This year, I've been sentenced to suffer at the hands of the second largest airline in the world. It's been quite a ride… I've had the privilege of seeing the oxygen mask (not) descend from the ceiling in the event of a loss of cabin pressure. No joke. I've gone back to O'Hare due to an in-air problem when the St. Louis airport was within sight. Again, no joke. I've seen all their US hubs this year. I'm convinced that every one of their employees in Chicago need to be RIF'd.

So, here I am in early December with no work travel planned for the rest of the year. And I'm 2,000 miles short of hitting Executive Platinum for 2009. And I'm actually considering putting down $200 of my own money to take a flight to nowhere for no reason other than to get that little bit of electronic nothingness.

Why on earth would I consider spending 24 hours in Scranton, Tulsa, or Greenville? There are several reasons for my descent into madness.

  • For 2009, United has announced that Premier Execs get to board with first class. I'm not sure how much of a bonus this is, but it's there. As a Premier, I get to load after first class and I get to sit in Economy Plus. There are times when I'm fighting the masses to put my little roller in the overhead. This won't help me when I'm huffing to get from gate 27 to 81 at Denver Int'l with 5 minutes to go, but it will help me when the gate agent lets an entire Chinese soccer team get on the plane before the rest of economy.
  • The multiplier factor. If you know how elite programs work, you know the magical multiplier helps keep you in the front of the bus, even in lean years when your company is calling you in Rome to tell you that your return flight to O'Hare has been downgraded from business class to economy. True story. The multiplier for Premier Executive is 1.5, versus 1.25 for Premier. This means that the 33,000 miles I fly next year will get me back to Premier Executive, versus 40,000 as a Premier. For the record, I've flown 34,500 miles this year with a couple of lucky breaks by paying attention to promotions and the company paying for business class on international flights.
  • Better chances to upgrade. I've got so many upgrade points, that I don't really have time to spend them. On those really good routes, I get bumped by those higher in the pecking order. For the 1 hour flight into my home airport on the regional jet, I don't have first class anyway so it doesn't matter.
  • I've always wanted to see Bob Jones University. Not. But, if I end up in Greenville, I can pick up another state highpoint.

Travel pundits like Chris Elliott hate the notion of the elite business class traveler[1] [2] [3]. As much as I respect Chris, the truth is, nobody knows how to fill an airplane in a quick and orderly manner like us poor battered bastards. If you've never experienced the boarding process on the famous Nerd Bird (Austin to San Jose), that's a dance that more interesting than Olympic synchronized swimming. There's a reason it works–most of us know that cooperating and working together beats the alternative.

Elite travelers know the rules, like don't get drunk in the airport bar. You know those guys who cause flights to get diverted because they are drunk and punch the flight attendant? I'll all but guarantee you they aren't flying 50,000 miles a year. I'm not vouching for the character of my fellow Premiers, but I am willing to bet they know how to get on the plane quickly and not annoy everyone around them with rap coming out of their earbuds (it would be Sting or maybe the Barenaked Ladies).

Maybe I'm nuts. I can't see United airlines getting any better next year, but I also didn't think we'd see a black man elected president in my lifetime. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what Obama can do. Maybe change is in the air. Maybe United won't lead the industry in incompetence. Maybe I'm not nuts.