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Dessert on my cross-country American Airlines flight

A few days ago, I took an American Airlines flight from New York to San Francisco. Luckily for me, I had accumulated enough frequent-flyer points to get a free round-trip ticket in business class (which I mention in order to rebut your sarcastic assumption that I must have been traveling first-class, or that I’m one of those rich guys who travels like this every day).

After our appetizer and entree, this is what my seat-mate ordered for dessert. I have to confess that I ordered an ice-cream sundae. Decadent, decadent, decadent …

Oh, yes, for what it’s worth: this was taken with my modest little iPhone 6s+ camera …

I’m amused by how many people are convinced that a scene like this could only have been found in the first-class section of the airplane; and that might be a reflection of the opinion most of us have of today’s cattle-car experience in the economy section of most flights, where we’re lucky to even get a small bag of pretzels or peanuts. And it reminds me that, for much of the decades of the 80s and 90s, I did fly in the first-class section of many flights, as the majority of my traveling was for business purposes, and I could often find a business client willing to pay the fare.

But this trip was personal, not business; nobody else was paying the fare. Indeed, nobody paid anything at all: it was a "free" trip, using an accumulation of frequent-flyer points to get a seat in the business-class section of the plane. The canned announcements on our plane informed us that this particular cross-country flight on American Airlines is one of the few remaining "three-class" flights that contains a first-class section and a business section, in addition to the undistinguished rabble in the economy section of the plane (where I usually find myself sitting on current flights). And if the meals were this good in the business-class section, one can only imagine how opulent they must be in first class!

As one of the Flickr visitors commented in the notes below, what’s really remarkable about this picture is not the fruit and crackers, but the presence of "real" silverware. After the terrorist attacks of 9-11 (more than 14 years ago, as I write these words), in which silverware utensils were apparently used in one of the attacks on the planes, most of us have become accustomed to cheap plastic utensils … except on some international flights. But here they were, available to all of the passengers in the business-class section of a domestic flight. (Again, one can only imagine what the silverware must have been like in first class — maybe real silver?)

All of this reminds me of the flights I occasionally took on that long-defunct airline, Pan Am, in which luxuries like this were quite common. On the coast-to-coast Boeing 747 flights, there was a stand-up cocktail bar in the back of the plane, where you could get a relaxing drink and chat with other passengers on the flight. (And you could smoke, too, which was not so good!)

But what I really remember was the Pan Am flights from New York to London: they left at dinner time, and if you were lucky enough to fly first-class on the 747 flights (which must have cost a fortune, even in those days!), you sat upstairs and were served dinner in a style that would do justice to a fine French restaurant in Paris or New York. Not only did you get real silverware, but you also got real china dishes, all of which was laid out on a real linen table-cloth. The prime-rib dinner (I don’t recall ever seeing anything else offered for dinner) was always carved, fresh, right at your seat, and the pastries and ice-cream sundae desserts continued all the way across the Atlantic …

And the decadent opulence was not just confined to first-class. On one occasion in the early 1990s, my travel agent (a wonderful person, whose profession has vanished in today’s do-it-yourself travel world) got me a free seat on a flight to Copenhagen in what was then a combined business/first-class section on an SAS flight. It was an overnight flight, of course, and it turned out that I was the only passenger in that section of the plane (which also explains how my travel agent was able to get the seat for me!).

But the flight was fully stocked, on the non-existent chance that first/business-class would actually be full — and as a result, they had a huge tub of caviar, which was freely dispensed to all of the passengers in the cabin. Which consisted of just me. I consumed so much caviar on that flight that I could not stand to see the stuff for a full year after the flight … not to mention a few glasses of vodka, which the Danish apparently feel is a necessary accompaniment to caviar. (Just in case you needed to know, for some future occasion.)

Alas, those days are gone, and those flights are gone, too. They do still have business-class domestic flights, and the occasional coast-to-coast flight with three classes of service. And they obviously have first-class sections on international flights. But in today’s world, even the business-class seats are so expensive that one can hardly afford them. The client organizations for whom I work probably could afford them, if they were in the mood to do so; but quite understandably, they would prefer to save the thousands of dollars of flight-expenses for some other purpose. So, with the rare exception of annual flights that are financed with my frequent-flyer points, I’m sitting in the back of the plane along with all of the other disgruntled passengers, eating my peanuts and pretzels with a plastic fork and knife.

None of which explains why I took this photo. I was not thinking of the glories of long-ago travel when I glanced to one side from my aisle seat (as a younger business traveler, I always insisted on window seats, but in my older age, it’s more important to be closer to the bathroom on these long flights), and saw the light streaming in through the window, as our plane raced westward at 35,000 feet. The light was amazing, and I simply had to take a photo … but I certainly didn’t feel like pulling my camera bag down from the overhead compartment to find a "fancy" camera for the shot. I was photographing only for my own pleasure at that moment, and my little iPhone camera was more than sufficient.

But now that I’ve looked at it, all of those memories come back to me … and that makes the photo all the more valuable, at least to me.

Posted by Ed Yourdon on 2015-11-12 12:05:49

Tagged: , fork , knife , grapes , cracker , still life


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