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originally posted at Another Glass of Champagne Please, July 12, 2005
We know why you fly – that’s the new multi-million dollar advertising campaign that American Airlines recently launched. While many of my fellow frequent flyers have poked much fun at this theme, it certainly bears pondering. The commercials at the very least manage to make me teary-eyed (although I have flown United enough to have a Pavlovian “tears in my eyes” response now every time I hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue too).
As I’m typing this (to paste later), I’m sitting in 6B on a 737 bound for Miami. In the first class cabin, the “why you fly” is often fairly obvious… a bunch of white males in suits are headed to business destinations. Yes, I said white males. The first class cabin, at first glance, may seem representative of the “average business traveler”. The more I fly, however, the more I learn that this isn’t true.
I read a study recently, for example, that suggested two things – one, that business travel is split almost evenly between men and women – yet look in the popular media and 90% of your stock artwork used by hotel chains and airlines is graying men in suits. Two, the age of business travelers is going down all the time. Take FlyerTalk.com where I am an uber-frequent poster. When I first started posting, I assumed I was an anomaly – a young female biz traveler (who certainly looked NOTHING like the advertising portrayals of who were 40-something and wearing navy suits that didn’t look too far off from what the flight attendants were wearing – in fact, only the lack of wings and a nametag distinguish the two on sight. Yet the more I talk to the “ultra” frequent flyers (by ultra frequent, I’m talking about a minimum of 100,000 BIS – or butt-in-seat – miles on airplanes annually), the more I realize there is a tendency in business to recruit the young and unattached to do the heavy lifting.
I’m among that latter group of “ultra frequent” folks – although by the standards of that group, I’m a lightweight. By this time the last three years, I had already crossed the 100,000 threshold by the 4th of July… this year I’m just now hitting it (although I’ll log close to 20,000 domestic miles in July to make up for it). I’ve exceeded 200,000 three years straight and with three international trips planned for fall so far (and likely a couple more on the horizon), I’ll easily do it again this year. Still, I have friends that come closer to the 400k to 500k a year mark – and spend week after week crossing oceans and date lines.
More and more, the “twice a month to Des Moines” traveling middle manager is being replaced by “my kind” – the youngish professional services specialist clad in blue jeans carrying the requisite Tumi rollaboard and laptop while permanently plugged into an Ipod and/or Blackberry. We hop time zones without blinking and sleep with the local phone book – spine out – under the clock radio so if we wake up in the middle of the night, we can quickly calculate location and time zone and go back to sleep.
This entire quest for frequent flyer miles gets me the ‘why do you do it” question a lot. Some days I honestly don’t know – maybe it’s the free international first class tickets. Or perhaps I enjoy being able to treat my close friends and family to a surprise trip or upgrade every now and then. Or sometimes I just LIKE being on an airplane, away from my ringing phone.
The guy in front of me on this flight knows why HE flies. He has his wife and three children with him, all bound for Florida (I suspect the House of Mouse) in first class. That’s 200,000 miles redeemed there (and I’m guessing a bunch of hotel points and car rental certificates too). That’s the equivalent to dozens of flights – weeks away from home – lots of nights of room service or grabbing fast food in the airport while watching delayed flights get pushed back. And somehow that award makes it all worth it.
When I see folks redeeming for a “special trip”, my heart goes out to them. As far as today’s flight, I’m glad to report that it was a good one. No delays, smooth air, and absolutely impeccable service from our purser Alvin (a 17-year AA veteran flight attendant) who treated each individual in the first class cabin like they were guests his home. He pulled out all the stops they learn in training – like presenting the hot towels on a tray with a glass of “steaming” dry ice and chatting comfortably with each of the passengers. The family was duly impressed – and so was I.
I know it sounds silly to mention those little things, but in this day and age of cutbacks, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of surly pursers who can’t be bothered to do things ‘correctly” and who treat the passengers as a minor inconvenience. Its nice to know that when all is said and done, nothing happened to start their vacation off poorly – or with frustrations.
American says they know why we fly… I’m not totally sure they have it all down. Alvin, however, hits the nail on the head.