Customers debate whether the bonuses are worth paying the extra for first class

Flying can be an expensive hassle. However, flying in comfort does not have to be an equal irritation. A number of airlines, including Delta, US Airways, Continental and Northwest, are improving business class accommodations to offer travelers more comfort options for their flying experience.

“Flying is a fast and reliable source of transportation, especially for out-of-state students,” said Sloan Spencer, 22, a senior occupation therapy student from Tallahassee. “When I’m flying long distances, I always choose to fly first class.”

When making reservations, travelers have the choice of booking first class or coach.

“First class is limited but more preferred by professionals. Seating is usually the first four rows of the aircraft, at least on the MD88,” said Nishoya Scarlett, a Delta airlines reservations representative.

However, in coach, there is plenty of seating, but you receive less service, room and privacy, Scarlett said.

“Among all of the aircrafts that are provided by Delta airlines, most passengers are flown on the MD88 because it is one of the largest. It holds 142 passengers total, 14 in first class and 128 in coach,” Scarlett said.

Although coach is less expensive and always available, many travelers still insist on flying first class.

“First class has always been my first preference. If a carrier doesn’t offer it, I will fly with someone else,” said Julia Spade, 42, a traveling lawyer from Tallahassee. “The fact of having your own privacy and personal attention is what I pay for.”

Airfare prices vary drastically from first class to coach.

“The airfare to depart from Tallahassee on Friday to New York City to return on Sunday, by first class, with Delta is $1,059.19 but $529.83 by coach,” Scarlett said.

But many people wonder if paying almost double for a first class ticket is really worth the trouble.

“Personally, it is not worth the extra money to fly first class. You still receive a blanket, a snack, a drink, headphones and a pillow while in coach,” said Bethany Gresham, 19, a Continental and Northwest reservation representative from Tallahassee.

However, travelers flying “Continental or Northwest must be upgraded at their connecting flights outside of Tallahassee because of plane size and seating,” Gresham said.

Many airline representatives say that although business class may cost more money, travelers will certainly get what they pay for.

“When flying first class with Delta airlines, you receive individual attention at all times, a full three-course meal (determined on distance), complimentary beverages and large leather seats that recline,” Scarlett said.

Since Sept. 11, the costs of business class and coach tickets have increased 15 percent. As a result, customers are paying the carrier for liability, gas and more security.

“The cost of flying is already high, and to pay extra for leather is not for me. So if I did fly, I would prefer coach,” said Annie Williams, Transportation Security Administration security guard at Tallahassee Regional airport.

Many students do not have a preference when it comes to their flying accommodations.

“First class is definitely a name and not a representation of what it stands for,” said Courtney Laws, 22, a fifth-year business administration student from Philadelphia, who has flown both business class and coach.

“Being that I am a student, cost is a factor. Plus, the seats aren’t much larger and the service isn’t any quicker in first class,” Laws said.

Upgrades are usually given to preferred customers, those that qualify for certain programs provided by each carrier. For instance, Delta provides its customers with Delta Sky miles, a frequent flyer miles program through American Express.

This allows travelers to earn points with their American Express card to upgrade seating assignments and lounge in private members-only quarters in larger airports, Scarlett said.

Visa or MasterCard holders can earn miles and perks with each purchase through US Airways’ program.

“We provide our customers with a Divided Miles card that allows them to upgrade and access private lounge areas in selected airports,” Stanton said.

If a customer is traveling from Tallahassee, flying coach might be more accessible and convenient. However, with the extra luxuries awarded to business class passengers, many travelers may prefer to shell out the extra bucks to ride in comfort.