First Class Virgin

My cell phone was ringing: number unknown. What do we have here? I wondered excitedly. A friend in the premature throes of separation angst? A former flame who had caught the Facebook wind that I was skipping town and couldn’t bear the thought of it? A smile crossed my face for the first time that busy, panic-stricken morning as I wove through dozens of Delta passengers to a quieter space just outside the family restroom.

“Hello!” I answered with an embarrassing level of enthusiasm. “Hello?” I squeaked, gripping the phone like it was the last ticket to Clarksville. After what seemed an interminable length of time, the crickets stopped chirping.This is a courtesy call from Delta Airlines. As a valued customer we are calling to announce a slight delay in your flight. Of course, I said into the busy terminal, heart sinking like a stone. And so it happened the last incoming call I would ever receive on the number I had owned for over a decade was from a robot.

“Now boarding First Class passengers,” the attendant announced an hour later, in English and in what I assumed was Japanese. The courtesy call, I was slow to realize, was just the beginning of the many perks granted to First Class air travelers. The obvious perk was priority boarding. At 29 years old, dressed in black leggings and so obviously white, I self-consciously emerged from a periphery of Japanese and Filipino faces into the red hot spotlight. The group watched silently as 10 or so American business people, a few Japanese businessmen, one young couple, and I marched onto the plane.

I wondered what I was doing as I clomped down the long, hollow ramp to the double-deckered monstrosity that was First Class. I stared at the one-way ticket in my hand as if it owed me an explanation. You’re moving to Nagoya, it replied smugly. Via seat 1K.

Faced with an entirely new situation, and absent anyone to save me from looking like an idiot, I sucked up my pride and summoned my fall back plan: I shadowed. The woman in the seat in front of me, dressed neatly in a business suit with her hair in a chignon, seemed a prime candidate. She put her coat in the overhead bin; I put my coat in the overhead bin. She extracted her reading materials from her carry-on and placed them neatly in the net in front of her; I followed suit. She unwrapped her blanket and pillows and settled back in her chair; I did the same. Minutes later, comfortable and haughty in my lay-flat recliner, I caught a sandy-haired man about my age watching his neighbor out of the corner of his eye. Newbie, I thought smugly as I cracked open my Japanese language book, having already convinced myself the whole shebang was old hat.

I snapped back to reality—or more accurately back to the fantasy that in some strange way was reality—when the cheery, red-haired flight attendant materialized with a tray of champagne and sparkling water. She reminded me of one of the bright-faced, blue-eyed Americans from the 1960s who forever idealized stewardess-ship. Mesmerized, I accepted both refreshments. As she turned to serve my neighbor—who I could not see given the privacy shield semi-circled around my head—I noticed the champagne was being served in stemless flutes similar to the ones I had at home. I’ll have to bust those out at the next party, I thought to myself, snacking on a mini platter of mixed nuts and cheese and washing it down with bubbly. As the carbonation hit my bloodstream comprehension dawned: it would be a long while before I hosted that next party. America, for the next 18 to 24 months, was no longer my home.

Two hours and three flutes later the plane took off. I stretched out in luxury, making grand gestures to twist and turn and recline and incline until I was comfortable. But something strange happened. Isolated in my cove, able to see only the shoes of my neighbor across the aisle, I was struck with an unexpected feeling of discomfort and loneliness. I wondered who I would have sat next to in coach. Then the flight attendant came around for dinner orders and I fumbled over the pronunciation of my red wine choice, perpetuating the self-fulfilling prophecy that I didn’t belong there. My wine selection was unavailable and so the flight attendant was forced to profusely apologize to me and asked if I might like to try the Bordeaux. With a casual wave, I accepted.

I wish I could say I gave up my seat in what was a moral decision to share my good fortune. But the truth is I drank wine I couldn’t pronounce correctly and watched four movies and ate breakfast on real plates with real silverware atop a tray-table clothed in white linen and garnished with a flower vase. And while I enjoyed flying in the lap of luxury, I continued to find myself vacillating between who I knew myself to be and who I feared this treatment might turn me into. In a sense, the experience had clouded a purity I’d made a conscious effort to maintain—the part of me not impressed by money or glitz or glamour or status.

As I disembarked through the door reserved for First Class passengers only, I was relieved to see our line converging with that of the other passengers, until we were all walking down the corridor together. No longer segregated by class or priority or ability, we became nothing more than a sea of vessels sailing anonymously on toward our next destination.             


Shannon Guerreso's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Reverse Culture Shock Anthologies, and A Detroit native, she currently resides in Nagoya, Japan, where she is working on a novel, a collection of short stories, and a variety of narrative nonfiction. She blogs about her life in Japan and other travel experiences at



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