International First Class

Paul, over at The Daily Ping, just blogged about flying business class. Nevermind that the title of his post is “Flying First Class.” It prompted me to write the story of the one time I flew Internstional First Class—a league unto itself.

I work for a consulting company, so I fly a lot. They only pay for economy, but I get the miles. By 2004 or so I had accumulated well north of 100K miles on United. We booked a vacation to London and I burned 100,000 miles to get myself a free first class ticket on a 747 jumbo. Let’s see, where to begin"


I fly out of IAD. I stopped at the Red Carpet Club because I knew that a first class ticket entitled me to it, even though I’m not normally a member. That’s cool and all. I hang out there until it’s time for my flight. It’s quiet. It’s comfortable. Ahhh.

The Plane

I get on the flight and I’ve got one of the pods in the nose of the aircraft. The flight attendants bring the various acoutrements: headphones, blindfolds, socks, champagne, movies, etc. The pilot comes on and says everything’s going well and we might even leave a little early. Well, that’s the kiss of death right there. The pilot comes on a little later saying that the plane is leaking hydraulic fluid and they can’t repair it. We all have to deplane and go hang out back in the airport until they can wheel up another 747 jumbo (which they just happened to have spare), cater it, and get us all on there again. About 3 hours.

Back to Dulles

So I’m walking back towards the Red Carpet Club when I see a lounge labeled “International First Class.” Oh. It was farther down the hall than the RCC, so I hadn’t seen it. I stop in there. The woman at the desk takes my name and flight number and directs me to the room to wait. “I’ll let you know when your flight is ready” she says.

Well, it’s as you might expect for the highest tier here. Open bar (including fancy stuff like Glenlivet), various fancy snacks like shrimp and whatnot. I get a drink, sit down, and enjoy my wait. I mean, I don’t like hanging out 3 hours, but if I gotta do it somewhere in Dulles, this is where to do it.

“Mr. Hope, your plane is ready,” says the nice woman from the front desk. She walks with me up to the gate. There’s the 300-odd grumpy, frazzled, disheveled other passengers standing behind the cordon. They open the cordon, I board the plane, they close the cordon. I have never felt so conspicuous in my life. I hear them sharpening the pitchforks and lighting the torches back at the gate.

The Flight

First Class on a 7 hour flight is a lot like a cruise ship, but in the air. There’s nothing to do but sleep and eat. It seems like you eat, you sleep, and then they wake you so you can eat. The food was outstanding. The wines were excellent.

My chair would daunt anyone but an experienced astronaut. It has about 4 degrees of freedom and about 8 buttons to move various parts up, down, in, out, over, and back. Fortunately, there’s a big green “reset” button. If I hold that button down long enough (assuming I can still reach it after contorting myself into some yoga cum pilates crazy position), the chair will become a chair again. It’s like a miniature Craftmatic® adjustable bed. On crack.


If there’s anything the British do well (and there are lots of things the British do well), it’s treating the landed gentry right. So when this gentry landed, he had the smoothest breeze through the airport you can imagine. I took the priority queue through immigration (probably 3 people in line with me), and sailed right through customs. When I got to baggage claim—I am not making this up—a man walked out with my suitcase, set it down in front of me and walked off. Done.

I don’t know when I’ll get to do that again, but it sure was fun.

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