Cruising Attitude: Ten Passengers Who Won’t Get an Upgrade

Ten Passengers Who Won’t Get an Upgrade
By Heather Poole, author of Cruising Attitude

In Grant Martin’s post, The top 5 myths about getting an upgrade, he wrote…

Flight attendants have no control over who gets upgraded when there always might be one last business class passenger coming down the jet bridge right before departure, so they can’t give away a seat. After the boarding door is closed? Maybe if you’re discreet,but with everyone watching, the flight attendant will most definitely say no.

Now I don’t know if Grant was ever a flight attendant, dated a flight attendant, or spends a lot of time in the galley talking to flight attendants, but he’s absolutely right! From day one, it is drilled into a flight attendant’s head to respect each cabin, as well as the cabin service. That means if a passenger in business class is traveling with someone in coach, we can not allow the business class passenger to take any business class items to coach. Why? Because the companion paid for coach. Not business. It doesn’t matter if the business class passenger is not going to eat the dessert or watch the movie. And yes, it is a big deal to cross cabins. No, I am not being mean. I’m just doing my job. Abusing my power? What power? Okay, please stop arguing with me. And please, whatever you do, do not try to hide it under your shirt and sneak it to the back when I disappear from your sight! Don’t do it because I already know you’re going to do it. I’m
watching you. (Even when I’m not watching you.)

Flight attendants do not have upgrading powers. But agents do, so make sure to talk to one before you board. That said, the only passengers I’ve ever seen upgraded for free after the door has been shut were uniformed military personnel…and…well…they kind of deserve it, don’t ya think?

Below is a list of 10 types of passengers who won’t get an upgrade, but give it a shot anyway….

1. I-think-I’m-a-frequent-flier passenger – “I’m a frequent flier and…” That’s how it starts. First of all, I can spot a frequent flier a mile away. The first clue that you haven’t flown as often as you think? Telling me how many miles you’ve flown. See those passengers sitting in the exit row, as well as the first three rows of coach? Those passengers are at the top of the upgrade list. The best seats on the airplane are held and/or blocked for passengers who fly tens of thousands of miles each year. Anyway, real frequent fliers know the drill, they know what to expect, and they know where, exactly, their name is on the upgrade list, which means I don’t have to tell them they won’t be getting an upgrade, the way I’m telling you, because they know, that I know, that they know exactly what’s going on.

2. The curious passenger – “Hmm…I was wondering…is first class available?” asks the passenger who has just sauntered very…slowly…down…the aisle, checking out all the empty seats in first and business class on their way to their seat in coach. The answer to this question is “no.” First class is almost always booked full, so just because you see a few open seats does not mean those seats are available. Many of our frequent fliers spend time relaxing in private airline clubs and often times will be last to board the flight. If for whatever reason Mr. First Class does not make the flight, Mr. Exit Row will be taking the seat before you.

3. The injured passenger – This one limps on board, moaning and groaning as soon as he spots me standing at the aircraft door greeting passengers, and immediately begins the old bad back and knee routine. There’s no way he’ll be able to endure an entire flight cramped in a coach seat, I’m told, even though he already knew this when he purchased his tickets in coach. Hey, I feel your pain. I know flying is not easy, but that does not equate to a free upgrade. If I can find a few extra pillows and blankets (they’re not always on board), I’ll do whatever I can to make your flight more comfortable. Just keep in mind there’s only so much I can do.

4. The inconvenienced passenger – Either her headset doesn’t work, the reading light is out, the seat doesn’t recline, I ran out of the beverage of her choice, or there’s a smelly person sitting beside her. For this passenger, whatever it is—and it’s always something—she believes she’s entitled to a first class seat because of the inconvenience. If there’s another seat available in coach, you’re more than welcome to it, but there’s no way I’m moving you from coach to first class when there are seats available. Click here to find out why.

5. The charming passenger – “Wow, what a great smile,” says the passenger, squinting at my gold plated name tag pinned to my blue lapel. “So how are you doing today, Heather?” Although this passenger is always nice and polite, my favorite kind of passenger, whenever someone uses my name the alarm in my brain automatically begins to ring – alert, alert, special request coming! Nine times out of ten this passenger works in sales and while he may be successful on the
ground, he’s not so successful at 35,000 feet.

6. The ill passenger – I wrote about this passenger in great detail in the Galley Gossip post, The passenger didn’t ask for much. Oh, you remember her: the passenger who asked for a first class seat, a business class mug, help to the bathroom, uncooked veggies and potatoes, and then had the nerve to tell me she would be deplaning first, even though she sat in coach. Look, I’m sorry you’re sick and I’ll bring you all the Ginger ale, hot tea, damp towels, and barf bags you need, but just because you don’t feel well does not give you the right to a first class seat, not when you should really be at home, instead of barfing all over our other passengers.

7. The surprised passenger – This passenger seems genuinely shocked to learn you have to actually pay for a first class seat. I’ve seen these passengers wander on board and make themselves comfortable in a plush leather seat located in one of the first rows of the airplane, reclining the seat all the way back, propping their feet on the foot rest, and treating themselves to a glass of champagne. “I just thought you might be nice,” a passenger once said after I told her she and her husband could not stow away in first class, not when they paid for a seat in coach. While I am nice, I’m not that nice.

8. The honeymooning passenger – Whenever someone tells me it’s their honeymoon, I know exactly what they want: big time special treatment. And I give it to them. I ask about their wedding and talk to them about where they’re going and I might even make an announcement to congratulate the happy couple. But I don’t move them up to first class. Even when times were good and airlines weren’t furloughing employees and going into bankruptcy every other week, I didn’t upgrade honeymooners just because they decided to take their relationship to the next level and tie the knot.

9. The celebrity passenger – I’m a celebrity, get me out of here! is not just a television show, because I’ve actually seen it happen on the airplane. Now I’m not naming names, but years ago I had a very famous singer known for his long blond locks who purchased a seat in coach and then demanded to be upgraded for free because he said he’d be “mobbed” in coach. All I can say is, times have changed. Because today I’m pretty sure that the singer who recently broke up with – I better not say – only wishes he could get mobbed in coach.

10. The combination passenger – This is the worst type of passenger. Pulling every trick in the book, this passenger has no shame and will stop at nothing in their quest for a free upgrade. Trust me when I tell you there are always a number of issues going on here. Sometimes they’re honeymooning and inconvenienced, while other times they’re injured and also charming. It doesn’t matter what they are, they just are, and I’m the lucky one who gets to hear all about it until the end of the flight.

Heather Poole has worked for a major US carrier for fifteen years. She was published in The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 and her regular column, “Galley Gossip: Confessions from the Jumpseat with Heather Poole,” has received more than 2 million views, and is featured on AOL’s award-winning travel website, She has been mentioned in or on the New York Times, NBC New York, CNN, National Geographic Traveler, MSNBC, USA Today, Times Online, the New York Post,, Entrepreneur magazine, Marie Claire, Martha Stewart Weddings,, and more.

For tips from Heather for packing for a quick trip, check out this video.

For more tips from Heather check out her book, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. It’s on sale today!

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