Returning First Class

For some reason United shunted us into first class for the return trip. It was the complete reverse of the trip out, once we got on the plane. Our checked bag even was the first one to come out of the baggage claim at O’Hare (which went swiftly indeed for O’Hare). Customs these days is not badly run, and one feels that with all the dull-witted travelers the TSA has to handle, they don’t really do too badly either.

In first class–never done it before myself–of course you have that vital quantity: space. The seats are wider, the space before is better, and after so many flights in the constricted spaces usually provided, one almost feels there is too much, that first class is an excess. It took some getting used to, some dispelling of the air of unreality about it all after the flight down. With airlines nowadays one is happy if things go without unanticipated calamities, but one does not expect to have improvements. One does find one can adapt, however, to the rare eucatastrophe.

Of course there’s the drink before take off, which is all vanity and ostentation to make one feel what class one has attained or purchased. Then the thing gets rather interesting: first the hot cloth offered with tongs, then the heated cashews; the drinks come in real glasses, and the meal on crockery liberally distributed over a far wider tray than the crowded fuselage of the plane behind one could hope to accomodate. It is airplane food but in slightly larger quantities, perhaps more thoroughly heated, and in superior circumstances. And of course the solicitous flight attendant helps. It made flight more than tolerable, and showed one what travel might be if one is willing to pay, or in our case, if one is lucky.

It is a great way to come home, first class.

They even have a special magazine, with articles not well -written but written about exclusive and capricious things with a kind of art. Advertisements for handmade shoes from Italy, etc. And you get a glimpse of what life can be on this planet, for some. After you have flown first class, and wondered at the space, and reflected on how it must be for the masses behind you, and remembered the crowded conditions you are all too familiar with you begin to think: it is going to be difficult to spend two, three or four hours in those conditions again the next time? You get off–not as stunned by the experience–and see the stunned, weary expressions of those your distant companions when they catch up with you at the baggage claim and you begin to understand.

There is a pull, and allure, and it is not altogether innocent. There is an awful lot of money sloshing around this world, and you get glimpses of it and what life on this planet can be, if you pursue it, if you can. We stayed in a very solicitous hotel, better than most of the places we manage to do, though we certainly run the gamut on the lower half of things; and like all things of its kind, there were realms up beyond ours even in that hotel. But in an A320 the range is limited, the slash between first and the rest is striking, and it makes you think.

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