Growing up I never thought I’d fly first class – ever. I was a frequent flyer between the coasts as a kid, since my parents were divorced and I lived in New York while my dad was in California. I’d board the plane and remember thinking,
- I’d never have the kind of money needed to fly up front
- Even if I did, who would pay so much extra for a little bit of extra comfort over just a few hours? (Though I had no idea how much extra it actually cost.)
This was the early 1980s and I didn’t know about the AAdvantage program yet. The original AAdvantage charged 12,000 miles for a first class upgrade with no capacity controls. If there was a first class seat for sale, you could have it for points. Paid first class seats back then, though, were extremely expensive. Overall domestic first class might have been filled 10% with paying passengers.
By the time I’d graduated college and started flying for work I quickly earned Premier status with United (the equivalent now of MileagePlus Silver) and was excited for upgrades. My first flight as a Premier was Washington Dulles to Los Angeles on a Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. I did not clear the upgrade. But my Sunday return, on board a Boeing 777, I did get upgraded and it was over 4 hours of pure euphoria. I bought a copy of the Sunday New York Times and relaxed in business class. Lunch was a large shrimp appetizer followed by a steak. I had a couple of cocktails. And I didn’t want the flight to end.
After that I was hooked. I was excited to fly and to be upgraded. I did everything I could – connecting instead of non-stops, hunting for widebodies domestically, flying at noon on a Wednesday – to get that upgrade. And the first time I managed to fly ‘first class’ rather than business on a long flight I got an ice cream sundae!
That ‘first first’ moment though is something I’ll never forget. For me it was on United. But I absolutely loved this moment for a woman flying up front in the Spirit Airlines “Big Front Seat.” Spirit calls their first class that because it’s really all you get, the bigger seat up front, you don’t even get free cocktails. It isn’t a separate class of service, just an upcharge.
Spirit originally only offered this product because they didn’t have the money to replace the seats. Historically it’s been one of the best deals in travel but the airline often charges much more for the upgrade than they used to.
Still, this is a fabulous reminder for me to stay grounded. I’ve flown most of the world’s great international first class products, and I tend to see business class as ‘transportation’. But most people fly coach, and most never see a forward cabin. When they do, it’s like a dream. I think I’ll give away my first class upgrades a couple times in the coming month, for the joy I’ll feel seeing the joy that another passenger gets to experience.