I am waiting in the "poor pathetic schmuck" line for my boarding pass at the airport. There are at least 30 people in front of me. In the next line over, at the counter for the same airline, an attendant is doing nothing but waiting for the next "elite" customer to show up.
The elite passenger has no time to waste waiting in line. It's doubtful that he or she even will let his baggage rub up against mine, because there's no telling what loathsome disease it might be passing along. The airline to my right has a similar caste system, but instead of calling their passengers "elite," they are "privileged" and "ambassadors." The airline on my left uses "commoner" and "royals" to distinguish the people who are worth being fussed over from the ones who aren't.
What ever happened to plain old "first class?"
Cruise lines, car rental agencies and even neighborhood supermarkets are rewarding frequent customers with deals, but also with semi-royal titles for those who pledge loyalty. Cruise ships all are named The Royal Something, The Regal Whatnot, The Noble Whosit, The Majestic Whatever. The message is that you will be treated like royalty if you can cough up enough money. But I wonder if actual royalty, such as the queen of England, say, really would be impressed with what constitutes elite, royal or privileged service.
Something tells me that Her Royal Highness expects more than a little free champagne in a souvenir glass and a tiny suite upgrade when she cruises. Something tells me she doesn't stand in a long line to go through customs, and may not have to go through a metal detector, either. And although the food on board is excellent, even as a "royalty" customer, she'd be eating it with 500 other people, some of whom bought last-minute discount tickets and WHO OWN NO HORSES OR CORGIS! Oh, the humanity! Who wants to eat with them?
They might not even have second or third castles. Some of them even handle cash. Cash without her picture on it. The mind reels.
Face it, if you don't have your own gigantic yacht or private plane, you're not being treated like royalty. Yes, the queen has flown commercial in the past, but I understand she bought every seat in first class for the entourage. I can't quite picture Her Highness sitting next to a guy who yaps at her the entire flight.
"So you're a queen," he says. "That's great. I'm a king. The hot dog king of Brooklyn! I started with one little street cart, and now I own a chain. How about that! From nuttin' to all dis. How'd you make your money?"
Her flight attendant probably will not get knighted for calling her "honey" and "dearie" the entire flight.
Still, she's been around the block and probably can handle all of that. What will put her over the top is when she starts getting nickeled and dimed for her extra luggage and having to wait for the "courtesy bus" to the airport parking lot. You know it's not going to be a great day when it starts with "Off with their heads!"
For a while, I was jealous of the elite, prestige and royals who jumped the line next to me. But when they announced our departure would be delayed for three hours, it hit me that they had paid extra to be in the same boat I was in. They weren't going to arrive any earlier than I was. They'd still get a better seat, they'd still get the extra courtesy and attention they'd paid for, but they weren't going to get where we were going any faster.
They'll miss their connecting flights the same as I will. If I'm not careful, I'll start to think that I'm one of the elite.
• Jim Mullen is a syndicated columnist. Email him at email@example.com.