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December 22, 2005

Going First Class

For a guy who writes so much about transportation, trust me, I’m something of a homebody. I don’t like to travel anymore. Not that I don’t enjoy visiting different cities (and do so almost weekly for business), it’s just that the journey from here to there is not much fun anymore. Whoever said “getting there is half the fun” hasn’t flown lately.

Getting to and from the airport is a major hassle and expense. Airports (and planes) are jammed. Getting through security is like visit a proctologist. Flights are inevitably delayed. Meals enroute are but a memory. Frequent flyer programs have whored themselves, passing out “elite” status to so many passengers that it’s impossible to get an upgrade, let alone a free ticket.

But there is an alternative: first class… or at least business class on transcon flights. Sure, it costs more… either in higher fares or in redeeming those once precious frequent flyer miles… but it’s worth it.

You get to check in faster. The seats are bigger. The flight attendants are actually friendly. And they give you real food. Plus, there’s that slightly smug feeling as you ease into your seat and watch the coach customers walk in, heading for steerage, that you’re, well, “special”.

Even on Amtrak, first class is a better experience. On Acela to Boston or Washington there’s a comfier seat and a decent meal. (I don’t drink, so the free booze in flight or on the train matters little to me). And, unlike the airlines with their pricey airport “clubs”, first class passengers can use Amtrak’s “Metropolitan Lounge” (now dubbed “Club Acela”), complete with wi-fi and free beverages.

What may surprise you is that going first class doesn’t always mean taking out a home equity loan. In fact, compared to full fare coach, first is often only a few bucks more.

There’s a great Norwalk-headquartered travel meta-search engine, www.kayak.com that allows you to price all your alternatives, coach / business / first, at one site, so you’ll see the hidden bargains. (Full disclosure: Kayak is a consulting client of mine… but trust me, I wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t think they were great). I always trust a neutral website even more than a commission-incentivized travel agent.

Does this mean I’ve abandoned Jet Blue or Song? No way, especially when I’m traveling with my family. But my New Year’s resolution for business travel is “treat myself right.” Life is too short to be trapped in coach.

I am reminded of a bumper sticker I saw once at a TWA ticket office. It read: “Fly First Class… Your Heirs Will”.
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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 14 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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