When I went to Haiti in 2012, I was for some reason upgraded to first class for the duration of the trip. It was my first time flying first class, and it was an interesting experience.
The first class lounge in Portland didn't really want to let my group in - we were missionaries bound for the mountains in Haiti; our backpacks and casual clothes didn't quite fit in with the executives watching basketball in the lounge.
In the end, they still serviced us, and we had a fantastic flight to the island nation. Steak for lunch, a warm town to wash up before dinner, free wine.
It was a blast.
On the way home, we were kicked out of the first class lounge in Florida - they took even more offense to our choice in apparel than Portland, so we spent the better part of the day in Chili's instead. It was a minor slight, but it stuck with me and I've had a bit of a jaded view of first class since then.
Whenever I travel for conferences, I look into upgrade fees. I liked getting on the plane early and ensuring my carry-on had a space. I liked the real size meal they serve in the first class cabin. I like the seats that actually recline.
But I'm not going to pay $300-1000 more for a 4-5 hour flight just to experience those perks. It's not worth it.
Another perk I've noticed on recent flights is the somewhat private lavatory at the front of the plane. On many flights, those of us in the main cabin are instructed to use the toilets in the back of the plane instead. I can respect that. I mean, the first class flyers don't want to put up with the normal people in their waiting area, why put up with us in their bathroom?
On my flight this weekend to Texas, though, things were a bit different.
I was in the row immediately behind the first class bulkhead (meaning there were 4 rows between me and the front lavatory - 30 rows between me and the back lavatories). The flight attendants never said we had to stick with one section of the plane or the other, and when one passenger monopolized the first class lavatory for an hour, the rest of their higher-class colleagues made their way to the ones at the back of the plane.
After the beverage service, I excused myself to do the same. Unfortunately, the flight attendants were still in the middle of service in the back of the plane, so I couldn't pass. I went towards first class, and a lady actually told me off.
By "told me off" I mean physically blocked the aisle and yelled. At me for being "in the wrong class." At the flight attendants for "letting one of them use our lavatory."
It was ridiculous. Everybody poops. Does it really matter which bathroom they use to do it?
I went back to "my class" and waited another 30 minutes for the flight attendants to finish their service so I could pass. Then, the head flight attendant went on the PA and ... apologized to the first class passengers for letting the coach passengers use their lavatory. Then she instructed us to remain only in our ticketed cabin, and promptly drew the blinds between the bulkheads.
I realize I didn't pay what she paid to sit in the deluxe cabin. But we were seated maybe 5 feet apart, breathed the same air, were serviced from the same beverage cart, and (apparently) both had to exercise the facilities before we landed. Did her higher-price ticket really earn her the right to this kind of special treatment?
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
I can't answer whether or not she deserved special treatment, or whether or not I deserved to be yelled at for what I did. I do know there's absolutely nothing special about first class aside from the legroom and the added hit on the credit card.
I can only hope that, if ever placed in the position the flight attendants were in, I won't become a judge with evil thoughts.