I hate the smell of planes. That stale, air-sickness-and-polyester-seat-cover perfume always puts me in a foul mood. The only thing that puts me in a worse mood is smelling that while crammed into a middle seat between (choose two) a fat man with hygiene issues, a mother with a wailing infant, or an obnoxious preteen blaring Marilyn Manson through her headphones. While paying a fortune for the privilege.
So, imagine my crotchety delight as I step into the plane for my three-hour flight from Boston to Kansas City. Rows of tan leather seats, extra-wide, two across. The hatch closes, we taxi, and I smell chocolate chip cookies? Am I having first-class delusions? A sort of budget-travel denial psychosis? No, those are cookies and this is Midwest Express, an airline you’ve probably never heard of. Going coast to coast will probably take you through their Milwaukee hub, but it is a small price to pay for dining on poached Norwegian salmon, white and green spinach salad, and black forest brownie trifle served on fine china, with linen napkins and free wine.
As exciting as a flight to the beer capital of Wisconsin might be, it probably doesn’t get you anyplace you want to go; cross-country flights require a pesky plane change.
For flights to Europe, try Virgin Atlantic, which offers service to London from East and West Coast cities. By traveling in the shoulder seasons (early spring and fall), you can find rates as low as $200. Even economy passengers have seat-back TV monitors and all the Virgin Cola (and Jack Daniels) they can drink — not to mention a waggish in-flight mag, a cool amenity kit that includes all the usuals (socks, eye shade, toothbrush) and even a discount at Virgin Megastore. Once in London, check out all the cheap flights to Ireland and continental Europe (good bets are easyJet, Ryanair and Go, a subsidiary of British Airways).
Come to think of it, most foreign carriers offer more bang for your travel shilling than their American brothers. A flight on British Airways will come with a better meal, free drinks and friendlier service than most American carriers. Switching from regular Continental to Continental Micronesia on a marathon of a flight to Southeast Asia got me free headphones (a shocking $4 charge on the previous leg of my journey) and an open bar.
Though the cheapest ticket might not always yield the most posh results, budget luxury isn’t always an oxymoron.