Why you’re not going to get upgraded to first class for free….

(Leonardo Navarro interviewed me about airline upgrades in his column Hodge-Podge for the Wharton Journal)

No tradition is as quintessentially part of the MBA as is travel with erstwhile productive members of society. And no sport is as representative of this tradition as the competition to procure business class upgrades, preferably at the expense of one’s friends. Any semblance of mutual care is tossed to the curb, as former friends and lovers fight with the weapons that are the vestigial miles, points, and status levels afforded by former employers.

Victory is bittersweet. After the coup’s consummation, while champion devotes self fully to decide what is to be done with the coveted real estate, remaining travel companions in steerage are left to plot their vanquisher’s downfall within the ephemeral social order of traveling friends.

How can a Whartonite best excel in this sport? Flight attendant and blogger Heather Poole authors “Galley Gossip,” a column covering items of interest mandatory to all MBAs, such as “5 reasons flight attendants don’t serve first class pre-departure beverages”. Poole advises us on how to achieve upgrade triumph.

First and foremost, one must adopt the right attitude. “I don’t have to look at the list to tell who’s who. Flight attendants can spot a true frequent-flier a mile away just by the way they board. Most are confident, orderly and efficient.”

Next, one has to optimally invest one’s energy. “Asking a flight attendant for an upgrade is useless. It’s the gate agent who has the power.”


Photo courtesy of Richard Moross


One comment

  1. Ah for the good old days… In the late 70’s and early 80’s I was a road warrior before the term existed. I got out of college in ’78 and my first job (working for a Boston based consulting firm) had me on the road 3-4 days a week. Pre-deregulation, all the fares between a city pair were the same so any airline would take your ticket. In fact, they settled up between the airlines by weighing the tickets and taking a sample to see what a pound was worth.

    I used to travel with a stack of AA paper Airpasses. They were basically blank tickets that would be billed to my company when I used them. I could walk up to a counter and literally write my own ticket.

    Long story made longer – I was on a redeye LA-BOS TWA L-1011 in the early 80’s and had gotten the middle seats all across in coach (preferred over 1st class for sleeping) for a nice sleepy transcon when Beverly Hills High boarded to go on a Euro road trip – 50 teenagers who had no thought of sleeping on that flight at all. I went up to the senior FA and said, how much for a 1st class seat – she told me, I wrote the ticket and was in first in less than a minute.

    I’ve flown 100k+ per year for over 30 years and I gotta say “progress” sucks.

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