Monday, August 4, 2008

A Question of Money and Class

Years ago I was watching comedienne Jeanine Garofolo interviewed on The Tonight Show. She told a story of how she had always automatically flown economy before becoming an actress. However, when traveling on the job, the movie studios always put her in first class and she never had to buy her own airline tickets. One day she decided to go on a trip on her own. She asked for a first-class ticket, quite used to flying at the front of the plane by then. She was quoted a price of over $3,000 and was shocked. She had had no idea how much a first class ticket cost. She asked how much an economy ticket was and it was only about $400. She flew economy, not seeing the wisdom in paying eight times more to fly on the same plane, albeit a little more comfortably. She would get there no faster in first class, she said.

When I flew home from Italy this week, the plane was quite full. Having flown United quite a lot in the past, I still had Premier status, though this will expire soon because I used up so many miles to go see my mom. Because of this, I was upgraded to Business class on the flight from Z├╝rich back to Washington, D.C.

Business class is very nice! I had a big screen TV in front of me. I could stretch out my legs all the way to the foot rest in front of me. In fact, my seat could be positioned many different ways and could even have it lie completely flat like a bed. I sneaked in a nap on the flight, in fact. When I went back to the restroom, where I could look back at Economy class, where I was supposed to be, I saw all the window shades were open, lots of sunlight streaming through. Everyone seemed as packed as sardines, just as I normally would be. Business (and I assume First Class further ahead) had all the shades down. It was dark, conducive to rest. The flight attendants were very attentive to our needs too.

I got to D.C. at the same time as all the other passengers.

Now I'm trying to figure out how to get back to Italy when I need. Out of curiosity, I decided to price out all three classes: Economy, Business and First Class. The differences in price are astonishing!

Here is the lowest price found for Economy class, using flexible dates in October, from D.C. to Milan, Italy:

The trip requires two flights, through Boston or Frankfurt. The lowest price for Economy for the nine hour flight is $1,057, about $117 an hour.

Next I checked on Business class for the same dates. The lowest price I could see there was $3,610, or $401 an hour, or 3.4 times as much as economy. That alone was enough to make me gulp hard.

Finally, I checked First Class. Oh, my goodness! The lowest price there was $14,258! That equates to $1,584 an hour. Each hour costs more than the whole flight does back in Economy!

So let's call these what they are: First Class, Second Class and Third Class. Or better yet The Rich and Crazy, the People Who Have Money and Really Like Comfort, and The Poor Schlubs in the Back.

Of course, there are many who can't afford to get on a bus, let alone on a plane, so I'm not complaining. My real question is, how much money do I have to have before spending almost 14 times more for a more comfortable experience at the front of the plane makes sense?

1 comment:

Steve Howard said...

Good question - but how many people actually pay full price for those rich seats?