Upgrades: Don’t ask a flight attendant

#6 originally appeared on Skyscanner.com: 10 More Air Travel Mysteries Solved.  (NOTE: Miracles do happen, which is why I wouldn’t say it’s “pure myth” that a flight attendant can upgrade you to first class, but I will say you have a much better shot with an agent.  Agents are the ones with the upgrading powers.) 

6. Can I get an upgrade if I complain about my seat?

It is pure myth that a flight attendant can upgrade your ticket whilst you are actually seated, even if it’s on fire. We revealed the many tricks people will try to get an upgrade, but according to Heather Poole, author of Cruising Attitude, you won’t get it from a flight attendant. Your best bet is to enquire politely at the check-in desk before you board the plane. But don’t try to chat up the airline staff. You’ll only embarrass yourself.



  1. There are plenty of other good reasons to chat up the airline staff … starting with simply enjoying them and having a good day.

    I am amazed by how bloodthirsty passengers get over upgrades … as if upgrades are validation of their entire existence.

    Are there some fun stories about the lengths people go for upgrades??

    Here’s one, sort of: a certain airline had a single first class seat left, and offered to upgrade either my wife or me, but not both. By the time my wife found out about this, I had already committed to having her take the seat. So, off to First Class she went … feeling guilty (that she got the seat) and sad (that we weren’t sitting together). Who would have though an upgrade could go so wrong?? She got over it. 🙂

    I wonder if the FAs would have allowed one of us to sit there for the first half of the flight, and then trade off for the second half.

    Has this been tried??

  2. My wife and I were both upgraded to Business Class on United a couple years ago when a fellow traveler and friend, who was already in BC, chatted up the flight attendants. He pleaded that his flight experience would be much improved if we could sit in the empty BC seats beside him. The move to BC did not happen until after the food had been served (on many flights the dinners are carefully counted out), but we did enjoy the seating and the drinks on a trans-Atlantic crossing — not to mention being able to chat with our friend.

    • Lucky guy! He should have flown straight to Vegas and bet it all. And you’re right, we’re usually right on the money with food so that is an issue sometimes.

  3. Long ago, you could actually do a buy-up on the plane. Around 1980, I was flying TWA LAX-BOS on a redeye. I was traveling a LOT for work and carried a stack of AA Airchecks (blank tickets that you could fill out at the gate on an carrier). The GA gave me a middle row in Y so I could get some sleep and I filled the ticket for that. Got on the plane and then Beverly Hills High field trip got on the plane (they were going east for a school trip). No way was I going to sleep on that flight. So, I went to the lead FA, asked if there was an F seat available, there was so I wrote them a ticket and we were done.

    Flying has certainly changed since then. For some things, there’s been great progress; others, not so much.

  4. Heather, back in the 90s, I was flying from Cleveland to Los Angeles. It during the Xmas holidays, so the airport was a mob scene. Making things worse was the weather. The midwest was getting hammered by snowstorms and high winds, so the planes were late, running behind schedule. Now, if you are a midwesterner, you know full well how bad the weather can be that time of year and if you’re going to fly, you need to be mentally prepared. So I bought a thick book with me to read and prepared myself mentally for a long day of flying. Eventually I got a plane to St. Louis to connect with a direct flight to LA. The weather was bad in St. Louis, too, so I was prepared for anything. I had to wait for my name to be called to get on this flight, and when it was called, I walked down this long corridor. I passed two cut flight attendants and “Said, hi how are you doing today,” something like that, and smiled at them. Turned out they were the flight attendants on the plane I boarded. I got settled in, and spotted the flight attendants looking around. One of them called my name and told me to bring my bags with me. I thought there had been a mistake and that someone else was being given my seat. When I got to the flight attendants, one of them said, “Follow me.” I did and she took me to a staircase that led up to what I guess was a first class compartment — huge seats, window views, very nice. I said, “I think there’s been a mistake, I didn’t pay for this.” And the attendants said, “We know that, but there was an available seat here and we’re giving it to you because you were so pleasant to us walking to the plane and everyone else has been so nasty. So we picked you to get this seat.” My rule: ALWAYS BE NICE TO THE FLIGHT ATTENDANTS.

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