If you aren't at that point in life where a private jet is affordable, some airlines are increasingly trying to give you the next best thing. As Scott Mayerowitz reports at the Associated Press, money can now buy the greatest airline perk of them all: extra space between you and the paupers crammed into coach.
Airline travel is one of the most conspicuous ways of illustrating the alarming gap between the rich and poor in the United States, which is at some of the widest levels since the 1920s, according to the Associated Press. In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took home nearly 50 percent of wealth in the U.S., and the wealthiest Americans earned more than 19 percent of household income. The last time those numbers were seen was in 1928, the year before the stock market crash.
“The idea is to provide an exclusive experience—inaccessible even invisible, to the masses in coach. It’s one way that a gap between the world’s wealthiest 1 percent and everyone else has widened,” Mayerowitz writes. Those passengers can have their mesclun salad with the option of king crab or USDA prime beef tenderloin, instead of the classic unidentifiable meat and rice reheated in a foil tray.
As well as your standard wide-screen TVs and seats that fold out into beds, Mayerowitz reports that Dubai’s airport has separate floors for the haves and have-nots. Premium passengers are granted direct access to the top floor of Emirates double-decker Airbus A380s, which apparently have enough room for passengers to comfortably play their saxophones. Economy passengers wait in the bowels of the terminal to board the plane’s lower deck.
And just when you thought that cigar bars, spas, and showers on planes weren’t enough, it turns out those who opt (or rather, pay) for luxury get their own rubber ducky from the private bathrooms in some first-class airport lounges, "an exclusive plastic souvenir for the international jet set."
As well as the material perks, the super rich also get the luxury of bypassing the most hellish aspects of travel. American and United Airlines have private rooms in New York and Chicago terminals where passengers can exit through hidden doors, right to the front of security lines. The Lufthansa first-class terminal in Frankfurt has its own immigration officers, and Heathrow’s private suites also allow passengers to breeze through immigration and security.
But there is, of course, a price tag attached, and airlines have come up with strategies to up the cost even more. Some carriers have upgraded their international business class sections to bring them up to par with first-class sections, leaving very little difference between the two. Others have halved the number of first-class seats, making the experience both more intimate and expensive: a roundtrip Cathay Pacific flight between New York and Hong Kong cost $1,600 for coach, $7,600 in business class and $19,000 in first class.
Mayerowitz says that clocking up 125,000 air miles is one way for mere mortals to fly in luxury, but that will only get you one trip. Use it wisely.