How to fly around the world for free

Last year, a young man walked into the Seattle airport and took the next flight to anywhere — and he hasn’t come down since…

The boarding procedure has barely started at Chicago O’Hare, and Ben Schlappig has already taken over the first-class cabin. Inside Cathay Pacific Flight 807 bound for Hong Kong, he’s passing out a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of designer chocolates to a small swarm of giggling flight attendants. The six suites in this leather-bound playpen of faux mahogany and fresh-cut flowers comprise the inner sanctum of commercial flight that few ever witness. They’re mostly empty now, save for two men in their twenties who seem even giddier than the flight attendants. The two stand to greet him. “This is so cool!” exclaims one, and soon Schlappig is ordering champagne for everyone.

This sort of thing happens to Schlappig nearly everywhere he goes. On this trip, his fans will witness Schlappig’s latest mission: a weekend jaunt that will slingshoot him across East Asia — Hong Kong, Jakarta, Tokyo — and back to New York, in 69 hours. He’ll rarely leave the airports, and when he does he’ll rest his head only in luxury hotels. With wide ears, Buddy Holly glasses and a shock of strawberry-blond hair, Schlappig resembles Ralphie from A Christmas Story if he’d grown up to become a J. Crew model. Back beyond the curtain in business class, a dozen jowly faces cast a stony gaze on the crescendos of laughter and spilled champagne — another spoiled trust-fund kid, they’ve judged, living off his parents’ largesse. But Schlappig has a job. This is his job.