MGM Grand air takes luxury to new heights FLIGHTS OF FANCY

January 01, 1995|By Mike Littwin | Mike Littwin,Sun Staff Correspondent

Someplace High Over America -- She walks past like a 6-foot-tall vision, a Vogue magazine cover come to life. And yet, no one seems to notice but me.

This is the kind of woman for whom kingdoms have been lost. The kind who exist only in epic poetry and, more recently, in Lancome ads. And still, as she settles into her private stateroom, the other passengers are busy attending to their seats, as if sitting down were suddenly the most important thing in the world. Nobody even looks up.

Meanwhile, the flight attendants are offering pillows and champagne and slippers. And all I want is a name to the perfect, un-air-brushed face. Just for the record, you understand.

"We're not allowed to say," says the first flight attendant I ask.

But another, kinder soul, whispers the name -- supermodel Linda Evangelista -- who, I would learn later, takes home as much as $30,000 for a day's work of walking her body up and down a fashion-show runway.

It's no wonder that she settles into her stateroom as if it is her right. Maybe it is. For this is where money lives -- here on MGM Grand Air, the ne plus ultra of first-class air travel, billed as the Orient Express at 30,000 feet in the air.

Turns out, the rich are different from you and me. They fly better. Much better.

You see, money doesn't simply live here. It spreads out and puts its feet up. It relaxes here. It belongs here in much the same way that the gentry belong in English clubs, only with fewer cigars. Money buys a lot of things, and that includes the possibility of traveling without being stared at by schlubs like me.

Besides, why would you stare at supermodel Linda Evangelista if, for instance, you're in the next stateroom and you're super editor Tina Brown? All Brown ever did -- first at Vanity Fair and now at the New Yorker -- is re-invent magazine journalism in her own high-profile image, so that every would-be writer in America worships at her well-heeled feet.

I understand this even before I settle into my improbably luxurious airplane seat, which is not only made of a leather deeply rich and Corinthian, but also fully reclines and swivels. Yes, swivels -- and, for all I know, does your taxes. Did you ask about leg room? I've got leg room like Shaquille O'Neal's got legs.

You can expect leg room when they spread 34 seats throughout an entire Boeing 727 onto which another airline might squeeze 180 people, squeeze 'em until they bleed, or at least sweat. I'm not squeezed. I haven't sweated since I boarded. In fact, I've got my feet propped up on my very own ottoman (it matches the seat) delivered by a flight attendant who seems as if she could not possibly be happy if I were not entirely comfortable.

My seat, not far from the bar that is the plane's centerpiece, is meant to evoke those New York glass and brass lounges, which seems right as I sip my Moet Chandon and munch on warmed nuts (no peanuts, no vacuum-packed bag, certainly no plastic cup for the bubbly) as we take off from Kennedy.

As I look down through the smoggy mist -- or is it misty smog? -- the Statue of Liberty comes into view. All I can think to do as I see the old girl with her lantern upraised, giving light to the myriad possibilities of the human experience, is to lift my glass and proclaim, "God bless America."

Or maybe it's: "I don't think we're flying Continental anymore, Toto."

MGM Grand is certainly not peanuts class. It's first-class from fore to aft, if airplanes have either fores or afts. If you've never heard of MGM Grand Air, that's because you don't need to. Perhaps you're familiar with the the old line that if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. This baby runs $1,423 for a trip from New York to L.A. One way. Don't ask.

A select group

It's a very small subset of humans who can actually afford this decadence/opulence (pick one: depending on your world view). On this day, there are only eight passengers -- me and what I like to call the rich folk. The newspaper's paying my way. And the rich folk, whose accountants are paying, are all off to L.A. before the tans begin to fade and the last pool-side deals are made.

"Nobody needs to fly this way," allows Michael S. Geylin, the passenger who's sitting nearest me. Not near. Being near someone on an airplane means you're in a middle seat scrunched between two guys who have never missed lunch and who seem to have matching mustard stains on their matching bowling shirts.

Mr. Geylin is across the way from me, across an aisle big enough to bowl on, a chasm so great that you expect to hear yodeling. A flight attendant has set up a table, just for him, for his appetizers, and he invites me over as the flight attendant rushes to set up mine.

"This is a gift I give myself," Mr. Geylin says. "I fly all the time. It's mostly from New York to Detroit and back to New York. You know what those flights are like. Usually, I fly whatever is most convenient for my schedule.

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