market share & so called profitability. This has caused some great & legendary names such as TWA, Eastern, Midway & Western to vanish or be swallowed up into the quad that is now Southwest, American, United & Delta.

Also how much of the legends of flying in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s before deregulation are just that – legends with little basis in truth.

Mark Skinner
Guest
Another aspect of memories relates to the standards of “then” vs “now”. My first trip that I can recall was in a Douglas DC3…and I was sick. The second in a Douglas DC6b…sick again. I managed to keep my food down in the next, which was a Vickers Viscount, but it was a noisy screaming aircraft. However, the food, seat pitches and reclines were better, and for a young boy, probably luxurious relative to his four foot height. I also remember that after handing in the luggage, it was a short wait to get on the plane. No airport dramas… Read more »
jboekhoud
Member
An airline cuts back on meal service, and customers cry bloody murder because they’re not getting a cheap drink and TV dinner they’d never consume willingly on the ground. The couple of times a year I travel long-haul in a premium cabin, I piss and moan if I’m stuck in a non-fully-flat seat or on a “crappy” airline like Air Canada or United. I remember showing up in Bangkok and being livid that I was going to be stuck in a recliner for a five-hour redeye to Beijing. And yet, I regularly commute two hours in Y on a Q400… Read more »
Geoff
Guest
Brett, it’s good for you to be introspective about your reviews and potential biases, but IMO the pros of your breadth of experience far outweigh the cons. By having flown a bunch of different products, you know if a configuration is well-designed, makes good use of space, is comfortable relative to others of similar type, etc. I think it’s interesting to note the several comments from people who prefer reviews of “seats they’ll actually fly in” and think that there is an under-filled niche for reviews of Y and Y+ products, along with innovative C and F. I think the… Read more »
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