Thursday, December 13, 2007

Upgrade: Yes!

I’m a back-of-the-bus flier. When I’m traveling on business, the Herald pays for discounted Economy Class tickets. When I’m traveling personally, I pay for discounted Economy Class tickets. And while many of my friends use frequent flier miles to upgrade to Business Class, I use my miles to visit far-away places like Africa and Asia.

The only time I get to ride in the front is when I get a free upgrade. And the chances of that go way up if you’re an elite-class frequent flier…which helps explain today’s trip.

This past year I qualified for Gold, American’s lowest level of elite reached after flying 25,000 miles in a single year. The good news is that I earn free upgrade credits (and I can buy more at a right price) that can be used to upgrade one class of service within the U.S. The bad news is that I hardly ever get to snag a space; the Platinums and Executive Platinum fliers get them first.

Today my requested upgrade hadn’t come through before I got to the airport, and because I was arrived at the gate only 30 minutes before take-off, I figured I was out of luck. But the LA flight rates a wide-body Boeing 707, and just minutes before take-off, hooray! I snagged a biz class seat.

The big plus to biz class is space; your chin doesn’t even come close to your knees. Another bonus is a guaranteed power outlet at your seat (important for a working person like me; I’ll spend the entire 10 hours writing.)

The quality of business and first-class service varies with the plane itself; if you’re on a smaller plane, you end up with a slightly bigger seat than economy, free cocktails (irrelevant if you’re working) and not much more. But on wide bodies, you also get an individual video screen and program (standard in economy on some airlines, but not American), a leg rest, duvet and pillow (often rare in economy), hot towels for cleaning your hands, and coffee served in an actual ceramic mug.

And did I mention food? In business and first class, airlines actually serve hot food, accompanied by real stainless flatware.

This morning’s menu options include a choice of cheese omelet “accompanied by a red pepper hash and roasted peach half” or cereal and fruit with yogurt “served with a banana and fresh seasonal berries.’’ If one is so-inclined, one can wash it down with a Domaine Ste-Michelle Columbia Valley sparkling wine, a Wente San Francisco Bay chardonnay or St. Francis Sonoma County merlot.

Fearing I’d be stuck in economy, I’d already wolfed down Cuban toast and café con leche from an airport Versailles outlet. In the back of the plane, you can buy a few cholesterol-infused snacks to stave off starvation, but believe me, you’ve got to be ravenous before you can bring yourself to eat them.


Brent O. said...

I got a chuckle out of your complaint about the lower ranks of frequent fliers rarely getting the first class upgrades. A couple of years ago, my girlfriend worked for Continental, and we always got upgrades to first class when we were flying standby. That ended when the airlines started automatically upgrading their elite passengers ahead of time, without the passengers even having to ask. I cursed the automation, but I had to admit it was a good customer service idea.

tchaka owen said...

I think you mean 777. Very rarely do you see 707s flying today. The last time I was on one was probably around 1978.

Todd said...

tchaka got there before I could. It has to be either a 777 or 767. AA doesn't even own a 707.

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