Are you priority?
That’s what some guy asked me while we were standing in line to board a flight last week. I knew he was referring to my American Airlines status but his tone really annoyed me, especially when he looked skeptical when I replied, “Yes.” I thought he was going to check my boarding pass.
I wanted to say, “And for your information, I am priority – to my wife, thank you.” Anyway, it was a crappy way to ask a question and it brought up my own issues around class.
As a matter of full disclosure, I must confess to having my own bias against men in airports. Calm down, I’m not speaking about all men, of course, just a particular species – the frequent flyer who thinks the airport exists for him alone.You know who I am talking about – the guy in the khaki pants and golf shirt with a carry on bag – always a carry on bag that should really be checked and will no doubt hit me in the head when he’s prying it out of the overhead bin.
The guy that’s usually sitting in first class and is already sipping his gin and tonic and reading the USA Today’s sports page as you trudge through the narrow aisles to your seat on row 32.
The guy who if he had his own line of cologne, it would be called Entitlement.
I guess flying has long felt like a modern caste system to me, separating the haves and the have-nots. Maybe working in the non-profit sector for over 20 years, most recently for a community based organization that serves the very poor, I’ve become a bit sensitive to these great divides.
And then a funny thing happened on my flight home earlier this week. I got upgraded to first class.
I got to be that guy.
Hey, what was I supposed to say, “No, thank you, I like the back of the plane.”
I tried to act nonchalant and well, entitled, but when the flight attendant asked me if I preferred lime or lemon in my glass (no can, you silly slob) of seltzer water, I knew my coolness would be tested.
But I learned that first class is not without the challenges of the main cabin – namely crying children and weird seatmates – because I had both of them on my flight.
I know flying is rough on little ones so I sort of zoned out on that but the guy sitting next to me was a different story. He was very disheveled with wrinkled clothes and wild hair and was frenetically typing on his laptop the entire cross-country flight – at 6:00 AM.
I was profiling him – tagging him as some Silicon Valley nerd who made a fortune in widgets or something. I assumed he was working until I glanced over and saw that he was looking at hand guns on the internet – page after page of handguns. Gulp.I snuggled up to my window in my big seat and fantasized that I was sitting next to Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren. I wanted my dreams to be first class, too.
I passed on the in-flight breakfast because I had gotten up at 3 AM to make my flight and thought it best to stick with the fizzy water. I actually slept a bit which I normally can never do on planes. I woke up and looked at my iPhone and almost an hour had passed but weird gun guy was still my seat mate and still tapping on his laptop.
Then came the most fabulous part of first class – the hot towel. “Would you care for a hot towel?,” asked the attendant holding a tiny one in her tongs. The inside my head voice shrieked, “Are you freaking kidding me?”And then there were baskets of snacks passed around – not run of the mill peanuts and such – but fancy snacks like gluten-free cookies and smart popcorn. I was living the dream until I remembered that I am currently unemployed, which actually made me giggle to myself. Irony usually has that effect on me.
Our flight landed in Charlotte and I went immediately to the restroom – I try to avoid airplane bathrooms at all costs – so I can’t tell you if the first class can is better or not. As I turned the corner into the ladies room, I was greeted by an attendant with a cheerful smile and a thick Eastern European accent.
She said, “Welcome to Ladies Room, beautiful ladies.” I felt like I had arrived at the Ritz Carlton or something.
She was so happy! Sure, she was trying to finesse some tips but still, she spends her work day in a public restroom and she was smiling like, well, like she loved her job.
I wondered what she had been through to make it to our country. I’m sure it was a journey of many miles, literally and figuratively, and I’m sure she didn’t travel first class with hot towels and cookies.
Still, I think she would make for a fascinating seat mate