How can you keep them down on the farm--or on the ground--once they’ve flown first class...
During the flight from Dubai to Frankfurt, I recalled some of my previous flights. My experiences could be a metaphor for my life: things kept getting better as I grew older.
My first flight was from Norfolk, Virginia, to Boston on an Eastern Airlines (which no longer exists) propeller airplane. The ticket cost $18, which was a large sum. One could drive the same distance for a few dollars worth of gas. Both the price of gas and airline tickets provide a lesson in inflation, for anyone interested in such trivia. Anyways, I had escaped from a school trip to perform a play at Black colleges (I was in the stage crew) to visit my uncle and cousins and needed to get home. My father was angry at the school chaperone for letting me leave, but scraped together the money for the airfare. Boarding was different in those days: I showed my ticket at the door and was pointed to a plane parked on the ramp. No jetways. No body searches. Fortunately, there was no rain. And, I have no photos from that time.
My next airplane experiences were in the back of a 707 crossing the Atlantic to Germany to visit my brother, who was defending the “free” world against the threat of communist invasion through the Fulda Gap. All I recall is that I was stuck for eight hours in a middle seat between two heavy smokers and food arrived on an aluminum tray, not unlike a TV dinner. For some reason, chicken comes to mind.
On my second flight I across the Atlantic, I had a camera and must have had a window seat. I was fascinated by views of Greenland, which I had learned in geography is not green
Various flights within the United States are memorable only in comparing them to flying now. Everything was easy. I do not recall any longing to sit in first class; I merely wanted to get from point A to point B. Fares were cheap.
My first flight across the Pacific was in a civilian 707 (company offering chartered flights to the military) from McChord Airbase in Washington to Cam Rahn Bay Airbase in Vietnam. I was fortunate enough to be sent to Vietnam late in the war, when the military was flying replacement troops and not sending them by ship.
The only privilege afforded officers was to seat in the front, but we had the same three across seating. Once again, I ended up in the middle seat. I recall the flight being very quiet, because no one seemed to be celebrating arrival at the destination. Every passenger wondered, I am certain, if they would be making a return flight.
We stopped in Anchorage and Tokyo for fuel, which provided a chance to stretch our legs. My strongest memory of the flight is the emotional speech made by one stewardess, after we landed at Cam Rahn Bay, wishing us all luck. It worked for me. I do not recall the flight home, other than that we landed at some air force base near San Francisco and I caught a flight to Denver to visit friends.
The following years saw several flights back and forth across the Atlantic on charters and various airlines.
In the late 70s, the exchange rate for dollars fell precipitously and prices took some time to level off. Anyone traveling to the United States from Germany benefited, so flying first class was downright cheap. Of course, flying economy was even cheaper, but I was young and foolish and on vacation. Those were the final days of luxury first class in the United States, where caesar's salad was mixed at your seat, chateaubriand was sliced on a cutting board at your seat, and ice cream was served by the scoop, not in a plastic container...or at all. That beats even the best first class service of late. Seats have improved, but food has not. Business class had yet to be invented.
Prices caught up with exchange rates, which even swung back the other way every few years. The best I could afford--or was offered by my employer--was business class. Plus, I had the burden of filling more seats. And, spoiling my kids, so that they did not have to suffer on a charter flight.
I became addicted to first class travel during my years as an executive for a global company and learned the subtle differences between airlines. Since then, I strive to avoid US carriers, all of which are far inferior to international brands. First class of some US airlines is inferior to business class on the best “foreign” carriers. And, even on the best of airlines, first class seats do not protect you from a hard landing any better than the ones in the back...and perhaps less, because they have individual speakers.
My wife and I have decided that, if we have to fly economy, we will not fly. That sounds arrogant, but it is merely a question of comfort and traveling only for pleasure. We prefer to stay home than to ride in the back of an airplane. Of course, this often limits destinations, because one can reach islands only on regional carriers
. Therefore, we will no longer visits places we enjoyed in the past, such as Abacco in the Bahamas or Ko Samui in Thailand. That is not a problem, because the choice of destinations reached by real planes is great. Some carriers offer very favorable rates on business and first class fares...which explains why I travel to and through Dubai so often. I have learned that the only thing better in airline travel than first class is an empty first class.
What is not good is a standby first class ticket, which one can buy if related to a Lufthansa employee. We learned that this is not such a good deal, when we were downgraded to economy, despite having a first class ticket. Paying customers and employees with a higher priority get the seats. Lufthansa economy is better than most, if not all, other airlines' economy, but it's still economy.
Somerset Maugham is supposed to have said that the best trips take place in the imagination. There is some truth in that, but one must get out and see places to feed the imagination. And, the guy never experienced first class travel in a modern jetliner. An old ad for ocean liners once claimed that getting there is half the fun, which was written in a time when trips took days. In the age of jet flight, getting there needs to be comfortable, not fun.
For example, Emirates business class is excellent and even good enough (here is a comparison photo, showing those suffering in the back).
