I guess I am glad for the opportunity, especially that it is for one of my longer flights and not just for a short hop to Toronto or New York, or even Charlotte or St. Louis.
As I sat at the gate waiting for my flight from Montreal to Southern California (via Las Vegas) the gate agent announced that they were oversold, and that any volunteers to be routed through Chicago would be bumped to Business Class, at least for the first segment. Though Vegas was not my final destination, and because my schedule necessitates my being in SoCal this afternoon, I hesitated before asking the agent if she could route me from Chicago directly to my destination, rather than through Sin City. After all, as much as I hate O’Hare, a three hour layover in Las Vegas where you cannot turn around without hitting a slot machine might just prove too tempting.
Before agreeing I made the agent check the weather in Chicago. The last thing I needed was a delay or a cancelled flight. She assured me that it was cloudy but no cause for delays. I also pushed my luck and asked for Business Class through to California. Sometimes it pays to push your luck, because the second leg (operated by US Air) actually has a First Class cabin, and wouldn’t you know it there was a seat available to me!
As a child I once flew First Class on a flight with my parents that had been so delayed that most of the passengers had been rerouted, and we had most of an airplane unto ourselves (there were twelve passengers or so with room for 300 or so). That was in the days where First Class really was, and though I was far too young to enjoy the complimentary champagne, I remember enjoying the experience tremendously.
So now as I fly the friendly skies (Ok that was a different airline) somewhere over… well, between Montreal and Chicago, My opinion so far is that the seats are definitely more comfortable, the service slightly more attentive, and unlike the plebes in Coach I can comfortably open my larger-than-most laptop without adjusting myself or compromising visibility. I can also do so while enjoying my coffee because the tray is much larger.
I always suspected that the reason the crew drew the curtain between Economy and Business Class was because once in-flight they donned skimpy cocktail outfits or who knows what and treated the rich… differently. So far the flight attendants are still wearing the same outfits they wear in the back of the plane and they haven’t turned on any music or brought out massage tables, but I will hold onto that dream. Maybe they are reserving that for the flight from Chicago to SoCal… I’ll let you know.
Each seat does have its own personal entertainment centre, but that is standard for all seats in Air Canada’s new Embraer 170 and 190 planes (this one is the 190). I checked just in case they offered more movies… maybe the Playboy channel, but the movies are the same as they were last week.
The lovely Flight Attendant just brought me a warm towel in preparation for the meal, neither of which is available in Steerage. Of course you can buy meals back there, but this is so much nicer!
Okay the meal was very nice… roast beef and brie with fresh vegetables served with a nice Argentinean red wine… and all on real plates, with real silverware, and glass stemware. It is a fresh change from the five dollar lunch served in a paper box with (if you’re lucky!) plastic cutlery. My wine glass was refilled a number of times and though I am certainly not intoxicated by any means, the discomfort in my back is gone… or maybe that is from the better seats.
On another air-travel related matter, I have noticed of late that all of the book sellers in all of the airports I have been through of late all have adult magazines for sale. I will say that for someone like me who has read both EnRoute and the United Airlines magazine cover to cover by the second week of the month it is necessary to bring your own reading material onto the plane, but I am curious to know who buys Hustler to take onto an airplane? I have certainly never seen anyone reading it, though admittedly I like to stay in my seat and not pry in transit. I asked the cashier at one of the stores recently and she confirmed that they were really big sellers. Until today I figured that maybe they were for Business Class travel and up, but that is another myth debunked.
Although it really makes little difference in the grand scheme of things, I do not particularly enjoy waiting in the crowded aisle waiting to disembark. Rule: the closer you are to the front of the airplane, the less time you wait. Also in Business Class the aisles are a little wider, and there are fewer pushy people crowding you in.
Waiting between flights I find it makes a huge difference to be able to access the First Class Lounge. Normally I would currently be walking up and down the concourse aimlessly because I hate sitting at the gate and working on my laptop. I would probably have purchased a drink and maybe a snack which in any airport these days means more than a few dollars. The lounge has a full service cash bar with free soft drinks and snacks. As I was drinking on the flight in I passed on the cash bar, but an apple with a glass of juice was a welcome pick-me-up. As well I have a nice desk with a phone and power connection to sit and write at… it also gave me the opportunity to make a couple of phone calls. Of course I have all of these fancy cellular phones, but as it happens one of the calls I made was to the cell phone company, and to be able to configure the phone while on the phone I was happy for the handset!
Boarding first is nice… I always hear the call for ‘Our first class passengers my board now… all the rest of you heathen can wait!’ I think United goes a bit overboard by placing a red carpet that only the elite are allowed to board from. Nevertheless it was nice to get settled in and place my carry-on luggage before the good spots were taken.
They may call it First Class but I am not sure that the forward cabin of United’s Airbus 320 is any more comfortable than Air Canada’s Embraer 190 was. Maybe the fact that the A320s are a bit longer in the tooth has something to do with it, or perhaps it was sitting alone on the 190, but I found the seat more comfortable in Business Class. The power jack to plug in my laptop was a big advantage. Also United does not have the personal entertainment unit, and to watch the movie (no choice… Bridge to Tarabithia) I had to watch the tiny screen a couple of rows up. I almost decided to watch that movie on the first leg of the journey… Maybe fate intervened? I was also considering a movie called The Painted Veil, which a day earlier would have been my only choice. Perhaps I’ll see it on the way home.
Michelle is the purser, and is in charge of the First Class cabin. She is quite pleasant and extremely attentive… She was quite distressed that their stocks of The Glenlivet were depleted, and to make up for it has made sure that my gin and tonic was always fresh – I have refused all others after the second one… for now.
Dinner was pleasant. The choice was between a chicken fajita wrap or a green salad with shrimp, which I opted for. Except for spilling dressing on my shirt it was pleasant, with all the luxuries of lunch aboard Air Canada, save for the wine (which was available and I turned down). A nice added touch was the white cloth that acted as a table cloth which added a touch of class.
All in all it is a much more pleasant way to fly than the Economy Class I generally frequent, but luxuries are just that, and I would get to my destination either way. Do I enjoy it? Absolutely. Would I pay extra for it? Well, if the difference were Fifty Dollars I probably would, but for double or triple the cost of the ticket I will continue to fly steerage, much in the same way I might admire a Bentley but am equally content with my Toyota.
The one luxury which I really did find made a difference was the First Class Lounge. That is available to elite members once they have flown a certain number of miles or accumulated enough flight credits. While I was waiting in that lounge my second call was to see how far I am from that status, and it is looking good… a few more weeks and I will be able to hobnob with the elite on layovers in seclusion from the unwashed masses… even if I do have to fly with them J