Thursday, October 11, 2007

Riding in the Front of the Bus

So going to and from ARMA, I upgraded my flights. Since both flights were on United Airlines 757s, I was pretty well assured an upgrade. (UAL's 757s have 24 first class seats.) I normally won't burn my upgrade certificates on a 600 mile flight (you "pay" with 500 mile certificates, so each flight cost me two certificates). But I wanted to have some comfort going there and I knew I would be tired and cranky coming home. That extra bit of room makes life in an airplane a bit more enjoyable. And on these flights, you actually get something resembling a hot meal, so that was nice.

Well, a few of my fellow Board members were on both flights. They were all back in steerage and reminded me of that when we arrived -- and even more so when my "Priority" bags actually came down the chute first. I commented on the fine wines, choice of champagne, and filet mignon that I enjoyed up front and asked them to take a look at the manicure that I got. Unfortunately, the manicure part is where they realized that perhaps I was stretching the truth. I'm always reminded of this commercial.

Over the past few years, I've had my share of upgrades. I never take them for granted. And I tend to look at the folks who are up there. Most are like me -- or worse -- serious road warriors finding a use for the miles or upgrades that they have accumulated. A few actually BUY the higher priced tickets, but mostly it is people who are in planes much of their lives. I like to see what they are reading. Right now, since I haven't been flying as much, I'm not getting a consensus, but a short while back, EVERYONE was reading The World is Flat (see link off to the side). Noticing a trend like that is worthwhile. While I'm not a huge advocate of "Management by Magazine Article", when you see a lot of people looking at the same thing, it's probably worth a look.

An interesting set of data points that I noticed on these trips -- a fair number of military enlisted in desert cammies going to and from Baltimore. It appeared that United upgraded as many of these guys as they could -- although my very small sample size indicated that the Air Force guys got more upgrades than the Army and Navy guys. That's a nice touch for these very young men (no military women on these flights). The guys really seemed to enjoy the small thank you from United.

I seem to run across a lot of military in my travels and each time I see a big crowd of them, I don't know whether I should feel sadness or pride. These guys and gals are doing something that I would never want to do. I worry about the kids who signed up to get an education paid for, make a few extra bucks on weekends, or wanted to serve in the National Guard and help in disasters. It seems like so many of them are off to Iraq to fight and that doesn't seem right to me. Sure, that is part of the deal, but I suspect that in Iraq are a lot of kids who saw the commercials about education and sandbags in floods and never imagined being issued a rifle and being asked to kill someone in a foreign country. I always tell the kids that I see when I'm traveling, "Thanks for your service to our country." It is a huge, and all too often, a very final sacrifice for some of them and their families.

And this is what I think about while I'm riding in the front of the bus.... I'm very privileged in this life to have these opportunities to travel and to enjoy the few perks of travel.

And I had my letdown this week as well. One of the other Board members is senior enough in her organization to be able to reserve the company jet. She described HER trip to the meeting. "The car service picked me up about a half hour before we were scheduled to depart and dropped me right at the Citation. They loaded up my bags and we were rolling before I had sipped my tea. We were there before I finished the newspaper and the car service was waiting for me." THAT was really First Class. That sort of story will tend to take you down a notch.

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