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Fly first-class and beat the domestic blahs
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Fly first-class and beat the domestic blahs

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Is it really worth the extra cost to upgrade on domestic travel? Yes, it is. Nearly every airline now charges coach passengers for checked-in bags, in-flight food, and alcoholic beverages, and some are charging for in-flight entertainment, as well. With these amenities built into your first-class ticket, it really does translate to a better overall deal, especially when speedier boarding privileges and extra comfort are also included. Several airlines, like Alaska and Delta, allow same-day upgrades upon check-in, space permitting, and base their fees on the number of miles being flown that day (i.e. $50 for 0-1,250 miles). Check with your airline prior to departure about upgrade possibilities, either by paying cash/card or using reward miles. Of course, you can always guarantee a first-class seat by reserving it at the time of booking, and airlines usually offer bonus reward miles for doing so.

I recently flew American (www.aa.com/rainbow) and Delta (www.delta.com/gaytravel) to two separate destinations. I upgraded to first-class on American and stayed in coach for Delta. Both flights were over four hour long. Here is my assessment of each flight and its first-class amenities.

American Airlines, first class Seattle to St. Louis Check-in / Baggage
Express check-in, no waiting in line, priority access through security checkpoints. It took 10 minutes from arrival at the airport to reach the gate of my departure. No fees for my checked-in bag, and I also brought two carry-ons.

Pre-takeoff / Boarding
Priority boarding, more overhead cabin space for carry-ons, coat rack. Beverages and daily newspapers were offered prior to departure; a cold Heineken kicked off my journey. Closer proximity to the bathrooms was a godsend for this traveler, who usually needs to utilize them before takeoff. Upon landing, first class passengers were given priority to disembark the plane.

Seating / Cabin
Four-abreast seating, large reclining leather seats, lots of legroom. I travel with lots of electronic gadgets and reading material, and there was plenty of space here for my iPod, notepads, magazines, newspapers, and two pieces of carry-on luggage - one by my feet, the other tucked into an overhead compartment.

In-flight meals / Entertainment
Shortly after takeoff, we were offered another beverage of choice, this time served with warm, salted nuts - throughout the trip, flight attendants refilled our wine glasses, re-mixed more cocktails, and opened new cans of beer for us. Two lunch selections were offered, a cheeseburger or chicken Cobb salad. I chose the latter, which was served with dressing, pita chips and gourmet cheese dip. A chocolate chip cookie, baked on-board, finished off a terrific light meal. Silverware, glass plates, bar-style cocktail glasses, and fabric napkins were used during our meal service. A full-length movie was featured on overhead TV monitors, though I contentedly listened to an '80s-themed radio channel from the airline's music selection. Earphones were free of charge in first class.

Service / Overall experience
Service was excellent; the flight attendants in the first-class cabin were attentive, efficient, and friendly. I never had an empty glass of wine or water. I was noticeably relaxed and less frustrated when we landed, in contrast to flying coach, where I usually can't wait to get off the plane. Obviously one feels spoiled and privileged to be seated in first-class, but aside from this I felt the experience was worth the extra cost or reward miles because I didn't have to pay for any checked-in bags, or beverages and food on-board. I was relaxed and ready for my venture in St. Louis upon landing.

Delta Airlines, coach Seattle to Atlanta Check-in / Baggage
Check-in via kiosk, no priority access through security checkpoints. Lines at security checkpoints were long, so I didn't reach my gate until 40 minutes after my arrival at the airport. A $20 fee for the first checked-in bag ($25 for second) was due before my boarding pass could be issued, however one carry-on (40 pounds or less) and one personal item (purse, briefcase, laptop, etc.) were permitted free of charge.

Boarding / Pre-takeoff
Boarding by group, limited room for carry-ons. No food, beverages, or reading material were offered prior to departure.

Seating / Cabin
Six-abreast seating, leather seats, bathrooms at the very back, hardly any legroom. I was cramped and uncomfortable during the 4.5-hour flight, and I'm a short person, so I can't imagine what taller passengers were experiencing. Despite a full flight, there was miraculously enough room for everyone's carry-on bags in coach, though flight attendants had to work their magic to squeeze them all in.

In-flight meals / Entertainment
Two complimentary beverage/snack services during the flight - non-alcoholic beverages were complimentary, as was our choice of peanuts, pretzels or Delta's signature spiced cookies (wrapped, not fresh). Sandwiches and salads were available for purchase only, and priced expensively at $6-$8 A Cabernet-Sauvignon was quite tasty, but I paid $7 for a tiny bottle. Individual TV screens in seats in front of us were available at no charge. Headphones, if we didn't have our own, were available for purchase. The selection of free entertainment was surprisingly good, from the Food Network to CNN to dozens of CDs (Coldplay, Tori Amos, Green Day), and I was completely absorbed with an in-flight trivia game that allowed me to compete with fellow passengers.

Service / Overall experience
Service was professional and cordial, however flight attendants were late with the second beverage/snack service - they were still opening cans of soda midway in the main cabin when the captain announced we'd be landing in 40 minutes, which meant I had to chug my purchased alcohol in rapid time. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the entertainment system and choice of three snacks, but I was very uncomfortable with the amount of legroom and space between seats (none, actually). My body was tense upon landing, and for several hours afterwards.

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