Fly me to the moon

Unfortunately there has been no glamour in air travel for a very long time. This is even more unfortunate for those of us who spend a lot of time on planes. The current state of airports and airlines has created a siege mentality, where it is important to fight to retain at least some shred of comfort and control. And that diminishing shred rests in frequent flyer status.

Although it seems to be tamed in the rest of the economy, inflation is running rampant in airline loyalty programs. The number of miles required to reach a useful level of status keeps going up, and the privileges keep going down. My current status, hard won via many unenviable trips like visiting Florida in July, will confer ‘airport benefits’ (which I think gives me the right to go to any airport anywhere in the world) and the ability to go online to change my flight booking if it is cancelled. I also get to check a bag. For free. Near as I can tell, pretty soon nobody will be allowed to fly unless they can prove they are frequent flyers, which would create an even more Kafkaesque situation than we currently have.

Anyhow there are some more subtle status benefits than access to the lounge to chow down on free stale mini-bagels and all the pretzels you can eat, which may sound dismal but is in fact some of the more edible food on offer at the average airport. But even those are getting eroded. On certain flights, like the 8:15 am from SFO to YYZ on Fridays, or the 6:30 am from YYZ to LGA on Mondays, the entire departure lounge is eligible for priority boarding. Of course the reason for nabbing a good spot in the priority line is to have a place to put your carry–on luggage, because even if we can check a bag for free, no self respecting frequent flyer would consider either taking enough stuff to require a checked bag or waiting for the bag to reappear at the other end. On some days, this alone is worth the price of club admission.

The other thing you get is priority booking for seats in the first 7 rows of the plane. You do of course know that the economy cabin starts at row 12 and the emergency exit row is usually number 16 or 17 or sometimes both. Having an exit row is more than just about the legroom. It also means that no-one with children will be sitting there. Anyhow, being seated in the first 7 rows is also why it is important to get priority boarding. Otherwise the people sitting at the back of the bus will fill up all the bins with their extraneous carry-on. So that’s us: the people at the front, quickly grabbing our meagre belongings and dashing off the plane before the middle rows have even discovered we’ve landed.

And that’s why we’ll do anything we can do preserve our status. You might think this is the time of year to be booking your winter vacation, which might be what normal people do. This is in fact the time of year to count up your miles and determine if you will fall short of your desired status goal. Short 1,000 miles? Hop on a flight to Chicago and back. No need to even leave ORD. Just get on the next flight home, safe in the knowledge that you will be safe in row 12 for the next 12 months.

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