Caste and Class — Airline Style

A few years back I came to understand that the Bolshevik Revolution is over. While walking through Oslo Gardermoen Airport I noticed that Aeroflot had Business Class. Imagine that, the official airline of the classless society with Business Class! The registration numbers on Aeroflot planes still begin with ‘SU’, a holdover from the Soviet Union, but otherwise, class is back.

If you haven’t read the sociology classic, Caste and Class in a Southern Town, by John Dollard, you should. Originally published in 1937, it’s now in its third edition. That will prepare you for what I am about to say. (Oh, well, you can read it later.)

While Western democracies have long been moving to the real classless society, i.e., the kind with equal opportunity, the world’s airlines are hell bent to restore the fully stratified “I’m better than you” kind of discrimination. We have the plain vanilla First Class, Business Class, Economy Class, and their various sub-flavors, but we also have Platinum, Gold, and Silver rankings, various Elites and Priorities, Plusses (no Minuses), Preferreds and Fast-tracks. This is not to mention all the special lounges in airports for the priviliged few, some with complementary (so I have heard) cocktails, and of course free WiFi.

Then there are all the frequent flier programs and their ranked point categories. It’s even possible to be a member of the Gold point set and be the first to board, even if traveling Economy that day. I’m sure this practice is frowned upon by the airlines, however, as it would seem to berate the eliteness of Gold, like going down to Steerage for a glass of water on the Titanic when you could be having champagne in First Class. You could do it, but why?

There is, however, one remaining uncovered realm of eliteness to be exploited, that is, to replace the lowly democracy of waiting for the suitcases by the belts. We’re all together there, with little to distinguish the precious from the dross. Here’s a suggestion: Tag the luggage with a status item, and provide a like tag to the select customer. Then deliver the elite bags first, follow down the class scale to those traveling with a cardboard box wrapped in duct tape. Noses could be held high all the way to the limo (alternatively for the low noses, the bus.) That would give a few more moments of narcissism before the reality of all breathing the same smog sets in. Hmmm. Maybe platinum, gold, and silver oxygen tanks. Let me think about that.

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