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Hither and Yon

Going nuts up there in first class

By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
I know how she feels. You ask for nuts, you get pretzels, and that’s upsetting. That’s just the view from economy class.
Up there in first class, you ask for nuts, and you’ve got to have them strewn on a plate. Open up the baggie yourself? You’ve gotta be kidding. Those bags can be tricky. How many times have I resorted to stabbing the nut or pretzel bag with a ballpoint pen when all else failed?
Not that I ever really expect to find the nuts on a plate. Generally I consider myself lucky if the plane carries nuts — and bless the attendant who gives me two or three extra bags along with a refill of coffee in a paper cup. The real issue is who would believe, on some carriers, they charge for every bag. On others, they don’t have them at all. Those are strictly complaints from the vantage of economy class.
Now imagine the consternation up there in first when you’re treated to anything but subservient, pretty smiling and everlastingly patient service. When you’re flying with the wealthy, the elite, the expense-account executives, the mega-rich wives, the rock stars, the star athletes and the trust-fund babies, you pay to be spoiled.
Add to that terrible fear the knowledge that some people in first are accustomed to hiring and firing the help with nothing more than a flick of a finger. A nasty look from a rich you-know-what and the first-class crew — about as many up there serving a score of passengers as there are in back in economy serving a couple hundred — need to shrink back in fear and shame.
Surely the woman, heir to enough power to destroy every member of the crew, hardly had to yell to get her point across as the Korean Air flight from JFK to Incheon was taxiing before takeoff. All she had to say was, “Excuse me, but don’t you think…” Or perhaps she might have gone on with something like, “I’m afraid this bag is a little difficult to open” and the entire crew would have been groveling in apology.
When you’re serving nuts up there in first, you treat every almond, cashew, walnut or macadamia as a valued jewel, a treasure for savoring with the second glass of chardonnay or Beaujolais. That’s how it is in first, where you can be sure of a night’s sleep on a long-haul flight as comfortable as all those nights lounging in 10-foot-wide beds in five-plus-star hotels.
That’s if you’re flying first. Back in economy, by the time the passengers stagger off after a 14-hour flight, they’re so tired, their limbs so aching, they’re lucky to be able to make it to the bus or train that will take them downtown. They’ve been shifting arms and legs, jostling against the passengers in the seats on either side, squeezing down the aisles and waiting in line for the rest room. On some flights they’ve had to pay for ever smaller helpings of in-flight meals that are so bad, dry, over-or-under-heated, and served so late, they’ve got to wonder who makes such terrible food.
Ah, but in first class — or even business class — you get a gourmet treat, served on white table cloth, silverware that’s really silverware, dinners so brilliant as to be the envy of five-star restaurants. Such has been my observation the few times I’ve flown first or business class. How I got upped to these sanctuaries in the air was pure happenstance, almost by accident if not fate, but I do remember studying the faces of my fellow inhabitants of the first-class cabin, wondering what great wealth and fortune had befallen them to deserve to fly in such style.
No, not all first-class passengers are daughters of the chairman of the airline, himself the son of the previous chairman, but they all expect to be treated as such.
There are, however, exceptions — a journalist I knew years ago, living hand to mouth, saved for first-class tickets for one oft-stated reason. He adored the hostesses, some of whom believed he really was to the manor born. In the style of a true imposter, he carried off the act so brilliantly that a few of them were thrilled to see him down on mother earth.
Soon enough, they realized they’d been had. The fantasy of eternal flights through velvet nights into glorious sunsets or sunrises wears off as fast as the buzz from the third or fourth wine. How often, back in economy, have I wanted to throw off the crew members who wanted to charge for “the beverage” or, heaven forbid, hesitated to give me another bag of nuts, in or out of the bag.
Columnist Donald Kirk, kirkdon@yahoo.com, a frequent flier for decades, has permanent jetlag.
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