According to CNN, the top one percent of earners in this country had an income of about $350,000 in 2009. Quite frankly, that's not a huge amount of money, although it certainly is no pittance, either. It's not even close to what my parents' combined earnings were when I was growing up, and certainly not now. But anyway, I hang out a lot with people in this category. In New York City, if you are friends with doctors, high ranking government officials, lawyers, and other professionals who are married to other doctors, lawyers, high ranking government officials, and other professionals, a lot of people fall into that category, or at least pretty close to it. Last night, however, was extra special. Last night I went to a preview of the movie "The Bourne Legacy,"* courtesy of American Airlines.

From what I could tell, American had invited some subset of its elite fliers to this event. I am not even close to an elite flier. Husband, however, flies all the time to Europe for work, and he has some ridiculous Special Person Status and gets all manner of perks (which when I travel with him, sometimes extend to me, which is awesome), including invitations to previews of action films in which American has a prominent product placement.

Before the film unspooled, a regional sales dude addressed the crowd. He said that American was going to have some new fancy planes starting in November that would fly to Sao Paolo and London. Being the cyncial, modestly paid (when employed) nonprofit do-gooder that I am, I tittered. I thought, "Who cares?" It turns out that people who actually fly a lot care enormously. While I was smirking and stuffing free popcorn into my gullet, a collective gasp went through the crowd. They began chattering excitedly, some in Portuguese. I started to understand who was invited to the film and why. (Husband goes to London every two months at least.) These people embraced the product pitch, although I guess it is not a product pitch if you already use it all the time and plan to continue to do so and are glad that it will now be nicer.

Next we were treated to a short film about American's new planes rather than previews of other movies. One new type of plane will have mega main cabin improvements: all seats will have a personal screen, and some other stuff involving wi-fi capability (I assume that will not be free for the peons) and iPod synching. I noted that it still looked kind of cramped. Of the audience, I sensed that I was the only person paying attention to this.

Then came the part about business and first class. You'd have thought American was unveiling the cure to cancer. Damn, people were buzzing. All the seats convert to flat beds for a comfy night sleep and have aisle access. This is nothing new in first class, but a nice new amenity for the biz class set. There will be open bars that the high fliers can access at all times to meet their thirst-quenching (and maybe snacking, I wasn't sure) needs. Of course I was jealous!

The truth is that I am lucky that I get to travel as often as I do, peon class or not. (And honestly, if I am traveling with Husband - which I usually am - than I tend to find myself upgraded with him.) However, it is revealing to hang out with those who expect this kind of service and comfort at all times. They board before the rest of us and have no worries about overhead space for their carry-ons. They cut the lines at security with their own special access. In some cases at some airports, there is an entirely separate security procedure for rich and special fliers: no taking their shoes off, no taking out their liquids or computers. They can just walk on through the detectors, unmolested.

Now hang with the one percent and above, I really understand what advantages they have over the vast majority of the masses. When you don't pay for certain things that others do, you spend even less of the wealth you accumulate. When you don't have to deal with the hassles most people are subjected to, there's less incentive to change them because you don't know what it is like. You can easily pass this on to your family. It's how entitlement becomes a frightening (for me, anyway) legacy.

*Meh. I love the previous Bourne flicks (some of my favorite movies, in fact), and this one was not nearly as smart or tight as the others. The first 30 minutes or so was spent setting up premises rather than showing what was going on, and dragged. Jeremy Renner was good, but had no material to work with, so less compelling. If you can go free, it is worth it.

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