So, I have had plenty of opportunities to really experience first class and truly analyze what you get for your extra money (or miles). It all comes down to convenience these days. The days of first class being about hanging out in the cocktail lounge on the upper deck of the Super 747 are over, unless you are flying on Virgin or Lufthansa.
So first class is really about making the pain and inconvenience of flying as little as possible. The airlines want you to feel ‘special’ and make sure you really can enjoy the time flying across the country, or if not enjoy it, hate it less than you would have in coach. But think about it for a minute. What you really get is limited to a few perks, which are easy to replace with other perks. Through my years of research I have created the first official How To Fly First Class, without spending $1,000’s.
Now, put aside some random luck of getting upgraded by pleading with the gate attendant, or by trading seats with a guy in first class because he wants to sit next to his girlfriend in coach. These are random occurrences and don’t guarantee you the great experiences of ‘First’ or ‘Faux First’ as I like to call it.
So the following are the fool proof steps to give you the experience of first, without the extra $1,000…
Checking In – One of the initial perks you get by flying first class is at the check-in line. This is usually a great benefit since the domestic coach check-in and baggage checks are usually so long, it can be painful and very stressful. This is counter to the whole concept of First Class and convenience. What can you do? First of all, with todays self-check-in you can hop right into the first class or premier lines and by the time you are caught it is too late. Just walk up to the first class machine and put in your info and check your luggage. These machines have no clue and once your baggage tags are printed it is too late. Also, it is a little known fact that airlines have instructed their check-in teams to always service customers, even if they are in the wrong line.
Security Check – There are special security lines for first class and premier travelers. In these airports you usually need to show your boarding pass to get into this line. But you don’t have this pass, what can you do? One trick is to change the jacket of your ticket to the first class jacket, which you can pick up when you are checking in. Many of the so called guards are too lazy to look at the details, once they see the jacket you are good to go. Now, if you want to be safe, the best way to go is to find a family or a person of the opposite sex or same age group that appears to be a good match. What you do is follow them, once they show their boarding pass and as they walk away, walk up to the guard and when they look point to the person that is walking away. You can even say something like ‘I have the DVD player honey.’ Be confident, like you belong there and like you are in a hurry, because the person you are traveling with is already far ahead of you. This is guaranteed to work as the airlines treat guests at the same level as the first class passenger.
Early Boarding – Another perk of first class is early boarding. Now, this is a real perk if you have overhead luggage you want to store or you want to get situated early. To be able to board with the First Class peeps all you have to do is put on a limp and look like you need extra time to walk down the jet way. It is not hard to do; you just need to show off the fact that you are in pain and most people will be happy that you are headed on early, so they don’t get caught behind you going ¼ of the speed of the rest of the passengers. This works extremely well and you are guaranteed to get on before anyone else. Now if you are worried about bad karma by impersonating a crippled person, another approach is to follow the same techniques you used in the Security line and board behind your adopted family member or business peer. If you want good karma you can even help a family with their stroller or carry on luggage as they board early. You will make some friends while enjoying the luxury of boarding ahead of everyone else.
Great Legroom - Now, when you get on early, make sure to put your carry-on into the overhead compartments. You should remember that you have a ton of space above you, why not use it and leave the space under the seat in front of you for your feet and legs to stretch out (sans socks – you can take off your shoes in Faux First Class.) If you need to you should put your carry on under the middle seat, since it should be open.
Shoulder Space & Wiggle Room – Of course the extra space in First Class is a big part of what makes it great to be in the club. But, outside of a 100% sold out airplane, you can have the same space, if not more. What you need to do, when selecting your seat on the check-in or online is search for an important pattern. This pattern will help you in getting all the space you need and/or desire. First thing is to realize that the Exit Rows are usually not automatically assigned, so you can select these on the self-service kiosk, but beware. On a very booked flight the Exit Rows are usually assigned to the bigger and wider people, because of the extra legroom that they desire. It is a myth that the Exit Row is extra space because of this phenomenon on a heavily booked flight. You could end up sitting next to Bluto and his cousin Blimpy and be really in a bad spot. What you need to do to book the most open space is look for seats that are not assigned with a middle seat already. First look for an aisle and look around the aisle for the middle seats that are not assigned yet. If you find an aisle seat with no one sitting next to you, book it. But if you want to get fancy, you should also look at the rows in front and behind. The plane will fill up from the front to the back (for each section), so if you find there are 6 rows that have empty middle seats and an open aisle you should take one of the furthest back as this is the least likely to be filled in. Getting extra space is an art, and probably going to require a few errors on your part before you get it right. But once you solve the puzzle, you will be in the money from now on. One other trick to get a really great seat is to wait by the gate check-in desk and as the very premier travelers are upgraded into first class, you can ask the attendant if there are any good seats available in the front of the plane. You know as well as anyone that the great seat that a top tier flyer has just given up for their upgrade. You can immediately be upgraded to business by just being in the right place at the right time.
Food and Snacks – I am not sure how much this is really a perk these days. Okay, an overcooked chicken pasta dish or wilted salad might be fun, but there are many other options. Airports today have plenty of food ready to take on the plane with you and why not? You can get whatever you enjoy and bring it on the plane with you to enjoy in flight. Remember to bring a few snacks, deserts, and drinks. Pay the guy at the bar a few extra bucks to pour a glass of wine into an empty coke bottle for you if you would like, you can have your own bottle of wine to share. You will be set-up and living it large. You can even share with the people around you to share in the wealth of great snacks and drinks on the long flight. More new friends in Faux First for you to meet and enjoy their company.
Separate Bathroom – This is an easy one. Just use the First Class bathroom. By the time they might see you it is too late. Just go up there and use it. And while you are at it, stink it up. You don’t have to smell the scent of sewer filling the first-class cabin; you are enjoying the great smells of ‘faux first class.’
Hot Towel – Many airlines will give you a steaming hot towel as the plane is getting ready to land. Head to the first class bathroom before it is time to land and grab a bunch of towels from the dispenser. Run the hot water on these until they are steaming hot, pat them down, and head back to your seat. You can enjoy the hot towel treatment and even be sure the towels were clean and were not used to wipe up a spill in the front cabin earlier. Make sure to bring extras back to share with your new friends.
Early Exit – The final perk is the early exit off of the plane. This is probably the most difficult one to ensure success. What you have to do is find the closest seat to the front right before landing and sit your ass down in it. Usually the middle seat at the bulkhead (first seat on the plane) is not taken, you can grab this one. Once you are in this seat, you are guaranteed the first one off the plane. Of course you could fake a seizure as the plane is landing and the flight crew will get you off the plane before anyone else.
So that’s it. That is all there is to first class, and as you can see it is easy to fly first without spending 1000’s of dollars. Not only will you enjoy the convenience and comfort of being an elite member of the flying club, but you will make a ton of new friends… Try it out and let me know how it works for you.