Saturday night, I got a call from Delta Airlines. My flight back to Ohio from Texas was overbooked due to the substitution of a smaller plane. Would I volunteer for another flight in return for a $200 travel voucher?
Thinking both of our upcoming whirl of June travel (when wedding season arrives in all its fury) and of the fact that my current flight required that I be at the airport returning my car by 5:30 AM, I called them. The change the proposed was beneficial all around: I would leave two hours later (winning two precious hours of sleep) and spend two hours less in layover in Detroit, arriving in Ohio at the same time as before. Plus they would give me $200 towards future travel. I agreed.
Next morning, slightly more rested than I had originally expected, I arrived at the airport and checked in. My seat could not yet be assigned, the kiosk told me. I should check in at the gate. When I did so, the gate attendant gave me a pained smile. "You see, we're over booked," he explained. "On the last flight, we didn't have enough volunteer and we had to bump some people, and now they are on this flight. Would you consider taking another flight?"
"Possibly," I said. "So long as I can arrive back in Ohio not too much later."
He consulted the terminal which held all the occult knowledge of a major airline. "If you'll wait till 12:15 instead of 9:30," he advised, "I can route you through Atlanta and you'll arrive at your final destination at 5:20 instead of 2:15. I can give you a $400 travel voucher and upgrade you to first class for both flights."
Four hundred dollars was more than I normally made for three hours of reading Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy. And I had never flown first class. I said yes. I was issued several flimsy slips of printed paper: two first class boarding passes, a voucher whose nineteen digit code I was advised to secret away with due care as it would secure me $400 in travel, and a coupon worth $6 of airport food (which in the Dallas Airport can score you roughly 2/3 of a deli sandwich).
I took my novel and went off to find a place to sit, all the while in the knowledge that while I might look, to others, like the same groggy traveler, bearing a backpack and an Everyman Library hardcover, I was in fact a First Class Traveler.
"So," MrsDarwin asked, after I had reclaimed my baggage and was setting off towards home. "Was it everything you had dreamed it could be?"
I'm not sure I quite expected to be whisked off into the airline paradise of Catch Me If You Can, but had I done so, I would have been disappointed. At least on 1-3 hour connector flights around the US in moderate size planes, flying first class is kind of like flying economy, only with all the most annoying aspects removed. You get to board right away and get off right away. The seat is large enough to fit an adult comfortably, without pressing one's shoulder against the capacious person next to you. The stewardess offers you allows you to choose a snack from a little basket featuring six different kinds of snacks (sun chips, shortbread cookies, peanuts, etc.) and in addition to the standard sodas you can select (for free) from three brands of beer, two colors of wine, or a variety of poorly mixed and over-iced drinks.
Ah, but that is only the world weary explanation I give afterwards. At the time, I settled back in my seat, ordered a succession of gin and tonics (which I was never quite able to convince the stewardess should include a lime wedge rather than a lemon wedge) and flirted with the thirteen-month-old who was in the seat next to me.