Alaska Air, and a first class tale of woe … and a little redemption.

Posted on
Dec 4, 2009

One the Monday before Thanksgiving, I was upgraded to first class for my Alaska Airlines flight down to San Diego.

I’ve just reached MVP status on Alaska, and it’s the first time I’ve had status on any airline, so up until now, first class has been pretty much a pipe dream for me. I didn’t even know I could request it. On the flight down, they automatically upgraded me at the gate, and I actually asked why.

“Well,” the woman explained, “it’s what we do for MVPs when there’s space available.”

Naturally, I was quite excited (though I wished I had worn nicer shoes. My keens looked a little haggard). I ended up sitting in the first row by the window, and for a while didn’t take much notice of the other passengers. They seemed like nice people, particularly the two gentleman who quickly helped me store my rather heavy suitcase in the overhead compartment. The flight attendant (flight crew member?) assigned to our section was seemed friendly and funny. He was a bald guy in his 40s, and I could hear him chatting with the other passengers, but I had my nose in my Swedish thriller, so I wasn’t really paying attention to what they were saying.

As the flight progressed, their conversation became more animated, and a few words caught my attention. “The president”, “health care”, “all this crap about change.”

Uh …. what?

I kept my book in front of my face, but was no longer reading the words. I just kept staring at the printed pages, listening to the flight attendant and the man beside me. The man was telling his the flight attendant how his son was going to have to pay $4000 a year for healthcare thanks to the president, and “what a bunch of bullshit” it was. And the flight attendant was commiserating, saying how they were “all going to get screwed.” He also bragged about his own coverage.

They continued on for a while. The man next to me said that “young people just have their heads in the sand” (did I mention that I was, by far, the youngest person in first class?) and the flight attendant agreed enthusiastically.

I wanted, more than anything, to say something. But I’m not exactly sure that getting into a philosophical argument with a flight attendant is a good idea (I read a story about a woman who lost her temper and had a tantrum with flight crew. She’s now being charged with terrorism). I had a pictoral image of the flight attendant wrestling me to the ground and having to leave the airplane in handcuffs. So I stayed quiet. I began looking around the first class cabin, searching for an ally. Someone else must be bothered by this, right? It was then that I noticed three or four people were reading the same book.

It was Sarah Palin’s autobiography. They had all come from her “book”-signing in Alaska.

I swallowed hard. Here’s the thing: I hate political discussions. I have my opinions, but I don’t like to talk about them. Frankly, debating stresses me out. So to be trapped in the middle of someone else’s discussion about politics, and one that I don’t happen to agree with? Not cool. And to see a member of the flight crew – someone who I would like to think is there to make sure we have a safe and enjoyable flight – raging and cussing about politics? That’s downright scary.

I kept getting up to go to the bathroom, because I didn’t want to stay in the middle of the discussion. The first time, I exited the bathroom to hear the flight attendant say, “Obama wants the governement controlling everything. You know who else wanted that? Hitler.”


The second time, there was a frantic pounding on the outside of my door. It was the flight attendant. He said something urgently that I couldn’t make out (“We’re landing” or something like that). Quickly, I dove out of the stall, and found him standing outside, laughing, along with one of the women who had been reading Palin’s biography.

“He did it,” she said laughing.

“I’ve had too much to drink,” he said, trying to hold in a giggle.

I’m not really sure if he was kidding or not, but I walked back to my seat red-faced. I hadn’t even had time to dry my hands after washing them, I left the washroom so quickly. The woman who had been talking to him apparently needed to use the bathroom, and even though I was in there only a few minutes, he had no problem freaking-me-the-hell-out and rushing me out of the bathroom.

Later, I told my husband definitively that if that was what first class was like, I wanted no part of it. I’d rather sit in coach – between a screaming baby and some huge dude with no boundaries and a raging case of swine-flu – than deal with that again.

I suppose if young people hadn’t been insulted directly, I wouldn’t have been so angry. Or if they were talking politics that I agreed with, perhaps I’d have been calmer. But after listening to someone else – who is, mind you, at work –  trash on your values, and compare our president to Hitler, and THEN NOT EVEN LET YOU PEE IN PEACE … well, that leaves a girl a weensy bit ticked off.

I landed in San Diego with a good deal of anger and no real recourse. So, naturally, I tweeted about what happened.

And it was then that Alaska started to shine (and the only reason why this post wasn’t a Dick Move!). Whoever is handling the AlaskaAir Twitter account is clearly on the ball. They apologized for the rotten time I had and DM’d me a couple of questions about my flight. And since then, they’ve been answering my other non-stop queries about upgrades and the world of MVP status. So kudos to them for that. Unfortunately whoever is handling their online reputation isn’t in charge of their real-life reputation.

My flight home also included an upgrade (not an automatic one – I’m learning the ropes, so I requested for myself), and it was uneventful and pleasant. I read, ate some chicken, and got up to pee without being forced out of the toilet.

But I’m still angry about the flight down. More than anything, I’m upset about how damn powerless I felt. Being on a bus, or on a city street, or at a family dinner, you can decide whether or not you want to speak up. But on a plane, the dynamic changes. You can’t walk away. You can’t get off the plane and catch the next one in 10 minutes. You’re essentially trapped.

Considering that, I hope that Alaska tells their employees to use their powers for good, and be more considerate of their passengers. If that means being overly-polite, biting their tongues, and holding back their political beliefs, well, so be it. After all, it’s what we as passengers have to do.

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