One of the benefits of extensive foreign travel is a really FAT frequent flyer account, and since meeting my French husband, Michel, back in 2009, I’ve certainly racked up the miles. In 2009 alone, I flew back and forth between Washington and Paris four times on Air France, traveling almost 32,000 miles. I added 16,000 more miles to my travel log in February and April of the following year. That’s almost 50,000 miles traveled between Washington and Paris in just one year’s time! Aside from swelling my carbon footprint to shameful proportions, all that jetting back and forth got me a free one-way ticket to Paris in 2010 to begin my French expatriate adventure.
I should say up front that I prefer Air France to any American airline I’ve ever flown. I’m proud to be an American and all, but let’s face it: there’s something infinitely more charming about free-flowing champagne, wine, and cognac served up by French flight attendants wearing foulards than anything you normally get on an American flight … and I’m just talking about economy class, here. In fact, Air France doesn’t even call their upscale version “economy class” or “coach class”—it’s “voyageur.” Just read that out loud and you’ve already got a French accent!
The last few times that I’ve flown between Paris and the U.S., though, I’ve been relegated to US Airways. US Airways isn’t even my favorite American airline, but since they are the only airline with direct flights between Paris and Charlotte (the closest international airport to my parents), I’ve sucked it up and grudgingly said au revoir to Air France for the time being. Then last summer after completing my second trans-Atlantic flight on US Airways, I got an email from them saying that I’d been upgraded to Silver Preferred status in their frequent flyer program. Considering how dissatisfied I’d been with them in the recent past, that made me somewhat happier. At least I’d get some perks now … like “choice” seats in economy class and priority boarding. Best of all, though, I would get to check two bags free of charge—a perk crucially important for someone who always brings along a second maximum-sized bag so he can import stuff that’s cheaper in America (like toothpaste and coffee) as well as exotic American delicacies for his French family (like peanut butter M&Ms).
The other perk for Silver Preferred members is an automatic upgrade to First Class if seats are available. Now, I’ve only flown First Class twice in my life (once from San Francisco to Philadelphia using some of my frequent flyer miles, and once from DC to Boston, but only because I complained so much about the flight being delayed that they upgraded me just to shut me up). Technically, this upgrade perk is only available on domestic flights, so I never entertained the notion of flying First Class between the U.S. and Paris … that is, until New Year’s Day.
Concourse D of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport
January 1, 2012, 6:15 pm (one hour until departure)
Passenger Samuel Bell, please see an agent at Gate D9. Passenger Samuel Bell, please see an agent at Gate D-9.
Me to Michel:
Hmm. I wonder what that’s about. I’ll be right back.
I approached the agents at D9 and one of them asked me for my boarding pass. I handed it over but didn’t ask what was going on. The agent did a few things with her computer and handed back a newly printed boarding pass showing me in seat 3H … First Class!
This is an upgrade? But … I’m traveling with someone.
Oh, well, he’s not Silver Preferred.
No. He’s not, but he’s traveling with me. He’s supposed to be upgraded too, right? I can’t sit in First Class with him in coach. Are there other open seats?
Well, he’s not on your reservation now, because I had to split it to give you the upgrade.
I didn’t quite understand what that had to do with anything, so I persisted.
Well, if you can’t upgrade him too, then I need my old seat back. I’m not leaving him in coach.
Okay. Hold on. Here’s your old boarding pass, but I’m going to keep working on it. Let me see what I can do. I’ll call you back up.
Okay. Thank you.
I went back to find Michel and explained what happened. Then we waited. In the meantime, several others passengers were paged to Gate D9. “Probably other Silver Preferred members who are going to get our First Class seats!” I thought. About ten minutes later, when they announced boarding for First Class passengers, I decided to check in on our agent’s progress. It seemed that she’d forgotten all about me, but when I walked up to the desk, she recognized me and started double-checking seat assignments again.
Oh yes, Mr. Bell. I’m working on it. What’s the other passenger’s name?
Pouradier. P-O-U-R-A-D-I-E-R. Is it possible to get two seats together?
Oh, now you’re asking for a lot!
The gate agent chuckled and grinned at me.
Well, I would be very grateful if you could do that.
I smiled my most charming smile right back at her.
It turned out that she couldn’t get us into two seats side-by-side, but she was able to get us both into First Class, assuring me that we’d certainly be able to change seats with someone once we were on board because First Class wasn’t full. During our pre-departure champagne and dinner orders, I coordinated a seat-swap with the passenger next to me. By the time we started taxiing to the runway, Michel and I were comfortably ensconced in seats 3D and 3E—in the very center of Flight 786’s First Class cabin.
We were both impressed by our new, upscale accommodations and Michel, as usual, expressed his satisfaction by playing like a kid. The service during the flight was impeccable, the drinks were free-flowing, and the three-course dinner finished with two giant scoops of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The best part of the flight, though, was the reclining seat that transformed into a bed. For the first time ever, I was able to really sleep during a flight to Paris.
What an experience that upgrade ended up being! The downside is that I’m now spoiled forever. I mean, how could I ever go back to economy class after all that?! Well, I guess I’ll find out in April when nobody at Charles de Gaulle makes the announcement:
Passenger Samuel Bell, please see an agent at Gate 21. Passenger Samuel Bell, please see an agent at Gate 21.
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved