A Peasant Flies Business Class

It’s been a while since my last post. I returned to the U.S. last week for a conference in Berkeley and had a series of all too brief visits with family and friends in the between moments. It was truly a whirlwind visit and fairly dissatisfying, since every interaction felt rushed, and I was battling some of the worst jet lag I’ve experienced in years. The visit was short because my fieldwork funding, while amazingly generous, stipulates that I can’t leave Japan without approval from the funding organization, and there are all sorts of rules about what justifies leaving the country, how long the trip can be, etc. So I could only stay just long enough for the conference and had to return to Tokyo before Christmas.

The upside to this, however, is that since I had nothing to rush back to, I ended up with a free business class ticket on the return trip. Delta had somehow managed to oversell the flight by 17 seats and was desperate to get people to defer their travel to the next day. So, when I returned to SFO the next day to reinitiate my trip, I was set to travel in style.

I’ve only flown business/first class once, back when I was a child and I was traveling with my family to the Philippines. But that was maybe 15 years ago, and during that time, business/first class prices have soared and the level of luxury has really increased as well. Plus, I’m older now and have traveled enough to really appreciate the difference. And yeah, it was great! Even though Delta doesn’t have the fanciest planes or the most opulent amenities, it was still a marked step up from even the most pleasant economy class flight. The folks at the ticket counter rushed to check me in, I got a special stamp that let me take the priority line through security… When I arrived in the international terminal, I was able to hang out in the peace and quiet of the Delta Sky Lounge while enjoying some free breakfast snacks and beverages.

It was just so …. civilized. Quiet, clean, comfortable. Free from incessant announcements about delayed and departing flights. And all the things that should be complimentary (water, juice, coffee, food, newspapers, printing, etc.) were actually complimentary, not sold to you at insane airport prices.

After boarding (at the head of the line, of course), I found my seat, which had so much leg room that my (admittedly short) legs couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me.

Although Delta hasn’t yet transitioned to the lie-flat seats which are all the rage these days, I found the reclining chair very comfortable and amazingly adjustable.

When it came time to sleep, the chair reclined to just about flat. I slept for 8 hours solid without any problem. Plus I had a real life-size pillow and blanket! And slippers. And socks. And an eye mask. And noise cancelling headphones. When I sat down, a bottle of water was waiting for me and an attendance came around throughout the flight offering passengers juice, nuts, snacks, wine, beer, etc. As expected, the service was really great. The general attitude from all of the flight attendants was miles beyond what you experience in even the cheeriest economy class section. It’s amazing how much the atmosphere changes when you don’t feel like your presence is a burden on the flight staff. And when they offer to do not just the bare minimum but pretty much anything to make you more comfortable. (They were also much less picky about having people secure their luggage for takeoff/landing, and I don’t think I ever heard them remind anyone about their seatbelts, though I don’t know if these are really good things.)

In comparison to coach, each business class seat was equipped with a personal entertainment system, with a screen that pulled out of the armrest. (On this particular Delta route, economy class passengers have to watch the same movie via a large screen at the front of their cabin.) There was also a plug in every seat, which I found quite useful for charging my laptop.

And the food? Beyond comparison. For an appetizer, I had shrimp with lemongrass and marinated hearts of palm, tomato basil soup, and a mixed green salad with jicama, yellow peppers, almonds, and roma tomatoes. For the main, I chose to have a (perfectly cooked) filet of beef with a grain mustard sauce, sweet potato wedges, zucchini, and yellow squash. And for dessert, I had a vanilla ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

This is the only time that airplane food has prompted me to go home and look up recipes for similar dishes. :p

Anyway, it was quite an experience. I actually didn’t want to get off the plane when we landed in Tokyo. And I may have been forever ruined on flying economy class—how can I go back to coach when I know that this type of thing is possible and only a few yards away? But then again, I suppose I’ll have to—business class is nice, but it’s just not worth the price, in my opinion. For example, let’s compare the prices for a roundtrip ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo (Narita) in the January/February off-season:

Economy Class: $770
Business Class: $5,410

So, yeah, it was nice. But $4,640 nice? Probably not. But if you ever get the chance to fly business class for free, do it!