Getting An Upgrade: A Matter Of Life And Death?

People go to extreme lengths in order to get themselves sitting as near to the pointy bit of a plane as possible, especially on long flights. During the process, every emotion is used from grovelling to indignation, lies and sheer cunning. Sexual promise has also been tried but frankly it got me nowhere.
I have seen them all in my times both as an airline worker and in person as a traveller and I would recommend that the most likely way to succeed is to die. A bit extreme I know but it does work most of the time although you could possibly end up propped in a toilet instead. Let me explain.

Think about it for a moment. People more often than you might expect get ill and die on planes so what do they do with the corpse? There are very few places it can be put without it getting in the way or causing hysteria amongst other passengers. One of the favourite positions is in seat 1A or 1F in First Class. Reason being that nobody apart from the flight crew is likely to walk past and it is much more preferable than leaning it in its seat against a loved one or stranger in seat 32D. After all dead folk tend to attract the wrong kind of attention from all but the most hardened fellow travellers.

I have travelled with two corpses that I have known of and they seemed very comfortable (they didn’t complain) except for one who rather terrified an air hostess by moving under his blanket. I wondered for a moment if he was going to ask for champagne but it turned out to be rigormortis as we tried to tell the shaking hostess. “He’s alive” she wailed.

A certain African airline I know created an ingenious new service which included upgrade followed by death. It was many years ago when air hijacks were in their infancy. This particular aircraft was somewhere over the Gobi desert and someone at the back pulled out a gun and tried to take over. Mayhem ensued and the perpetrator was grabbed by an air marshal employed by the airline who had a zero tolerance policy to acts of terror.

Folklore backed up by much anecdotal evidence has it that a very polite steward ushered all the first class passengers back into the economy section and then escorted the hijacker up to and into seat 1A. Absorbent towels were placed on his chest and then…..they cut his throat so “he would cause no further trouble." He was then vacated from 1A and into a forward toilet for the remainder of the journey. The passengers were led back to their seats (including 1A) and lunch was served.

Toilets are the obvious and most popular place to put bodies followed by seat 1A and then, as a last resort, the crew sleeping area if there is one on board. The crew are most unhappy with the latter option as sometimes not all of them are aware of the arrangements. On one occasion a tired and irritable air hostess was seen to be poking and verbally abusing a corpse thinking it was an idle colleague. This experience must have been awful but I think it was topped when the captain decided to store one body inside the food delivery lift that is a feature of some Boeing 747s where meals are cooked below the main seating floor. Unfortunately various crew forgot (or were not told) that it had been commandeered only to find out the hard way when the demised suddenly appeared through the loading hatch every time the lift button was pressed.

Anyway, back to upgrades. Approaches tend to fall under two categories which can best be described as aggressive and subtle. Both have merits in differing circumstances but, choose the wrong one with the wrong airline staff member and life can become extremely messy.

The check-in counter is usually the front line for upgrade efforts and, having worked there, I have heard them all. The aggressive ones were my favourite in a sadistic way particularly if I had suffered a boring or tiring day. I would end up with a florid-faced passenger asking me whether I realised exactly who I was talking to, who he knew and what he had been promised. If barely veiled threats of future retribution failed additional reasons would emerge like needing space to work, sleep etc. In my case their fate rested on how rude they ended up being but seldom resulted in an upgrade. Instead I used to refer to a list of previously checked-in fat, noisy, odd people or screaming kids. I would sit my upgrade petitioner right next to them.
Beware as check in staff do this regularly.

In general, aggression does not work terribly well unless you succeed in convincing the person being negative that you have as much influence as you say you have and there will be implications including inconvenience, report writing and possible disciplinary proceedings. Otherwise all you are doing is ensuring you do not get a coincidental upgrade prior to boarding. What is a coincidental upgrade? Nearly all airlines overbook individual cabins as long as the whole aircraft has space. Being the biggest and most popular economy class is overbooked most especially on leisure destinations so. As a result flight administrators search at the last moment for people to upgrade. This is the place upgrade hopefuls should aim for by very politely asking if they could be considered for upgrade if required. This does work.

So my advice for upgrades is as follows:

Be polite and create empathy. You are after all asking another human being who, like you, react well to nice people. Focus on people who have the power to recommend your upgrade. The customer facing people you meet at airports have very little decision making say but speak to others who do like flight dispatchers, gate staff etc. If you have a good reason to need an upgrade then give it, followed by a gentle reminder and follow up as it gets nearer to flight departure. Get an airline card as sometimes the computer chooses who moves forward and a card number on the booking increases your priority. Finally have one last go when the flight is boarding by explaining that somebody was trying to help you and asking if this person has succeeded or if they themselves can help.

Getting upgraded on board is becoming rarer these days but I have seen people doing it particularly if there is something clearly wrong with where they are sitting and the cabin is full. I have heard of some people trying to damage their seat or in-flight entertainment but I would not recommend it. A more successful reason is unpleasant neighbours so maybe that guy who I tried to teach a lesson got his way in the end!

Finally, feeling unwell, claustrophobic or any other symptoms that might upset people around you sometimes work. A lady feeling faint and unwell was upgraded to First Class just across the aisle from me. Initially I felt very sorry for her but within 30 minutes she was reclining eating her meal while sipping champagne and watching her video screen. A miraculous recovery and better than taking the ‘death’ option I mentioned earlier!

This post was syndicated from the blog of former managing director of HRG UK Mike Platt.