First- and business-class air travel is amazing. That said, nothing is perfect. This list is intended more as a consumer-facing criticism and a comfort for coach flyers rather than as a complaint. I would happily accept a surprise upgrade anywhere, anytime, most likely embarrassing myself by enthusiastically squealing like an outsize squirrel in reaction. But on the few occasions I was lucky enough to get an upgrade, I made some observations about my experiences, some good and some bad. Here are 10 of the crummier parts of upper-class flying.
Sometimes It Makes You Feel Like a Jerk
As a first-class passenger, you feel like a luminary when you’re called to board before all other passengers. That’s until you realize that you’re boarding before families with children, stepping around stressed-out moms smothered in toddlers and brightly colored bags. Then you see that you’ve been called to board with uniformed military. Shouldn’t they go first? What have you done to deserve the same honor bestowed upon the heroes of our armed forces? Cue the raw, involuntary spiral of remorse and shame.
Domestic First Is Barely a Step Above Economy
Premium classes are anything but consistent across airlines, especially when it comes down to domestic versus international. One might even go so far as to call first class on U.S. legacy airlines a disgrace to the very idea of upper-class flying. On major domestic carriers, first class is often simply a cabin with slightly larger seats. Maybe the flight attendants smile a bit more. And you get on the plane first. But beyond that, this world doesn’t resemble the lavish flying salons of long-haul international first and business classes on major airlines. So is the domestic first-class experience worth the asking price? That’s up for debate.
Inconsistency Extends to Lounges
Another reason why domestic first class is inferior: There are no swanky airline lounges in most U.S. airports. And many of the ones that do exist are disappointing compared to the lavish lounges you find overseas. I’ll reference dirty couches, stale refrigerated sandwiches, and creepy bathrooms in the airline lounge of a major East Coast hub, without naming names. Let’s just say the lounge had all the luxury of the public-access terminal waiting area, which is where I ended up waiting for my flight.
Some First-Class Passengers Are Entitled Brats
Yes, entitled folks fly coach, too. But here’s the difference: Whining coach flyers are vastly more tolerable than whining upper-class flyers. How can folks in “sky suites’’ complain about a 20-minute delay when there are 300 other people on the aircraft who have to endure the same conditions in the cruel confinement of a three-by-three coach-class purgatory? When a seatmate in economy expresses his discontent, I’m likely to join in the gripe fest. Yes, friend. Flying is the pits! But when a passenger next to me in first class seems annoyed about the minor frustrations of air travel, I feel the quiet urge to make him suffer.
You Can’t Pick Your Seatmates
A loud or smelly seatmate can ruin a first-class experience. Babies exist. Sometimes they travel. We were all babies once, and no one should ever get mad at traveling babies for acting as babies do. However, given the choice between an economy seat next to a quiet adult and a first-class spot by a crying, screaming youngster, I’ll take the former, thanks. If there were some kind of for-free product through which premium passengers could screen seatmates, I bet there’d be plenty of takers.
There Are (Sometimes) Middle Seats
If you pay in miles or dollars for an upper-class seat in the sky, you probably don’t want to get the wedge between two strangers. Armrest battles should be relegated to coach. Although uncommon, some last-generation aircraft still in use have three-seat rows in premium classes. I can’t imagine that a person who cashes in several years’ of mileage savings for an upgrade would be especially thrilled about getting stuck with a rare premium-level middle seat. Plus, non-angled lie-flat seats are difficult to step over without kicking your sleeping seatmate in the shin.
It Ruins Your Diet
It rains unlimited free drinks and candy bars in upper-class cabins. This is bad news for flyers with less reliable levels of self-restraint. Who can resist those boundless portions of fresh food? Those of us who suffer from compulsive hoarding tendencies when faced with breakfast buffets or unlimited cocktail specials will understand why the siren song of free food and fast service in first class is the ultimate diet killer.
Many would argue that the only thing to hate about flying in an opulent private suite is the price. Some of the more lavish suites on long-haul international flights can cost the equivalent of a year’s salary for many people, rendering upper-class flying but a dream for Average Joe. It’s not like we can blame the airlines, really, with pricing being mostly a function of demand. And the perks of mileage accumulation place premium-cabin access within reach of avid flyers who aren’t members of the one-percent club.
The Rules Don’t Apply
I’ve observed the following in first-class cabins on international flights: reclined seats during takeoff, photography, bathroom use during taxi. I watched a first-class passenger slyly hide her bag under a blanket when a flight attendant requested that personal items go up top. (We were in the front row of the plane, where there is no under-seat space.) The flight attendant chuckled and let it be. That never would have happened in coach. Although it’d be impossible to get anyone from an airline to admit it on record, anecdotally, I can confirm that rules are sometimes meant to be broken in premium-class cabins.
It Ruins Economy for Life
This is the absolute worst part of upper-class travel. For most of us, an occasional upgrade is a rare treat, an opulent pause in a torrent of bland coach-class experiences. Once you’ve been on the receiving end of superior service, bottomless Champagne, and just-cooked meals in a lie-flat seat surrounded by well-dressed happy people, the eventual return to the back of the plane feels freshly tragic. Is it really better to have loved and lost?
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