A King Amongst Men

There’s the famous story about the king who, in an effort to learn what his subjects truly feel about his rule, dons the clothes of a peasant and spends several days living anonymously amongst his people. The king learns valuable lessons and adjusts his rule accordingly. Today we have reality TV shows that show disguised millionaires living amongst the homeless and needy. The rich learn from the struggles that others go through, and we too gain by appreciating the things we have.

I fly enough to enjoy the perks of elite status. You know, the quiet and comfortable club lounge… board when you want… the upgrades… But today is different. This king of the skies will be spending some quality travel time living amongst the people. Alas, today I am flying an airline on which I do not have elite status. My favorite airline has betrayed me by not offering service to where I need to be this week. I am suddenly a king wearing a peasant’s clothes. I am a millionaire looking for a warm doorway in which to spend the night.

As I stand in the concourse, on line to actually pay for coffee at the airport (when was the last time I did that?), I dream of a life where elite status was like a degree you earned in college. Wherever you go, it goes with you—every airport, every airline, every itinerary. A perk that you’ve earned for being an experienced traveler who values—and helps to support—the vast travel industry.

But as I walk towards my gate with grande mocha (no whip) in hand, the reality begins to sink in. Today I will not see my name on the “waiting to clear” upgrade list on the board. I will be sitting in coach. I will be waiting to board my flight at the gate, joining others in the hunt for (working) power outlets, and ultimately be forced to decide if it’s better to sit in a chair without power, or sit on the floor where an outlet is nearby. I will sip my coffee and glance at my boarding pass, wondering when they will announce general boarding for those in Group 23.

And then I will watch some snarky elite flyer swoop in with his nose up in the air, cutting through everyone while pointing at his elite status badge on his fancy expensive bag. As the gate attendant dutifully scans his boarding pass, Mr. Elite will nonchalantly glance at everyone else at the gate and give that little shrug, hoping everyone notices, before he disappears down the jetway. Does he think he’s so special?

And then it hits me. Is that me when I’m flying as Mr. Elite on my airline? Do people look at me with the same thoughts I just had? Next week, this king will be wearing his own clothes and flying on His Royal Airline. But he’ll be acting just a little bit differently… of that you can be sure.