Special Segment: The Flyers' Club

October 2, 2011 8:37:14 PM PDT
The glory days of air travel may be over for most of us, but not for a select a few.

A bygone era of air travel is celebrated on ABC's new TV series "Pan Am;" back then, it was all about fast planes, fetching women and a fabulous flying experience. Nowadays, it's bare feet, bare bones and the extra bite of baggage fees that sum up the flying experience.

While the glamour might be gone, and the skies a bit less friendly for most of us, that's not the experience for an elite group of air travelers -- the ones the airlines value most.

"Basically we like to take the frustration, anxiety and stress out of their travel to the point we can," said Steven Hobbs, United Airlines Global Services supervisor.

United treats the top one percent of its flyers to what it calls the "Global Services" experience, which includes private check-in lobbies, no-wait security lines, secret lounges and nearly unlimited upgrades. Recently, United even named a plane after its most frequent flyer.

It's the extra help making tight connections, however, that many value most.

"They said, 'You're never going to make this flight,' so they just stuck me in a car and I had no idea where I was going. We went through all these underground tunnels and they popped me up in Terminal 5 and thew me on the plane. I said 'I hope I'm going to Helsinki,' they said 'Yes you're on the right plane, you made it,'" said Dean DeBiase, a United Airlines Global Services customer.

United has a team of people whose sole mission is to track its most frequent flyers. They know which planes hold the airlines VIPs, and they do their best to make sure the trip is problem free.

"If a Global Services customer is making a tight connection to a last flight of the night or an international departure, that is actually a factor we use in making a decision on whether we hold a flight or not," Hobbs said.

Being invited to join one of these super elite groups of frequent flyers isn't just a matter of how often you fly but also how much you spend. The airlines won't reveal their precise formulas, but for true road warriors, the perks can be priceless.

"It's kind of like the old Pan Am days, the days of old, when you got personal attention," DeBiase said.

Mary Sears remembers those golden days. In 1996, she and her sister were freshly minted -- and perfectly manicured -- Pan Am stewardesses.

"I can't even describe it to myself much less anybody else. You just got caught up in this excitement and caught up in the glamour of it all," Sears said.

While the glory days of air travel may be largely gone, they are not forgotten.


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