Premium Seats

Updated: Apr 30

Since the pandemic hit, we canceled two trips to Italy because either the airlines weren't flying to Europe or Italy wasn't allowing Americans to enter the country.

So we waited patiently. In January of 2022, we booked our bnb apartment in Salerno and secured our airline reservations with American Airlines for April — leaving Philadelphia on April 1 and returning on April 29. We lined up a car and driver to meet us at Rome's airport, and he drove us to our apartment in Salerno. We even splurged a little, purchasing premium seating between first-class and regular coach fare. It was expensive but was it worth it? I'll get to that later.

We heard horror stories about people getting quarantined in Italy and running up huge bills staying weeks in expensive hotels. We read that Italy required people to have green cards and we also read where your third shot (the booster) had to be within four months of our travel dates.

None of this proved true. Italy was requiring the green card but only for Italian residents. We'd be fine as long as we had the two vacancies and a booster shot listed on the CDC card.

Here's what we discovered.

On the afternoon of April 1, Uber picked us up at our home in South Philadelphia and dropped us off at the American Airlines International terminal at the Philadelphia Airport. The airport required mask-wearing.

We immediately checked our bags— that was the first benefit for spending the money on premium seats. You could check two bags where flying coach, you could only check one. This was a huge benefit because it meant we d have little to carry on except for a small travel bag and a computer bag. That was nice.

The only time in our entire trip thus far to show our vaccination card was at check in at Philadelphia. Since Philadelphia, we are in our fifteenth day in Italy and have not been asked for our vaccination cards.

It's a circus getting through the x-ray machines and luggage checks on the way to our gate, and airport security is anal about mask-wearing. After waiting over two hours at the gate — we got there early — we lined up and discovered our second benefit for purchasing premium seats: We boarded immediately behind the first-class passengers. Nice.

Once in our seats, waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, we were threatened several times about mask-wearing.

First threat: "If you take your mask off during the flight, you will be put off the plane." Yeah, right. Let's see them put off a mask-wearing malcontent at 39,000 feet over the North Atlantic.

Second threat: If you refuse to wear your mask on the flight, you could be banned for life from traveling anywhere using American Airlines or any other airline. Hmm, I don't think so.

And the third threat, which got the most groans from the passengers: If you are asleep and your mask falls down, we will wake you to fix it.

Oh, no, not that!

We were required to wear a special mask called an N-95. It is like a gas mask. I saw people sneaking them down to get a breath of fresh air until the flight attendants came — you can hear them coming on a plane, "thump, thump, thump." Then, masks went back up.

I know that people were going into the bathrooms — I call them the Rohm and Haas lavatories because of the chemical stink, and you never want to get a seat next to one — not because they had to pee, but to pull down their masks and take on the chemicals for a brief time.

Resting, I was studying how many times some people went into the lavatory, and I'd think to myself, "You're not going in there to use the bathroom. You're going in there to pull your mask down. I know you are."

The flight was smooth, and after two glasses of wine and dinner — another reward, premium seat buyers could order their dinners a few days in advance. However, it didn't make the food taste any better — I went to sleep until I felt the plane jerk forward and I knew the pilot just put on the reverse thrust engines to slow the plane. And I could see daylight coming through the windows.

"Folks, ah, I reversed the thrusts and were dropping altitude to land. We'll be taxing into the Rome airport, ahhhh, about 25 minutes. The crew will prepare you for landing. Thanks for flying American, and we hope you come back soon."

Denise looked at me and said, "You slept the entire night."

"Yeah," I replied, "it's these premium seats." They are much larger and wider with a few inches more leg and headroom. That was the difference. If I can afford it, I would buy the premium seats every time.

We deplaned and followed the people onto a rail line to go to first to customs, then the baggage terminals. It being our sixth time in Rome's airport, it was a piece of cake from the first time we did it, which then was a nightmare. There are agents standing at various locations saying, "American passport?"

I'd nod and say yes. "That way," was the response. Wait, I thought, is this profiling?

Eventually, we came to these little glass booths, and inside sat very important people in uniform, people who were trained not to smile and people you didn't want to fool with. To get to the booth, we had to open our passports and place the photo portions on a glass screen to open a bar allowing us to walk the twenty feet or so to the booth.

"Passport?" the man inside said. "I slid my passport to him. He looked at it, looked at me, then looked back at the passport, stamped it, and said, "Move on."

"Wait, don't you want to see my vaccination card? I asked, holding out my card. "MOVE ON," he said rather sternly, his voice rising.

As I moved on, I thought about all we heard about strict standards in Italy, and all I got was, "Move on." But the look said move on before I kill you.

We retrieved our luggage and followed the signs to exit the airport to meet our driver, Marco . He held a sign with my name on it and greeted us, "Buongiorno, Ron and Denise."

Damn, we made it.

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