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Sitting in clover

Ever since Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland and became St. Patrick, March 17 has been a good day to look for miracles.

Well, here’s a small one: United Airlines is charging $236 for a round-trip, first class ticket between Boston and Miami.

The current economic calamity has clobbered the airline industry, and nowhere is this more apparent than in those plush sections up front behind the curtains — that promised land where happy flight attendants hang up your coat, thrust a drink into your hand and usher you into a human-sized lounge chair before the cattle call for coach has commenced.

Since the bottom dropped out of the global economy in September, first- and business-class seats on most carriers have been emptier than the upper deck during an average Florida Marlins home game.

In a time of fiscal distress, even the well-heeled among us apparently are having second thoughts about the wisdom of ponying up an extra grand or two just for the privilege of boarding the plane first and getting an unlimited supply of peanuts.

To make matters worse for the airlines, the epidemic of empty premium seats is highly contagious: nobody wants to be the only greedmeister on display in the front section as the downtrodden masses crawl aboard the aircraft, most of them carrying tattered newspapers bearing headlines about obscene bailout bonuses.

So the airlines are quietly filling their front sections with regular people.

According to reports, British Airways has slashed the price of its round-trip business-class fare between New York and London by 84%, to $1,800. Upgrades from coach to first- and business-class are being sold at ticket counters for $50 to $250 for domestic flights, with upgrades on international flights going for $500.

Like everybody else, we’re hoping for a quick economic upturn.

But as we raise a toast to St. Paddy today, we have to admit that we wouldn’t mind seeing the airlines grovel for a little bit longer—just long enough to take down their stupid curtains and treat all of their passengers like human beings.

Now that would truly be a miracle.

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