Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Better Way to Fly

Be Afraid American Airlines, Be very Afraid

In the last seven years I’ve flown over a million miles on American Airlines and before that I spent about five years racking up more than 500,000 on United, so I know a thing or two about the American air carriers. I’ve been an all-star flyer on both, as comfortable as they can make me on the five hour flights that make my living possible on one coast with my life on the other. I’ve booked seats in coach and ridden in first so often that I’m a little stunned when the upgrades don’t go through.

I know every meal plan, a lot of the flight attendants, and even the scratches on the windows on most of the planes on the routes I fly. (These are almost always single aisle coast to coast configurations on A320s, 737s and 757s). On the routes I fly most, I’ve probably flown my last miles on the American carriers – frequent flier status be damned.

It’s not that I suddenly found a job on the west coast. That would be a dream come true, but a near term second dream was always that I would find a more comfortable way to fly. Someplace where flying was like I’d read about it when I was growing up. It was glamorous. The planes were beautiful, the people were happy, even the flight attendants seemed to like their jobs (and you didn’t hear announcements like, ‘the flight attendants are here for your safety” which seems to be an excuse for their sour faces and even more sour attitudes).

I should stop right here and say that I don’t blame the flight attendants. It’s actually the stock market’s fault that the planes are over filled and under staffed, that there is no pillow, no food and no fun of any kind on any of these flights. The flight attendants are making the best of a bad situation, so I’m not blaming them…. But back to how my dream came true.

By accident, I found Virgin America airlines, Branson’s latest US endeavor. I booked a seat on their website – which works better for a first time flier than American’s does after eight years of trying. I booked First Class – because it was cheaper than an American Coach ticket on the last minute itinerary I was buying and I went to the airport and got on the plane and my whole concept of flying changed in an instant. The flight attendant smiled and welcomed me aboard. The plane is clean and cool – like W hotel cool - with blue lighting and white seats and individually controlled TV/Movie/Music systems at every seat. There is an actual first class with enough room to open my laptop (unlike American or United), and real plugs at the seats so I can just plug straight in. (Was that really that hard to figure out?) I am flying along watching the US OPEN playoff LIVE on my fold up screen and typing away on my fully powered laptop. Heck, even the safety announcement is cool – I’ll let you find out why.

The food in first class is fresh, light and even creatively served, with mint & watermelon, grape & cheese and Meuslix appetizers served in nifty little clear square shaped cups, and fresh herbs around a nice balanced frittata with roasted tomatoes and an artichoke heart. Did I mention I’m on a plane?

What’s really astonishing is that all of these things are comparatively simple. There is really no magic in any of it. It’s just well thought out and the mission is clear. Travel should be fun and if it can’t be fun it should at least be comfortable and convenient. I still have my million mile badge on my carryon. But that’s more a reminder of what I left behind than a badge of honor. I’m hoping my next million miles are on Virgin. It’s a better way to fly.

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