First-class air travel has really gone to the dogs

A few years ago, I put my daughter on an airplane to Europe. I didn’t want her to fly, but train travel would have been difficult.

By Pat Cashman

A few years ago, I put my daughter on an airplane to Europe. I didn’t want her to fly, but train travel would have been difficult.

I had hoped for a somewhat cheaper place than Europe for her to study. I hear they have a nice college in Ellensburg, but my daughter had her mind set on Italy. For the record, Ellensburg also has a couple of pretty good spaghetti joints.

Plane fare to Europe is eye-crossingly expensive – more so these days. In fact, I figured it would have been cheaper to send the girl by UPS. But she might have been pretty cramped in that cardboard box, and I was afraid she might fall for the delivery guy in his little brown shorts and we’d never see her again.

It’s staggering to think how far and fast air travel has come since the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk back in 1903. Orville’s initial flight lasted only 12 seconds, so the flight attendant only had time to serve a small beverage and a bag of nuts. Later the same day, brother Wilbur got behind the stick – but this time, there were problems. The plane’s departure was delayed nearly an hour, and Wilbur’s bags got lost.

Yet, for all their pioneering, the Wrights never got the opportunity they truly deserved: Flying first class.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, flying first class must have been fabulous. At least that’s how it looks in old magazine and TV advertisements. The pictures showed passengers practically bathing in champagne, fine food and partying as they lounged about on plush, wide-bottomed seating with enough leg room for a giraffe.

It all looked grand – which is about what it cost to fly in such high style back then. You had to be either a banker – or bank robber – to afford it.

I always used to wonder why the first class seats were situated in the front of the plane? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put the high rollers in the back, as they’re already accustomed to in a limousine? That way, they could enter and exit through the rear – and wouldn’t be forced to have contact with the barbarians in coach.

Most of us who travel by air only see the first class section as we shuffle on board, making our way back into the second and third-class sections of the plane. Yes, I know, the airplane companies don’t call them that. But if there’s a first class, there’s got to be a second and third. The cargo hold would be fourth class.

Sometimes, as you make your way past the first-class passengers, you can grab quick glimpses to see if any of them are famous. One time, I spotted Jimmy Dean, the longtime country singer and sausage maker. He was staring out the window, muttering softly. This was 20 years ago, so I know he wasn’t wearing one of those Bluetooth cell phone things talking to somebody else. He was talking to Jimmy Dean, himself. He seemed to be quietly cursing. Or perhaps he was just saying the word “chitterling.”

A couple of times recently, my wife and I have been upgraded to first class, either through good luck or a mistake. But it’s pretty clear that the first class grandeur of yesteryear is gone. Nowadays, the best thing is that the seats are wider than in coach, and you get two bags of nuts.

A few years ago, we saw a guy sitting across the aisle from us in first class, with a small dog on the seat next to him. They’d both been given complimentary first class seats, and the flight attendants were fawning over the animal like he was, well, a fawn. It turned out not to be Bambi, though, but a different celebrity. “It’s Eddie from the ‘Frazier’ TV show,” somebody whispered excitedly.

As I thought about it later, I realized that the guy with the dog might have just told the airline people that the dog was Eddie. I mean, did the dog show any actual ID before getting on board? For all the airline knew, the mutt could have been a terrorist instead of a terrier.

Still, a thought crossed my mind: Bringing a dog aboard a flight might actually be a good scam in order to get special treatment. Not that I would recommend such a thing:

Flight attendant: “Sir, you can’t bring that dog on board.”

Me: “This is the dog that used to be on those Taco Bell TV commercials.”

Flight attendant: “Oh! Well, that certainly changes things. Let me print up your complimentary first class tickets.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Flight attendant: “But wasn’t the dog in those commercials a chihuahua? This is a bassett hound.”

Me: “You know how they are in Hollywood. As soon as somebody is making big money, they start spending it on plastic surgery.”

Flight attendant: “I hear ya. Welcome aboard!”