Thursday, August 27, 2009

Less is more

Through some complex course of events, I found myself flying first-class to Hawaii, and I got the sense that I wasn't really flying first class.

I'm not being too pessimistic (I hope, therefore I am), but the sense that I have to re-adjust my expectations for First Class lurks just at the edge of my vision, kind of like a mild retinal detachment problem. It doesn't hold your focus, so you can't quite define what it is...but you know something is wrong with your worldview.

I wanted to upgrade from basic sardine class to Enough Room class, but I could not find a way to Do the Deed without parting with seventy bucks. Therefore, I requested an upgrade and found myself in "First Class."

When I was younger, I simply had to fly in business or first (an affectation I eventually got over), so I can claim to know somethhing of the experience. I am pretty sure this was not the First Class (with caps) of yesteryear, merely "first class," because there were no seats further forward in the plane. I could not get up from my window seat to visit the loo without making my seatmate get up. The footrest was removed from the seat (NOT the button that purported to control it, though!), and the recline was amazingly like economy - it leaned back just short of actually being "restful." I was reminded of Douglas Adams' Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser while mentally performing an ad hoc Customer Satisfaction Survey.

This reasonably new 777 would have made the Boeing designers and employees weep, with seats that strangely resembled business class from the early 1980s, both in design and wear-and-tear. At least they weren't those blue leather seats from an early Texas (say, 1975?) casualty that I continue to see through the years. Some of those were on the previous flight.

With all of the "features" unbundled and our previous high-flying expectations dashed to the floor, perhaps we can expect airlines to begin (soon) to compete as they did back in the 60's and 70's. First, bags will be "free." Then meals will be "complementary," and first class passengers won't be crawling over each other like the riff-raff in the cattle section. Maybe then, we can start calling it First Class again.