A few weeks back I told my younger daughter a bedtime story that featured a noble hero on a quixotic quest, a tunnel-guarding troll who jealously withheld a pack of golden tickets, and a maiden fair who watched from afar. Now the truth is that we (or at least she!) are a little old for fairy tales, and the word “maiden” should be stricken from the English language.
But this fairy tale had a purpose. You see, one of the happy consequences of all my travel in 2021 was that I achieved a higher Marriott loyalty category than ever before. I ascended past silver and gold, through platinum, and finally came to rest atop Titanium elite, which made me feel quite special indeed. (My older daughter reminded me that titanium is not in fact the most precious of metals, but if it’s good enough for Marriott, it’s good enough for me.)
This new elite status came with a great benefit that it took a few months to appreciate: Premier Silver on United. What this means is that when there are first class seats available, and after all other higher metals have been placed, I get upgraded for free.
I haven’t flown first class for decades. I think I got it once on a short business trip back during my lawyer days (it was on USAir—remember them?) But the junket I really recall is when my dad and I traveled to Eastern Europe in the summer on 1991 on Pan Am (remember them?), which was about to go out of business, and my dad burned through the hundreds of thousands of miles he had accumulated in years of Smithsonian travel to give us first class transatlantic seats.
Now that, my friends, was living, and I craved a return to its rarefied air. I wasn’t going transatlantic on this trip, but the flight to LA is long enough to make first class truly welcome. Never mind that the rules determining who gets upgraded are more intricate than a Regency romance. I, noble hero, was about to head back to Hollywood for the first time in 2022, and boy did I want to do so in style.
As all good fairy tales do, this one had twists and turns (every first class seat was sold! But wait, the last two travelers hadn’t checked in! Would they in fact toss off their tickets in that casual manner favored by the idle rich? The gate agent couldn’t tell me until precisely 30 minutes before departure! And our flight was delayed by 6 minutes! Oh, the humanity!)
But then, at precisely 7:36am on the 23rd day of January in the year of our Lord 2022, in the kingdom of Logan, atop the ramparts of a castle called United, the troll (actually a lovely and very patient gate agent) handed me my first class ticket, and I spent the next 6 hours more pleasantly than any other stretch since I stood atop a sunset on Kauai’s Ke’e beach in February 2020, when this blog began.
I was seated next to a professional snow boarder on his way to judge a competition at Mammoth, and by journey’s end I had enough insider info to populate a script (what does DAVE stand for? How hard is it to land a 1920?). I can also honestly say that in a decade of screenwriting, I have never had a smoother trip to Los Angeles. When the pilot announced our preliminary descent, I was sure we had at least two hours left…that’s how pleasantly time passed in first class.
Now, there are those who will rightly point out the inequity of this Snowpiercer-style arrangement, how the entire first class system perpetuates class resentments already simmering just beneath our country’s surface. Others may note that, as with the time we fed our cat lobster and she refused regular food for days after, a taste of honey’s worse than none at all. To all that I can only reply…you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And yet, for one brief moment at 9am, as I sipped Bailey’s and luxuriated in that bountiful breakfast, I felt on top of the world…and I didn’t mind a bit.
P.S. Tomorrow I’m taking my family to LA for February break. At the moment I write, I’ve been upgraded to first class, but not yet my wife. Will she join me? If she doesn’t, will our marriage survive the separation? Further adventures…or at least alliterations…await!