November 29, 2003

A First-Class Trip

DETROIT -- AS THIS KEEPS WITH the spirit of decadence which loyal Rant readers have long suspected lurks in our soul, we figure no one will be shocked to learn that we splurged on a first-class air-travel upgrade this afternoon.

We fully agree this purchase of services, which cost us $55, was entirely unwarranted. Indeed, the funds would have been better used to bolster our retirement accounts. However, we were not feeling very rational at the time. Feeling a bit ill from our previous flight, and having been quite sick over the Thanksgiving holiday, we very much wanted desperately to avoid getting stuck in some sardine tin of a cabin for the remainder of our journey. So we went for it.

However, as we sat in our spacious and comfortable chair, and put our feet up on the footrest while we dined on a surprisingly-decent meal, we wondered whether we had made an economically-justified decision. True, there were intangibles: we could blog about this, and we got to keep the boarding pass as a neat memento of the occasion. But when it came down to tangibles, we weren't sure that we were getting a good deal out of the matter.

So we ran a bit of math, using a formula we shall now enshrine as Kepple's First Law of Air Travel Upgrades. As we would like this formula to benefit all mankind, we shall publish it in the name of freedom:

((T(min) / C + A + D) * 1/2(T) )+ H= $

Or, in English:

Take the time of said flight in minutes, and divide by the variables Comfort, Accommodation, and Drinks. Multiply that sum by one-half the time of said flight in minutes, and add in the Hassle factor, also expressed in minutes. This defines the appropriate price premium (or, "$") one should pay for a first-class upgrade or ticket.

Now, admittedly, these are malleable variables. However, they may be approximated as follows:

COMFORT is measured in a unit known as the kilobalm, lit. "one thousand balms".

Now, a balm is not the direct opposite of the widely-used measuring unit for pain -- which writer Ed Bolme has termed a hurt* -- but it is close enough so that it can represent the absence of pain.

In this case, one kilobalm is equivalent to each time you do not have your knees crushed by the lout sitting in front of you; each time you do not have your chair kicked by the spiteful brute sitting behind you; or each time you do not have your feet or knees stepped on or otherwise bruised by the drinks cart.

ACCOMMODATION is an easier number to quantify: it is, simply, the number of passengers in economy class who will NOT be able to use the special first-class lavatory. This number may be adjusted, if you wish, to reflect the cost in dollars of the special first class meal you get to eat. If you wish to make this adjustment, add 5 to this number.

DRINKS represents, simply, the amount of free alcohol in ounces you can consume in the first-class cabin during the flight.

The HASSLE factor represents the time in minutes that you do not spend stuck standing in the aisle trying to maneuver into your seat, and in futile and unseemly attempts to disembark from the aircraft after landing.

Now, we can clearly see that purchasing a first-class upgrade on short airplane trips is foolish. Consider a flight from Cleveland to Detroit -- the first leg of our flight today.

The flight was 40 minutes long. Had we been in first class on that flight, we would have not had our knees crushed by the lout in front of us a full 9 times, which equals 9 kilobalms of comfort. There were 80 passengers in economy class, and we could have consumed two ounces of alcohol (or one gin miniature). The Hassle factor would have worked out to about 10, given the flight.

Hence, (((40 / (15 + 80 + 2)) * 20) + 10 = $18.25.

Since it would be pretty much near impossible to purchase a first-class upgrade for $18.25, or a first-class ticket for $18.25 more than an economy class ticket, the purchase would be foolhardy, reckless, decadent and immoral.

But what about longer flights? Let's look at our flight from Detroit to Manchester.

The flight was 100 minutes long. We estimate we enjoyed a full 37 kilobalms of comfort on the flight. There were 150 passengers, and had we wanted, we could have had a full six ounces of alcohol (three gin miniatures). The Hassle factor was a full 15 minutes.

Hence, (((100 / (37 + 150 + 6)) * 50) + 15 = $40.90.

And there you have it. Our decision was clearly unjustified and wasteful. In addition to feeling very guilty and rather embarrassed about the whole thing, we shall make up for it by eliminating an additional $14.10 from this month's entertainment budget, in addition to the $55 cost of the upgrade.

We also promise never to do such a thing again. Further, we can say we learned that an important maxim applicable in most situations also applies to air travel.

Namely, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

* Mr Bolme, writing in his book Title Deleted for Security Reasons, has noted that one hurt is the rough equivalent of suffering one bite from a mosquito. We are writing from memory, but we believe that Mr Bolme further wrote that a broken bone is equal to 600 kilohurts, while having one's lips caught in a car door is equal to something like 6.3 megahurts.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at November 29, 2003 11:23 PM | TrackBack

Thanks for developing the first class upgrade algorithm. I will enter it into my lap top computer for easy and convenient access at the departure gate. While your analysis fell approximately $10 short of the breakeven point for your Manchester flight this gap may have been filled if you plug in your being a bit under the weather health wise per your post above. All in all a very valuable tool for the frequent flier!

Posted by: swammi in solon at December 1, 2003 08:09 AM