Last week, after months of minimal to no travel, I booked a business trip to NYC. I adore NYC and love to spend time there any time I get the chance. It's such an electric city, and I feel its energy every time I step out of a taxi – like clockwork. I've had that same charged feeling since I first visited as a teenager. But I digress...
Last week’s trip would be no ordinary trip in some ways, yet it would be so ordinarily plain in others. Elise booked my trip with great detail (as always), including the 4am car service which required the inescapable chore of rising at the wee hour of 3:15am.
Yep - 3:15am. I rode to the airport (in the pouring rain), exchanging pleasantries with the driver who was barely awake and wanted to converse just to stay alert. I, with a strong vested interest, obliged his request. We incoherently chatted most of the way as we traversed our way in pitch dark up East Bay St, and finally onto 1-26 West to the Charleston International Airport. Once arriving at the airport, my first observation was that at 4am the TSA is not at work. In fact, they are nowhere to be found. Even so, a line had already formed in the hallway in front of security hoping the TSA would be there soon to begin screening travelers, (which would take at least another 30 minutes) and I soon found comfort on the plastic couch near the gift shop - also closed - as I waited for our nation’s first line of air safety to arrive for work.
Now time for an early morning scan. Another perk - NOT!
And I waited and waited...
Once at the gate we had time before boarding, but just before 5am the 1st Class passengers started to jockey for position in the line near the ticket counter in anticipation of the agent’s first call to board. My heavy travel memories were starting to come back to me, and without much enthusiasm. During the peak of my HCIT vendor career, I consistently logged over 100,000 miles a year. Out Sunday night or early Monday and back home for a mere 48 hours with my family only to repeat the same ritual each week. I’ve visited 49 states (the exception is Idaho) during my career. I knew all of the great parking spots and rode the trains at Hartsfield International Airport – never holding on to the handrail as the trains roared from the T-Concourse to Concourses A-B-C-D and occasionally E. It was a weekly ritual, and so were the once coveted perks of being a frequent traveler.
1st Class always boards first - a real perk to some – not to me anymore. They (the lucky ones) typically look around to make sure they have the best possible position in order to quickly bolt for the poll-position and be first in line to board (probably hoping to see who would be looking as they are the chosen ones, those lucky 1st Class passengers). Once boarded, 1st Class were comfortably ensconced in their wide-body leather seats with a wandering eye to see which coach passengers were looking at them sipping on their coffee or, God forbid, an early morning Bloody Mary to let others know how important they really are - as we in cattle-class strolled past their ample leg room to cross the 1st Class curtains that separate the elite from the coach passengers (AKA the commoners). The coach passengers cram their jackets between American Tourister roller boards while the 1stClass passengers’ recently pressed jackets are handled with care and hung by wooden hanger in the 1stClass cabin. Another perk…
Then there is the announcement to remind all passengers that lavatories are available in the forward and the aft section of the plane, but the forward lavatory is reserved for the few 1stClass passengers while the other 100+ passengers share the remaining 2 facilities. Another perk….
Once we landed, the 1stClass passengers (of course) deplane first while the cattle-herd coach passengers either wait for their fellow coach passengers to retrieve their luggage from the overhead bin while waiting for the line to clear, or straddle the aisle to claim their deplaning position with one foot in the aisle and the other on the floor in front of their seat as they wait. All the while, the long rows of bodies behind us were pushing to get the hell of the plane and into the terminal where finally all of the passengers would have an equal playing field. Once inside the terminal everyone has the same status, an arriving passenger. That’s it.
I finished my day in NYC and took a cab back to LaGuardia only to repeat the same flying gig all over again – this time without the rain. I thought for a moment about the perceived travel perks I used to have yesteryear, and just smiled and thought how overrated they really were.
And I do mean overrated.