A trip to South Africa changed me in ways that very few people understand. No, I’m not going to talk about the amazing people I met, the challenges of racial equality or the beautiful rugged landscape of Africa. I’m going to talk about flying in the front of the airplane and how I never want to go back to coach.
This story begins with an online auction for a mystery travel package I purchased in early 2011. I bought a mystery vacation package in South Africa. The auction started with a $1 opening bid for a package that I knew included 3 nights, breakfast each morning and a 500 Rand credit (about $80 US). I opened the bidding at $1, and then something funny happened, no one else bid. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to use the trip, but for a dollar, it was clearly worth the risk. I had until December 31st to make the trip, or else I would just lose my dollar.
I was working in college athletics and it was a down year for our football team, by early December I knew we weren’t going to make a bowl game. My focus turned from football season to finding flights to South Africa so I could use my vacation package. I was going alone since my wife wasn’t interested and my dad didn’t have enough frequent flyer miles for the trip. I made the decision that I didn’t want to sit in coach. I had enough of United Airlines frequent flyer miles to fly to South Africa in Business Class and return in First Class.
The perks began when I arrived at Orlando’s airport. I got to use shorter quicker lines for both checking my bag and clearing security. I had about an hour to kill before my flight, so I stopped into the United Red Carpet Club and had a complimentary beer and a few snacks. My flight to Washington DC was comfortable in the large First Class seat (since domestic flights usually don’t have Business Class, you get to sit in First Class) with lots of leg room and complimentary drinks and snacks.
In Washington there was time for another Red Carpet Club lounge visit before being invited to board the Boeing 777 to London. During the flight I was served a very nice multi-course meal. Flight attendants were always checking on me to make sure my drink was full. I was also given an amenity kit containing basic bathroom items to make my trip more comfortable. Upon arrival in London I visited the arrival lounge to grab a shower and have a quick snack before heading to the British Museum to make use of my 8 hour layover.
The next two flights on South African Airways were pretty similar. Big comfortable seats, great meals, free drinks, lounge visits, amenity kits and awesome, attentive flight attendants. I enjoyed another lounge shower in Johannesburg (since it was the morning of the third day of travel). Everything on my trip to South Africa was great, but that was just a small taste of the good life I would experience on the way home.
My route home was on Lufthansa, flying from Cape Town to Frankfurt then continuing onto Orlando. First Class on a Lufthansa 747 is the upper deck. As I climb the stairs to the First Class cabin the first thing I notice is that every chair has a bed next to it. The bed is looks reasonably comfortable, similar to what you would find in a cruise ship cabin. The beds each have their own seat belt so you can stay sleeping even when the captain turns on the seat belt light. This flight was the first time I ever tried caviar. The food was a fine dinning experience, the drinks were plentiful and cabin was comfortable. I was thankful the captain counted down to midnight, since it was New Year’s Eve, I rang in 2012 36,000 feet above Nigeria.
In Frankfurt, I made my way to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal. Yes, I said that correctly, the airport has a terminal just for people flying in first class. After going through a security checkpoint my concierge gave me a quick tour of the terminal. I started my visit asking for a bedroom to take a nap. I was given a simple room where I could have some quiet time. After my nap, I asked for a bathroom so I could take a shower and be refreshed for the day. After my shower I walked past the cigar bar (with complimentary Cuban cigars) and headed to the restaurant for a free meal. Then I found a comfortable chair and snacked on cashews while my drink glass was constantly kept full. When it was time to go my concierge tapped me on my shoulder and brought me downstairs where they had a immigration agent there to stamp my passport, then I was loaded into a limo and driven right to my plane. I never had to set foot in the regular terminal. My flight to Orlando was more of the same royal treatment.
I could have never afforded this plane ticket, but thanks to my frequent flyer miles I got to experience how the rich, famous and royal get to live. I’m just not sure I’ll be able to walk through a First Class cabin and back to coach ever again. From this point forward I consider myself a travel snob.