A generous glimpse of what it’s like to fly so high.
I’m one of the few. The prideful. The well-traveled elite.
I’m an EXP. Oh, forgive me, you don’t know what that is, because it’s something you’re not.
EXP is short for Executive Platinum. On my airline, it’s the tier above all others. Above Platinum Pro, Platinum Amateur (formerly just Platinum), Gold, Pewter, Scrap Metal, and Chrome Plastic. Anything below that represents a thorough lack of status not only in flying, but in all of life’s endeavors; I risked too much even mentioning it.
The Executive Platinum credential puts me in rarefied air. In excellent company. In the upper echelon of a stratified democracy.
What makes us so special?
As human beings, we have an intrinsic value so profound, we must travel great distances with great frequency to satiate all those who appreciate it. We have places to be. And if we’re not in these places, our absence is like an imploding star, collapsing into oblivion the agendas of meetings within several city blocks. Our eminence also comes down to grooming and posture. Money, too. Obviously.
You’ll typically find us in first class — making deals you’ll soon read about, or in recumbent poses like you see in Renaissance paintings. Most domestic flights only have business class, however, which shrinks the buffer between us and you. This is fundamentally irksome, yes, but we’ve found a way to rationalize it. In this country there is no greater purpose than commerce, and no greater pursuit than making a profit. Our airline is named after our great nation, and if they call this section “business,” well, they must hold its inhabitants to be the exemplars of the American ideal.
We don’t need to wave a flag to show our patriotism. We only have to sit.
A complex algorithm accounts for our basic needs, primal desires, refined palates, excretory quirks, arcane hobbies, fastidious habits, demographic preferences, favored topics of conversation, egocentrism (remember: we earned it), alcoholism, gout, erectile dysfunction, and aversion to all things germy, slow-talking, and poor. These factors are scraped and computed by servers inside a Swiss mountain. Millions of permutations are generated. What comes out is a faster pathway to a larger seat next to someone we don’t abhor, as well as a cornucopia of personalized perks and privileges you can only imagine.
That broken recline function, sticky tray table, or suspicious stain on the fabric is for you, not us. Young children with ear infections and fidgety feet, as well as emotional support animals that aren’t regularly bathed, are strategically placed at least twenty rows away from our perception. Sound cancellation and vibration dampening technologies make your mundane chatter, awkward rustling, and overall presence thoroughly unfelt. Our seats aren’t just wider, softer, and cleaner; the thick cushions contain higher concentrations of active charcoal to neutralize our farts. They’re more like divans, really, and come with options like Japanese bidet functions, loofah surfaces, and mechanical fingers that gently tickle our erogenous zones. The drinks are top-shelf — aged in Egyptian coffins, burned in the ashes of monks, or cut with the tears of Prince William’s children — and we can choose to imbibe them intravenously. The steak is from cows massaged by virgins. Upon request, a flight attendant, male or female, will pop out of a cake. And on any flight, the captain will happily give us the controls and teach us the barrel roll over a large body of water.
A few more fun facts:
They put a bitter additive in your Biscoff cookies, while ours are enhanced with African dream root so we can relive the best parts of our childhood.
If you do something that offends us, or we simply don’t care for your mien, we can have you dragged off the plane. Now you know why that happens.
We’re allowed to take magnums of wine through security, provided they’re of suitable quality. Also: medieval poleaxes, throwing stars, ivory bird cages, specimens of exotic diseases, hashish, and large jars of organs swimming in formaldehyde.
While the airline keeps letting non-EXPs slip inside the Admiral’s Club, we can still remove ourselves to the Fifty Shades of Platinum Room, where our frequent flyer number is our safe word. That’s also where they keep the good napkins.
You can earn three months’ EXP status by restraining a terrorist for the duration of an international flight.
Okay, enough of this peek behind the curtain. On behalf of all (although, again, we are but a few) EXPs, I need to explain some things. There’s a chasm between us and you, confirmed by the algorithm, and yet you still find ways to trespass on our territory. We’ve asked the airline to remove you from our experience; they say they’re working on it, but apparently you make for an incorrigible variable. In the meantime, we ask that you muster whatever decency you have and conform to a few reasonable expectations:
- Stand over there. While waiting for your boarding group to be called, fix yourself to a mark at least fifty feet from the gate. Too many times, you presume to stand in front of us, and we have no recourse but to clear our throats loudly, deliver a forceful “pardon me” to your opposite ear, then swerve emphatically around you and your suitcase — which, by the way, is doomed to be gate-checked. Remember that guy who was pulled down the aisle with his underwear on display for all of YouTube? Yeah. All it takes is a wink to a desk agent from one of us.
- Eyes forward. When you step past us on your slow march to the rear, we are absolutely thinking what you think we’re thinking. “Yuck. Isn’t there a turnip truck that can take them there?” During these long minutes of forced integration, refrain from bumping our elbows as we’re adjusting our sleep masks, or blocking the path between us and our pre-flight suckling pigs, or crowding us as we stand in the aisle to fold and refold our tartan jackets. Often, your poorly made garment grazes the corner of our Financial Times, and the logo on your shoulder bag offends our brand sensitivities. The least you could do is avoid eye contact. Be as negligible as you would normally be. And we’ll all pretend this moment never happened.
- Feel our pain. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes the distant meeting that requires our gravitas is late to materialize. This is where the algorithm fails us, asking us (obsequiously) to venture past our chambers and into the shadows of coach. Steerage. The poultry car. This happens most often on flights to important cities like San Francisco and London. (Frankly, we can’t fathom what business you have there. Hacky sack?) You may have noticed that we cope by getting shifty and squirmy, brooding like Hamlet, and sighing with increasing volume to register our displeasure with the inhumane accommodations. Yes, we know, everyone around us is uncomfortable too. This is our sympathy signal to other EXPs who may be near — our way of saying, “Lafayette, I am here!” — and our message to you that this is meant to be your human condition, not ours. It’s incumbent on you to lean to the other side of your middle seat, say a small prayer for our recovery from this indignity, and volunteer your tray table as we put out our charcuterie. Or if you’re behind us, to sacrifice your kneecaps as we recline the seat as far as it will allow. Trust us, this hurts us as much as it does you. Actually, no. We hurt more. Because you’re used to it, and we’re not.
Don’t be fooled into thinking these instances of close physical proximity put us on the same level, footing, or wavelength. By the terms of a functioning society — calculated by the algorithm, administered by the airline’s employees, and enforced by TSA (if necessary) — we still travel in disparate spheres of influence; and wherever possible, these spheres shall not collide. Should you forget this, I’ll gladly show you photos of my in-flight colonoscopy, or of the flight attendant I got for Christmas.
In sum, we EXPs aren’t like you. We’re different. Most would say better, and when they do — which is often — we’re not going to argue. That would be a waste of our precious energy.