Sunday, January 18, 2009

Empathy for the Clintons

Last month, the United Airlines Mileage Plus frequent flier program awarded me Premier status for logging more than 30,000 miles during 2008. This mileage, mainly consisting of round-trip business travel between Denver and L.A., translates to about 95 hours of being wedged into Economy seats, typically at the back of the plane adjacent to the lavatory.

Three weeks later, I was surprised to see my status elevated again, up a notch to Premier Executive, which is normally reserved for those traveling more than 50,000 miles during a year. I don't know whether my new Premier Exec status is due to United's largess or to a clerical error somewhere. But deserving or not, I have quickly become accustomed to the prestige and perquisites.

The advantages or Premier Exec status begin at check-in. I now stroll blithely past the line of ordinary travelers en route to the prestige check-in lane, where the guard lady confirms the PR EXEC on my boarding pass. Even though Premier Exec only qualifies as lesser nobility – there are even more exalted ranks, culminating in the great princes of Global Services - the lady favors me with a smile and an approving nod as she waves me onward to the prestige check-in podium. I walk briskly, avoiding eye contact with the shuffling herd.

Premier Exec status allows me to board the airplane early, right after the higher nobility. However, I am not permitted to use the boarding lane with the red carpet. Instead, the Premier Exec travelers and all the rest are shunted off to the boarding lane with regular carpet. This seems unfair to me. Why should I be lumped with the commoners and denied the red carpet?

Premier Exec status also provides me seating benefits. I get a free upgrade to Economy Plus seating toward the front of the plane. No more seats back near the lavatory for me! The Economy Plus seats have four more inches of leg room than the crammed-tight Economy seats. And the Economy Plus passengers are generally more stylish.

No doubt the reader can detect that my Premier Exec status has begun to undermine my virtue. Truly, pride and vainglory are fed by a sudden boost in prestige. Yet, despite these failings and foolishness, some wisdom has been given to me. Now, as a consequence of my own moral deterioration, I am able to empathize with the Clintons. If an upgrade in Mileage Plus status is sufficient to damage my character, what damage must inevitably result from rising from relative obscurity in Arkansas to the tremendous prestige of flying the world over in Air Force One?

And how will President Obama face the danger of his own exaltation?