On our way back from Illinois this Christmas we were finally able to use our airline miles to upgrade our tickets to first class. It cost 15,000 miles per person, leaving us with just 16,000 miles left, so I think the upgrade cost about $300 in air miles. It was nice, but not quite what Seinfeld led me to believe.
The seats were definitely nicer, with both elbow and legroom. The steward hung up our coats as we went in, and our service was much faster since there were 2 serving everyone in first class- about 20 in all. There was a choice of a fruit and cheese plate or an omelette, but all the fruit plates were taken (we were in 4A and 4B, so there must have been 12 or fewer fruit plates on board). They had danishes and bagels, also. They weren't any better than typical airline food. We boarded the plane earlier, departed earlier, and arrived slightly sooner (because we were in the front of the plane- get it?).
Aside from that, there wasn't anything special about it. We still had to watch the safety video. First class only stands out because of how crappy coach is. If they had those displays in the back of the seat in front of you that let you watch whatever you wanted, that would be something.
I guess the airlines are in trouble nowadays, so they need to get as many people on the plane as possible. There's no shortage of passengers, so there's no need for them to try to compete and win us over. JetBlue and Virgin Airlines are actually trying to make flights more pleasant, but they cost more. The problem is that tickets for 2 people from LAX to O'Hare cost about $600-$800 already. I'd be more willing to pay extra if they were still around $400 like they were in 2002 and 2003.
And a $300 premium for some legroom? I guess it's ok if that makes coach seats cheaper.
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