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Flying 1st class

Su Lum

I’ve amassed quite a few “miles” with United, but it’s hard to use them in the underling baggage class and even harder if you need oxygen onboard. But, they told my daughter Skye, if I wanted to upgrade to FIRST class (almost double the miles) I could be in the friendly skies, free of charge, on my preferred departure and return dates.United is looking very iffy these days anyway, so why not spend the miles while I can? And the prospect of a comfortable seat took the edge off my apprehension about taking a solo three-week voyage to visit my mother in New Jersey.This was my first, and probably last, venture into the elite zone so I hasten to file my report while the experience is still fresh in my mind.One benefit that was immediately apparent was a special check-in line for first-class passengers, bypassing the cattle in the corrals. There was also a special line to go through security, but the Denver airport was so packed that everyone, regardless of special status, crept forward inch by inch and we were all mooing and pawing our hoofs in chorus, afraid that we’d miss our planes.There’s no security advantage to first class. We seemed, if anything, to get even more scrutiny, perhaps due to our proximity to the cockpit.On some planes, first class is really swank with reclining Barcoloungers to drool for, but on the 757 Airbus between Denver and Newark, the digs are more Spartan. Still, there was a marked difference between the cramped seats in steerage and the wide, comfortable seats in first class.I was the last passenger huffing onto the plane, and it was a treat to sink into my window-seat easy chair with a flight attendant asking what I’d like to drink before my seat belt was buckled.Another advantage of first class is the proximity to the bathroom. I was in row two of six, which is just about as proximate as you can get and especially handy when you have to take off your oxygen for what, in third class, is often a lengthy wait. First class cuts no ice, however, if you’re stuck on the tarmac in howling winds, or if the ride is so bumpy the seat belt sign stays on well into the flight, or if you hang in an endless holding pattern over Newark.Nor does first class get you any better movies (“The Alamo” was playing), or protect you from the yanging 2-year-old in the seat ahead who, between howls, pulled the string on his Fischer-Price telephone toy which cried, “HelLO … goodBYE,” over and over as young women in the vicinity considered tubal ligation.First class does get you a cup of warm mixed nuts (no peanuts) and your choice of halibut or rosemary chicken, served on something resembling china, with a semi-edible salad, zucchini, pasta and a choice of warm rolls. Alas, the chicken was bone dry, and I had to chortle that the silverware consisted of a spoon and two forks plus a plastic knife. Thank god for Homeland Security, you could just imagine what a passenger might do with a regular table knife. Meanwhile your drinks are served in heavy-duty glasses and your food tray comes equipped with a real wine glass, both of which I think, and hope I may say without being accused of subversion or terrorist intent, could be turned into more dangerous weapons than an ordinary table knife. “Ms. Lum,” my flight attendant, improbably and I hoped not prophetically named Angel, asked softly, “Would you like a hot fudge sundae?” Whoa! The final touch was the distribution of small hot towels, rolled into tight packets and handed out with tongs. It was a sweet touch, but my final analysis was that I’d have to be a really big drinker or be on a longer flight on a bigger and better plane to make it worth the extra $4,500 I would have had to pay if I had actually been paying. Su Lum is a longtime local who is being driven mad with computer problems in New Jersey. Her column appears, cyberspace willing, every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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