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Flying MVP in a coach world

June 1, 2007
by GARY TETZ
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After an exhausting personal evaluation conducted while sitting absolutely still in a dark, quiet, temperature-controlled room, I have arrived at a disquieting conclusion. I'm a Status Seeker.1

I hate to admit this. It disturbs and disappoints me—but I am what I am. I've always wanted to be someone, and now that I've finally arrived,2 I desperately need other people to know about it.

I trace this troubling trait back to the first time I achieved MVP status on my favorite airline.3 For those more earthbound, this is a program by which people who already fly far more than they should or wish are rewarded with mileage bonuses that allow them to fly even more. They also get special perks, like a small square of red carpet to stand on while they wait in line and the dubious privilege of boarding the airplane first.

Like “Sir Gary Tetz” and “Mr. Jessica Alba,” MVP was a title and designation I had long been aggressively seeking. I felt it would help me make better first impressions, and it would be a nice addition to my business cards.4,5 I still remember exactly where I was when the e-mail notification came6—and how superior and imperious I felt on my first flight after.

The sun was brighter that day, my feet lighter, my chin higher. Even my luggage wheels rolled a little smoother as I sashayed down the concourse. A long line of impatient passengers had already formed at the gate, but I forced my way through them one cold “Excuse me” at a time, stepping right to the front. I could feel the jealousy and rage of my fellow travelers hot and growing on the back of my neck, so I whirled around and thrust my MVP card high in the air like I was Gandalf the White7 at Helm's Deep. The mob cowered and shrank back in fear, and I walked unharmed onto the plane.

It was an incredible feeling of power and entitlement. No more waiting for Zone 5 or rows 17 through 32 to be called. No more fighting for luggage space. No more waiting in the aisle while Marge from Muncie tries to stuff a duffel bag the size of a water buffalo into the overhead compartment. I finally had consequence, cachet, and I always got a pillow. From my seat, I was able to watch the little people file past me on their walk of shame, thinking to myself, “There but for the grace of Alaska Airlines go I.”

Over many flights since then, the thrill of being MVP has rapidly waned and I've come to realize how ridiculous it all is. Only a man in the blind pursuit of status would interpret the opportunity to sit longer in an airplane seat as anything but punishment. And besides, the only people impressed that I'm an MVP are those sitting with me in coach, and theirs is not the admiration I'm seeking. So obviously, I need to expand my quest for stature and standing, and I am open to suggestions.

I guess I could do like so many men do when trying to prove relevance or virility—buy a big, expensive, speedy car. Then people could walk up to me and say, “Hey, is that your new car? Congratulations!” I expect I'd find that a bit odd, to be praised for possession of an inanimate object that I didn't build myself or pay for with my own money. Instead of a self-satisfied smile, a more honest response would be, “Thanks. I'll pass that sentiment along to my banker.”

A new cell phone. That's another possibility. I could invest in one of those titanium-sleek, micro-thin devices that opens like a magic trick8 to reveal a keyboard, personal stereo, TV, microwave oven, GPS device, and food processor. Then I could strut around the exhibit area at the next AHCA conference with my Bluetooth earpiece in place, embarrassing people who think I'm talking to them. You might also see me madly sending text messages during the General Session, squinting through my monocle in order to press the tiny keys with the sharpened end of a toothpick.

Or I could always get into wine. That's a fashionable thought these days. Here in my little Washington town, last weekend was a destination tasting event at dozens of local wineries. All over Walla Walla, at any given moment, someone was sticking his nose into a glass, sniffing deeply, staring off into space thoughtfully and pronouncing, “Definitely plum, with an oaky essence of parsnips and hazelnut butter.” These wine wannabes talk a lot and can all quote Sideways, but most wouldn't know a good wine if it bit them in the Yellow Tail.

This is exhausting. I had no idea the quest for prestige would be so difficult, and I'm running out of options. Children can be status symbols, but it's a risky proposition that can go either direction—Harvard Law School or Boys Town. An expensive house in this volatile market? I don't think so. A new wife, perhaps? That would involve a counterproductive loss of the car, kids, house, and wine collection. It's a conundrum all right. But one thing I'm clear on—status is something everyone wants, needs, and usually deserves.

A long-term care company here in the Great Northwest recognizes this fact better than most. It's made employee recognition the centerpiece of a vigorous retention program, and spends thousands annually on a lavish event honoring employees of the year from each of more than two dozen nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

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