As I prepared for my flight from Philadelphia to Portland Oregon on Friday, I was greeted by a nice surprise. Those who aren't familiar with the way elite status works with US Airways, there are some great perks to having this status. The big one, and the one I am referring to today, is that there are free upgrades to first class.
The way this works with US Airways is that if there are open seats in first class on any domestic flight, elite members will be automatically upgraded into those seats, free of charge. Priority always goes to the highest status first, then the closer the departure date gets, the upgrades are made available to lower tier elites. Currently I am the low man on the totem pole, so I'm last. Despite being the low man on the totem pole, I still was able to secure an upgrade to first class on my Phoenix to Portland leg of the flight. This is a rather amazing perk of flying as an elite, free upgrades to first class… Really I spent only $200 on a round trip ticket in economy, and received a bump to a far more expensive class.
Remember though, I'm really coming down to the wire on my US Airways flights. By that I mean that US Airways officially goes away in the middle of October, and with it go the complimentary upgrades… well sort of. The way upgrades work on American is slightly different. The complimentary upgrades still exist on American as long the flight is domestic and under 500 miles. There is another perk though on American in place of the one US Airways provides and it may be argued that it is better. American uses upgrade certificates, this allows you to upgrade on any flight, but they are given out as 500 mile upgrades. So as an example, if I fly 900 miles, this requires 2 - 500 mile certificates. Fly a 1100 mile trip, it takes 3 certificates. Elites earn 4 of these certificates for every 10,000 miles they fly a year.
Which is better really depends on how often you fly domestically along with a few other factors. All in all though, these are some great perks. Nothing like a lot of leg room to make a flight so much better.
Back to my flight though, how was the flight? Well it was great, the extra space is something I can really get used to. I am 6'2" tall and my legs do not meld very well with leg room you usually find in economy. While I have become quite good at picking the right seats in economy, first class is much better when it's free. Whether or not it is worth purchasing outright for a domestic flight, well I probably wouldn't do it. The price of a first class seat tends to be a little steep for what is actually offered in that class of service.
How was the food though? Well we started out with a drink. I decided this is an excellent time to try some alcohol. I do not drink almost ever, just don't like the taste of alcohol, but I am always willing to try something once, especially if it is free. So I ordered gin, always wanted to try it and won't be trying it again. We'll leave the alcohol off the menu for this flight, not a fan.
Second up was the warm nuts, seems this is the thing to do right now, it was as one would expect, nuts that are warm. This is a good thing for me to have though, I am now going the way of a vegan… don't worry I won't trying to push it on you. One thing I have found is that US Airways sometimes does not include a good source of protein in their vegetarian meal options… so having the nuts is an important part of the meal for me. Yes, I had seconds on this front.
Bread on board the flight comes in two different options. Either you can choose the pretzel bread, which tends to get rave reviews, or the sourdough. I can't speak for the sourdough though, since I took this opportunity to try the bread that everyone always says is so good. Let me tell you, it did not let me down… well at least for what bread is. I've been on a pretzel kick anyways, so this hit the spot for me.
For the main course we had the option of a pasta in a spicy sauce or a salad with breaded chicken. Let me head this criticism off at the pass before I see comments on this. My choice to be vegan is strictly a health decision and as such I do not get bent out of shape if cheese was on top of my meal, I took it off and was fine. I try to avoid it and succeed 99% of the time, but I don't flip if a little cheese makes it into my meal. So I say that because as you can see in the picture, the pasta is what I chose and it had cheese on top of it. No big deal, just scraped it off and went about my business.
The pasta was actually decent, though I wouldn't exactly say I have a discerning palate. It is sold as a spicy sauce, but the sauce was not spicy. This may have something to do with the fact that at 36,000 ft your taste buds don't pick up flavors as well as on the ground. I did love the Kalamata olives on the pasta, what a great addition, and one I might just take for my own cooking purposes, these are my favorite olives. The side salad was a little sad, but for what it's meant to be, it was good… another olive in the salad too, they know the way to my heart.
Dessert… the famous warm chocolate chip cookie. Well I skipped this one, I was full, and it has milk in it so I avoided it.
As for the service. I really liked the first class flight attendant. She was a little sharp sometimes, but for the most part she was on top of things, especially drinks. This flight just barely meets the minimum time in the air for a full meal service and it is easy to see why this is. She was running back and forth almost the entire flight taking care of 16 passengers. Really she did a great job for the little time she had for the service. There was one really odd flight attendant though. She was located in economy and would slip by every so often and grab one or two items from people as they finished. Never did she smile, are say thank you or any other pleasantry. At one point I looked up to see her in the forward galley just staring back into economy… not sure what she was doing, but she looked like she was not with it at all. Maybe a bad day, or something. Not mean, just dismissive, weird but not really an issue.
Overall the flight was nice, while I don't think it is worth shelling out money to sit in first class, I do think it is worth trying to grab an upgrade if at all possible. It's an all around better flight and really if you can lock down some cheap first class tickets, that may just be worth it. From someone who doesn't sleep on planes, the only time I really slept on a plane was in first class… so that is saying something for the hard product.