For years, I dreamed of proudly showing my boarding pass, turning left, and finding my spacious, comfy seat waiting for me. I’d sit, buckle my seatbelt, and be greeted cheerily by a lovely flight attendant, asking “would you like anything to drink, ma’am?”
I’d smile and say, “your finest champagne, please.” She’d bring it back to me with a napkin neatly tucked underneath and remind me that she’d be back soon to take my dinner order.
As a 24-year-old dragging the weight of her student loan debt behind her, my dreams of a left-hand turn and glass of champagne quickly morphed into a march to the back of the plane where I’m kept awake by every last flush of the toilet.
First class is expensive, we all know that, but is it worth all that money? After years of drowning out the noise of crying babies and loading up on the free crackers provided, I’ve somehow managed to convince myself I didn’t want to be in first class anyway.
How good could airplane food really be?
How much space could they really provide you?
Coach is fine. Coach gets you from point A to point B without costing you an arm and a leg (just an arm). Coach provides just enough comfort to convince you flying isn’t that bad, but not enough comfort to stay away from upgrades forever.
This year was a big year for my family. My mom turned 50 (but still looks 25), my parents made it to 30 years of marriage, and that’s it. I guess the year felt bigger than it really was… The point is we wanted to celebrate those major milestones the right way: flying first class to Italy and cruising to Greece from there.
If it were up to me, I would have paid for the cheapest flight imaginable, layovers and all. Because I’m the poorest member of my family, I was the only person on board with that plan. One by one, my siblings and parents decided “we’re booking first class.” Was I going to sit in coach somewhere by myself knowing my entire family is sitting up front, sipping on champagne, laughing, and resting comfortably? Absolutely not.
I scraped my money together, closed my eyes to avoid seeing the damage, and purchased a first class seat. After getting past the initial shock that I just spent more than half of my monthly income on a plane ticket, I lit up. I could already feel the bubbly flowing in my tummy. I thought the only time I’d fly first class was for my honeymoon!
We booked the flight so far in advance that, truthfully, I forgot about it. When the time came to go on vacation, my excitement was bursting all over again. I was thrilled. I was anxious. I was ready.
My family and I boarded the plane and prepared ourselves for our first-ever, first class experience.
Deep down, I knew I needed to keep calm. Anyone who belongs in first class wouldn’t be freaking out, would they?
“Keep cool. Act natural. You belong here.”
I stepped on the plane, smiled goofily at the flight attendant, and handed over my boarding pass. He welcomed me aboard and pointed to his right. Here it came: the left-hand turn!
I hung a left and walked down the aisle until I reached my row. My brother and I sat in our seats, giggling, and buckled up. The flight attendant sped over to us and took our drink order.
“I’ll have a Jameson and ginger ale, please,” my brother ordered with pride.
“And I’ll take a Miller Lite.” (So, it didn’t go exactly as I had dreamed, but I honestly don’t even like champagne very much. I’m not sure why I even dreamt it.)
Before we knew it, we were sipping our drinks, waiting for the rest of the plane to board. After we took off, we were waited on, hand and foot. As one drink finished, we were brought another. Our dinner was a three-course meal featuring a salad, roasted duck, eggplant ravioli, and an ice cream sundae.
United made sure we were comfortable. They gave each Polaris passenger
- A travel toothbrush
- A pen
- Hand sanitizer
- An eyemask
- Cowshed hand cream
- Cowshed lip balm
- Cowshed relaxing pillow mist
- Saks Fifth Avenue bedding
- A pillow (one of the comfiest I’ve ever laid my head on)
Despite having all that and a seat that lays flat, I didn’t catch much sleep. With the time difference between Newark and Italy, I only ended up with 3 hours of sleep. On an otherwise amazing flight experience, that’s the only complaint I have. Unfortunately, there’s not much anyone can do about the time zones and my ridiculous need for sleep.
As I woke in the morning, I was presented with an omelet, sausage links, yogurt, a croissant, and fresh fruit. The lack of sleep was overriden by the constant nourishment from the on-flight bistro. If there’s one thing United can promise you in first class, it’s that you won’t get off the plane feeling hungry.
I never felt uncomfortable, ignored, or mistreated. I’ve read reviews and complaints from people about service in first class or about the seating arrangements, and I wonder what there is to complain about. It was a flight I’d love to experience again and again.
Unfortunately, our great, first-class fortune didn’t last very long. On our flight home from Venice, we were sitting coach and had a connecting flight to bring us from Canada to Newark. We laughed our way to Canada as we snapped back to reality. First class is a luxury and a privilege—one my family and I can’t quite afford every time we fly.
I’ve heard some people say they’d never need to fly first class, and I agree. No one needs to upgrade from a clean, satisfactory Holiday Inn to a five-star, boutique hotel, but we deserve to pamper ourselves every once in a while. I know it’s expensive, and it’s far from a necessity, but it’s an experience you don’t want to miss. For people who don’t get to do it often, it feels good to fly that comfortably and to be on the receiving end of spectacular service.
It may make it hard to ever fly coach again, but if you’re an avid traveler, you’ll adjust to sitting in coach again much easier than you think.