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.
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.