First Class Gets Classier

Another victory for the 1 percent—showering at 10,000 feet

The New York Times reports that first class is only going to get classier: Airlines, “engaged in a global battle for top executives and the super-wealthy on their international routes,” have been going nuts for their premium customers, adding increasingly and insanely luxe amenities. While life in the skies gets better for those who can afford to pay top (top, top) dollar, the rest of us shmoes just paying a mere $700 or $1,000 for our coach tickets will sigh and remember the days when all that separated from first class was a curtain.

The economics behind the decision is crystal clear, as the story reports that about five percent of the customers (the top five) produce almost half the revenue of international carriers. So, fine, international airlines, go ahead and give them their showers! Their special humidified air! Their beds, and suites, and massages! Give them their designer pajamas! (Seriously, that’s one of the upgrades.) Do it in the name of brand survival.

But once you start raking in the big bucks from those folks, airlines, could you maybe see fit to add a little more legroom back in my section?

I’ve caught a few episodes of ABC’s Pan Am, a period show that probably rates somewhat low on the historical accuracy scale (though I, for one, am a fan of the stewardess-as-spy plot), but still manages to get me all nostalgic for a time I never knew, when flying was a glamorous affair for all, and drinks were free. That said, I’d also be happy to take back the airlines I grew up with, a far less glam but still better-than-now era in air travel when I didn’t have to pay for my baggage or my snacks, and I occasionally sat next to an empty seat. Those were the days.

But we live in different times now, and in those times, airlines are struggling just like we are. (Given that, you’d think they’d understand the needs common man a little more and throw some better headrests our way, but whatever.) That the very wealthy among us have yet another small advantage—in this case, arriving at their destination cleaner, better rested, better fed, better skin and simply more ready to take on life than the rest of us—is neither shocking nor particularly new: Like everything else, it’s just how much the gap continues to widen between the haves and the haves a lot more. Still, in that vein, that I can (sometimes) afford to fly at all, let alone internationally, is a blessing I try not to take lightly: I am well aware that my consternation that I don’t have a silk pillow or ice cream sundae while I traveling in my seat in the sky is a total first-world concern.

None of that, however, is going to stop me from hoping real hard for an upgrade next time I fly internationally: I’ve never taken a shower at 10,000 feet.