Today on Alphabet City: Glamorous touches surprise Jon Paul on his American Airlines flight to Jamaica.
Every other year when Dad didn’t take us to The Grand Hotel on the murky waters of Alabama’s Mobile Bay, he planned some more eventful and memorable family vacations. There was the white water rafting trip down the Grand Canyon where my mother’s fierce maternal instinct kicked into overdrive and kept my older sister from falling overboard into deadly rapids. And I’ll never forget the car trip down the California coast where we played tennis with his old college buddy Chief of Staff/Secretary of State James Baker for the last hotel room available near Ronald Reagan’s ranch.
But it was my virgin trip to the Caribbean when I was about five when I fell in love with the glamour of air travel. Since most of our family vacations involved car travel, this one was exotic in that it began at Dallas’ Love Field and ended at Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands. Today, the resort is run by Rosewood and is the epitome of island luxury. But when my family vacationed there it was a true Robinson Crusoe immersion experience with limited supplies of electricity and hot water.
While I thought the whole sand and flashlights thing was kind of fun, my mother immediately burst into tears and never recovered. She insisted my father gather the troops and hightail a retreat. For several days, he put up a good fight but eventually yielded to her steady stream of tears. The only seats available on the return flight to Dallas were in First Class, and so reluctantly he ponied up the cash (or MasterCard).
Stepping onto that plane in San Juan was like getting my passport stamped for entry into a world unlike any I had seen. The flight attendants’ lipstick was a little brighter, her skirt a little tighter, her boots a little taller. She showed us to our special seats—no, not some regular series of leather faux recliners—but a built in banquette! Like we were at some mile-high diner, only classier with table linens and seatbelts! My father and mother both looked miserable (turns out my mother was very sick), and my teenage sisters were devastated that summer vacation was cut short. But I was in heaven and could hardly sit still the entire way.
Unfortunately, the glamour of air travel reached its zenith for me there at the tender age of five. After that, it’s been a steady decline of expectations about First Class travel. Over the years, I’ve acquired millions of frequent flier miles and only dispensed them judiciously for upgrades. A three-hour flight back to Dallas? Not worth cashing in miles just to be crammed into compact seats at the front of the plane when I can snag a roomy exit row for free.
So it was with some hesitation that I clicked the “upgrade” button on AA.com when choosing a seat on my flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica. But seeing as how I hadn’t used any upgrades in quite a while, I figured why not. Use or lose them.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the lap of luxury—a redesigned business class cabin featuring flat bed seats and on-demand video worthy of a Pacific crossing! We only had 3 hours and some change. Barely enough time to learn the complicated seat controls, take a nap lying flat on my back, watch Michael Jackson’s swan song This Is It (is it weird that I cried?), eat broiled chicken with a spicy mango salsa, drink two glasses of chardonnay, enjoy a cranberry oatmeal cookie, flip through OUT magazine, eavesdrop on the flight attendant’s expert handling of a fussy older lady brandishing a bag of prescription bottles, and conduct a photo shoot to launch my new book tour gimmick—Where in the World is Alphabet City?
Whew! I landed in Jamaica ready for a break, and grateful to American Airlines for putting a little sunshine back into air travel. Granted, I have no idea what it was like back there in coach. But for a few hours at least, I felt like a kid again returning from that first trip to the Caribbean, once again enjoying the glamour of it all.