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March 10, 2012

First Class: The Only Way To Go


For a guy who writes so much about transportation, trust me, I’m something of a homebody. I don’t like traveling 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.  When Cunard used to say “getting there is half the fun” they were talking about cruise ships, not flying.

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.  (You should have heard the grumbles on a recent flight from Continental mileage mavens now vying with United road warriors for upgrades since the merger!)

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.  You can cut the line with the TSA’s blessings.  The seats are bigger.  The flight attendants are actually friendly.  And they sometimes 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”) for free, complete with wi-fi and free beverages.

When time allows I’ll even opt for an overnight Amtrak ride in a comfy sleeper to Chicago or Miami rather than endure two plus hours of turbulence.

Even traveling by bus there’s a first class option.  The “Limo Liner” between Boston and New York makes the Bolt Bus or Fung Wha bus look like a cattle car.

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.  And tickets can be changed without charge.

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). 

My New Year’s resolution for business travel is to “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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