For those who don't fly very often... i.e. people who jet off on vacation every other year and make an occasional trip home for the holidays... air travel can be a mystifying, frustrating, and altogether torturous experience. I try to keep this in mind when people feel the need to say something like "OH GAWD! YOU'RE TRAVELING AGAIN?!? I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT! I WOULD DIE IF I HAD TO FLY AS OFTEN AS YOU DO!" To which I usually reply "Well, eventually you get used to it."
But the truth of the matter is that the travel experience for a frequent flier can be considerably different than that of somebody who doesn't travel much.
It would have to be, or else those of us who fly 180,000 miles a year would be blowing our fucking brains out.
Fortunately, most airlines understand that frequent travelers have a different set of needs and an entirely different mind-set from the huddled masses, and work really hard to make their travels as pleasant as possible. Mostly in the hopes that their best customers stay their best customers.
So now I am going to give a list of the top-five reasons my constant travel isn't quite as horrible as it might sound. I've only gotten "elite-plus" status at Alaska Air and Delta (two airlines I love more than chocolate pudding), but I'm guessing the experience is similar for other airline's frequent flier programs...
- Upgrade Perks. The people you see in First Class who are drinking champagne and eating brie while lounging in seats so spacious that they could accommodate a family of four, probably didn't pay the outrageous pricetag to be there. More likely they are just very good customers with tons of miles, and the airline upgrades them for free when a seat is available. So as you are schlepping to the back of the plane to sit on a chair the size of a Triscuit cracker with no legroom to speak of, try to resist the urge to punch the First Class passengers in the face as you pass. Odds are they've missed a lot of time with their family and friends, spent more time in airports than at home, and have endured unbelievable travel horror stories to get there. Instead, pity them. Theirs is not the easy life it appears. Besides, the person you punch in the face might be me and I don't want to spill my chanpagne.
- Early Boarding Perks. When I travel it's usually for business and I'm carrying important shit that would render the entire purpose of my trip moot if it were lost. For me there's rarely an option to check my carry-on bag, as I simply must have it with me when I arrive at my destination. Fortunately I don't have to worry about running out of overhead space because I'm one of the first people on the plane. In the event I don't get an upgrade, I still have no trouble finding a spot for my important shit. Elite flyers also have the option of carrying on an extra bag which comes in handy from time to time. In a day and age where people bring their entire luggage set onboard and filling three overhead bins to avoid paying baggage fees, this is probably my most favorite (and necessary) perk.
- Luggage Perks. Since I try hard not to abuse the overhead storage, I check my luggage at the departure desk whenever I can. Mostly because A) I don't have to pay for it since all luggage fees are waived for Elite fliers and B) My luggage is flagged as "priority" so it has a better chance of not getting lost AND being one of the first bags out of the chute at baggage claim. I try very hard to resist the urge to scream "SO LONG, SUCKERS!" when this happens but, as somebody who has had their luggage lost or delayed multiple times while trying to live out of a suitcase, it's tough.
- Security Perks. In addition to being one of the first people on one the plane, I can also be the one of the first people through security. Most major airports have a separate, much shorter security line for elite fliers. I don't always use it since I try to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, but on those back-to-back-to-back schedules where I'm trying to fit a half-dozen appointments into a single week, it has come in very handy. I still have just as big a chance for a TSA "enhanced screening" hand-job as you do though, so don't feel too sorry for me because you think I'm missing out.
- Lounge Access Perks. Today I have a 6-1/2 hour layover in Seattle. But, since this is an international flight, the wait is not quite so bad because I have access to the lovely "Delta Sky Club" lounge. I get a desk, a phone, plug-ins, internet, a comfy chair, and (most important of all) free mini-muffins and Coke! This may seem like kind of a trivial perk, but when you spend the horrible amount of time in airports that I do, it's sometimes the difference between life and death. Well, not literally life and death... but sometimes those banana-nut mini-muffins are the only thing keeping me sane when forced to waste lots of time waiting for a flight...
The last couple of years have been relatively "light" travel years for me, which means I only accumulated around 150,000 miles annually. That's still a lot, but pales when compared to those heady days of 2002-2006 where I flew over 200,000 miles annually and held top-level elite status at three airlines. But I still get treated very well, so that's the real reason I don't mind flying so often. It's just difficult to explain all that when somebody says ZOMFG! I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU CAN STAND TO FLY SO MUCH!!"
Though today I was kind of lucky to be flying at all because of the weather. Fog blanketed Seattle this morning, which added an air of eerie spookiness when we landed...
Things weren't looking too much better after sunrise...
It's not so bad out now, so hopefully I won't have any problems getting to Europe today.
Well, unless the airplane should explode into a massive ball of flames and fall in the ocean as I'm crossing the Atlantic. That kind of thing can totally put a damper on your trip no matter how many frequent flier miles you have.