But a first class cabin is the way to go (unless your ego--and net worth--is so large that you demand flying by private jet).
This item probably did not make the news outside Europe, especially in the United States because the story is about pilots and not a plane crash. And, who cares about a strike?
Lufthansa pilots are on strike for three days. Being the largest airline in Europe and one of the world’s biggest, you can imagine the turmoil caused by the cancellation of thousands of flights. The strike started at midnight last night, so planes and crews are scattered around the globe. Ticket holders in Germany receive free train tickets, international passengers are given free re-booking. A few flights are being operated by non-union pilots, but the number is insignificant.
People tend to side with striking workers in this country, but not in this case. The general tenor is against the pilots, because the majority feel that they make too much money. Germany is a country of jealous people. No one likes to see a neighbor earning more or even working longer hours. Pilots are one of the highest-paid groups, with senior captains making more than many CEO’s.
Number One Son, who joined the union, is enjoying a paid vacation in Berlin. Fortunately, the weather is fine, so he is visiting the zoo, beer gardens, and shopping arcades. He does not care how the strike ends up. Pilots tend to have a strong bargaining position, because the company cannot replace them...
Besides pricing policy and operating under very different labor laws/tax structure, I have noticed one big difference between Lufthansa and Emirates.
Emirates pilots switch on the seatbelt sign at the first hint of atmospheric stirrings and leave it on longer than necessary, seeming until the memory of “turbulence” has subsided. Lufthansa pilots, seemingly, start to think about the seatbelt sign whenever the first flight attendant is heading towards the ceiling.
Another aspect of turbulence, that I have often noticed, is that it always shows up at meal time. I have spent many minutes holding my wine glass to prevent the red wine from sloshing out. Eating is not a problem during rough weather, but one would hate to spilling wine and stain the table cloth or one’s clothes. Of course, one does not have that problem on most US carriers, especially in economy where spilling peanuts is not a problem.
On my first trip to Italy, I learned the word retardo. On my second trip, I learned how to make vinaigrette.
These memories came to mind as I made my dinner last night. I wanted to write that I learned to make vinaigrette on my first trip, but careful consideration proved that to be false.
My first trip was by military aircraft to Vicenza Airbase. Because neither Switzerland nor Austria permitted US military aircraft to pass through their airspace, a roughly one hour flight took three hours. We were forced to fly around the Alps, but at least the French let us in. Vicenza offered no appeal, so we decided to take a train to Venice. I learned that all Italian trains run late, but at least the country has passenger trains.
My second trip was also by airplane, but it was with Lufthansa. This was my daughter’s first trip, first time in an airplane, and first time in Italy. (It must have made a lasting impression, because she married an Italian.) I recall watching the waiter at the small hotel beside Lago Maggiore whip up a vinaigrette in a shallow plate with a fork. He dissolved salt and pepper in white wine vinegar and then drizzled in olive oil while constantly whisking. Fantastic. I follow the same method, but have yet to equal the taste. Still, this is far superior to any bottled variety.
The photo shows the view from the hotel where I learned to make vinaigrette. Of course, it was taken at breakfast on our terrace, one floor above the dining room.
One should not talk about such things, but I must confess that we flew 1st class on the trip home. It was not the first time, not will it be the last. We sampled business class on the new A380: the seating is not different from any other Lufthansa plane, but the ride seemed better.
The experience was compliments of Number One Son being employed by Lufthansa (finally getting a return on our investment!). Of course, we still had to pay the ridiculously low price and had to endure the nerve-tickling wait associated with having a stand-by ticket (after the excitement of attempting to return a rental car with an empty tank). The airline does not release seats to stand-by passengers, until the flight closes and they are certain no full-fare passengers have turned up at the last minute, even if there are plenty of non-booked seats (N1S can check bookings, so we picked a day with plenty of open seats). We were once downgraded from 1st to economy on a flight to Dubai (do I detect a hint of Schadenfreude?), so the deal is not foolproof. We never know how many company employees or dependants with a higher priority on the company pecking order will turn up on any given day.
Anyway, I highly recommend the experience, if you win the lottery or can convince someone else to pay. The food is better than in business class, but the main appeal is space, tranquility, and the ability to lie flat. Unfortunately, all classes are treated to the same turbulence and the same wait at immigration control. The cheap ticket comes with some limitations: one is not allowed to use the lounge or eat caviar. I can live with those restrictions to get the main advantages listed above.
I recall seeing a poster in a travel agency window (for young readers, that was where one booked travel before the Internet). It read: “If you don’t fly 1st class, your children will.” I have informed by children that I plan to die poor; travel is helping me to keep that promise.
NB. Because we enjoy such a favorable prices, I should not write anything negative about N1S’s employer. So, I will not compare the entertainment system to that of Asian airlines…
Another NB. Our first choice of airlines continues to be Lufthansa, because of its reliability, quality, and service. It is Miles and More better (wordplay intended) better than any American or EuopeanI don't care about entertainment, but some people do.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.