‘First Class’ | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

‘First Class’

Air travel has never been the same since 9/11.

Security checks have become numerous and onerous. Hand-carried luggage is screened twice by a machine, the lucky ones given a secondary check (by machine or by hand) and should not contain bladed or sharp items (e.g., nail clippers, aerosol cans that can be used as a weapon. You can bring liquids or gels in clear containers but not to exceed 100 ml each. Parents carrying baby formula may be asked to drink a bit of it to prove its not a hazardous substance. All these are bearable, depending on the frontline staff who should at least be courteous, but many of whom seem to have been hired for their surly disposition.


Last week, United States-bound passengers on nine Middle Eastern airlines in 10 Middle East airports were not allowed to bring onboard electronic gadgets bigger than a smartphone. No tablets. No laptops. While security was given as the reason for this latest inconvenience, one could not help but wonder whether those airlines were targeted because they provide stiff competition to US carriers in terms of fares and service.

First Class passengers on these airlines have their own onboard suites and a lounge to stretch and enjoy cocktails. Passengers on Economy, passing through these luxurious appointments on their way to their seats, could either be awed, envious, or have something new to aspire for or place on their bucket list.


The First Class cabins on the wide body double-deck A380 aircraft reminded me of commercial travel by sea from Manila in the late 19th century.

On Rizal’s first trip to Europe, he departed Manila on May 3, 1882 and arrived in Marseilles on June 13, 1882. He first took the steamer “Salvadora” to Singapore (six days’ travel), then transferred to the “Djemnah” which passed Point Galle, Colombo, Aden, the Suez Canal, Naples, and finally Marseilles.

The same route today would take less than 24 hours by air. Cathay Pacific Manila-Marseilles takes 18 hours 45 minutes flying time, not counting the two layovers in Hong Kong and Frankfurt. On Turkish Air, it is 19 hours five minutes with a layover in Istanbul. Despite the inconvenience in air travel dictated on everyone by the United States, I wouldn’t return to sea travel in Rizal’s time.

Rizal always traveled First Class because as an Asian in a French carrier he would get better treatment. Remember “Titanic” the movie? Lifeboats in an emergency were only for First Class passengers.

The 1886 information booklet of the Manila agent for the Mensagerias Maritimas gave the fares for Singapore-Marseilles trips as follows: First Class-$315, Second Class-$252, Third Class-$126, Lower Deck-$79; Manila-Singapore cost an additional $40, with a discount if paid on the same ticket.

Reduced rates applied to government employees and the religious. Children under three years of age traveled free; those between 3-10 years old were charged half-fare.

Servants were charged lower-deck rates and nothing for the return trip, if taken on the next ship back. From Europe to Manila, a half-price servants’ rate could be enjoyed if the trip was taken within three months from arrival in Europe.


The luggage allowance: for First/Second Class—150 kg; Third Class–75 kg; overweight luggage—P5 per 100kg. Dogs 1/10 of owner’s fare, but not exceeding P25.

The fares also covered food, wine, beer and medical attention and service from staff hired from Southern France, most of whom spoke Spanish. Large ice boxes on board preserved meat, fruit and vegetables on trips from Shanghai to Europe, and iced drinks were available during the entire trip.

First/Second Class cabins had two berths and four berths, respectively. Third Class and Lower Deck offered common sleeping quarters.

Dining facilities were separate for First Class and Second Class passengers, with difference in quality and choice. Food was served ar 9.30 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. First Class passengers had coffee, chocolate or tea at 8 a.m., and tiffin.

Lower Deck passengers had no right to a berth and were served the same amount of food given natives and the crew.

Then as now you get what you pay for. “First Class,” then as now, should be taken literally.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: 9/11, air travel, Airline, economy, first class, Flight, opinion, security, travel
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