Why Flying First Class Is Not Always The Safest Option In A Pandemic

Space Debate.

Why Flying First Class Is Not Always The Safest Option In A Pandemic

Image: Bloomberg

Historically speaking, few human beings ever got the chance to fly. Fewer still got to enjoy that golden era when budget flights and points promotions could take you all around the world at the tap of a credit card. And even less got (or indeed, get) to make a living from sipping champagne and pontificating the merits of reverse herringbone seat configurations.

Of course, travel as usual is expected to slowly (and with a few bumps) return over the next three years. But right now we find ourselves in a pandemic with no clear end in sight. As such, there are new dynamics in the skies: empty seats in bizarre places being one of them.

Enter: prolific frequent flyer and The Points Guy correspondent Summer Hull. Summer recently took to Instagram to show why flying First in the US (the equivalent to Business in Australia) doesn’t always give you more space than flying economy.

For The Points Guy, the mid tier United gold member wrote she normally “gets especially excited” about an upgrade. However, on a recent United flight, that was far from the case: “This time, when the upgrade cleared 24 hours before the flight… I immediately started wondering if I should decline it.”

While some airlines (Delta, Southwest and Jetblue), are still offering capped capacity flights, several – including United – are not. United, though it will warn you (and allow changes) if your flight is getting super full, has returned to processing automatic first class upgrades and not guaranteeing blocked middle seats.

Summer quickly found a bizarre consequence to this by stalking the seat map: “first class appeared to be 100% full with 20/20 seats filled, including our two upgrades.”

Premium economy was apparently better, but the real deal was “regular old economy toward the back of the plane” which had rows and rows of empty seats.

Of course, this is a one off. As DMARGE recently discovered on an cattle class flight across the pond in Australia (from Sydney to Noosa, to be precise), economy can get full too (in which case you’d clearly be better off in business or first).

But Summer points out the benefits don’t end there: she says there’s also less temptation to eat or drink in economy (which means less walking to the bathroom and touching of handles) and that there’s a better deplaning experience (though again this could come down to the fact that economy was, on this specific flight, incredibly sparse).

Interestingly, internationally, we may see (in some cases) the same phenomenon play out, with returning Australian expats alleging that airlines had canceled their economy tickets and forced them to upgrade to business class if they wanted to keep on the same flight, due to new arrival number restrictions in Sydney airport.

The moral of the story? Keep your wits about you wherever you sit, and don’t be surprised if the dynamics of the skies change further over the next few years.

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