One reason people pursue airline elite status is the possibility of complimentary upgrades.
That’s no big secret.
But something frustrating (and not exactly unheard of) is gate agents not clearing upgrades — and First Class seats flying empty. This generally irritates loyal frequent flyers — especially the ones who were on the upgrade list.
Some of us have probably seen or experienced this firsthand. (I have!)
That’s where elite status holders may need to be proactive if they’re indeed on the upgrade list with enough seats open.
Boarding = Probably Not a Good Idea
The general thought — at least, when it comes to Delta — is that you’re taken off the upgrade list once your boarding pass is scanned.
It sounds like Redditor “I-suck-at-golf” learned this the hard way.
The confessed sub-par golfer (or maybe super-par, in this instance?) posted, “What happened? Three FC seats left on the list. When I boarded all three seats were empty. (I’m one of the three).”
Unfortunately, a gate agent working his flight didn’t clear upgrades (at least before boarding). And it sounds like there was ample manpower to do so. When the Redditor’s zone (Comfort+) was called, s/he boarded.
Now, there’s always the chance of a “battlefield upgrade.” But if you want your upgrade and it’s not cleared — you probably have to ask. Even though, yes, it’s the gate agent’s job to do.
Here’s What I Have Done
When it’s near boarding time and upgrades aren’t cleared, I approach the gate agents desk. I mean, like, literally a couple of minutes from boarding time. Not a half-hour. (Delta’s rule for clearing upgrades is — last we heard — at least 40 minutes before departure. That’s around when boarding starts.)
I smile and politely say something along the lines of, “Hi! Do you know if the computer will clear upgrades soon? Should I wait until the boarding process starts? What’s your advice?”
This puts the onus on the magical “computer.” It’s easy and convenient to blame computers, right? This better a better approach than something like, “Hey, you. Why haven’t you upgraded people yet? You were supposed to do it a long time ago!”
Occasionally, they’ll start clearing upgrades then. But “we’ll start in a couple of minutes” is usually the answer.
I can’t remember a time I asked and upgrades haven’t cleared.
“Great, thank you!” (or something similar) is always my response. And when my upgrade clears, I make sure to say, “thank you for the upgrade!” even if it’s at the door, just as I board.
RELATED: Delta gate agent ignores company policy — and creates his own upgrade rules
Now, is my asking the gate agents about upgrades clearing obnoxious? Some may say so (and they probably will on social media or in the Comments section. It wouldn’t be the first, second, or third time. 😉 ) But I’m positive it’s not the first time they’ve been asked about it.
I’m sure the gate agents have heard worse — and, unfortunately, been called ugly names.
But upgrades are a published and well-known perk of elite status. What’s the point in being loyal to a company if they aren’t going to honor their benefits?
However, upgrades are very frequently clear (at least, in my experience). How soon before departure they clear varies from flight to flight. It’s sometimes a couple of hours. Other times, it’s after boarding has started.
René is a fan of #TeamBoardLast — meaning you hang out in the gate area until everyone else has boarded. Then you ask the gate agents if First Class boarded full. (That’s different than First Class checking in full).
The gate agent might give you the upgrade.
This is a risky proposition if you must be near your carry-on that’ll go in the overhead bin. If First Class boarded full and you’re relegated to your coach seat, there probably wouldn’t be much (or any) overhead bin space.
If upgrades haven’t cleared when your boarding zone is called, you could ask the gate just before your boarding pass is scanned — though I don’t know how well that would be received.
I Was Today Years Old When I Learned This
Here’s something interesting I read in that thread. Pilots apparently have it in their contracts (or, at least, some pilots?) that they sit in First Class when deadheading to a different airport.
“AirConditioningMoose” writes, “The airline is positioning them in order to operate a later flight. And I’m sure you prefer if your pilots aren’t coming to fly your transcon redeye flight after being jammed into a middle seat in the back for several hours first.”
By the way, there are some hilarious comments in that thread — especially related to the names on the upgrade list.
What Do You Think?
What’s your advice in this situation? Gate agents and other airline employees: can you provide some insight and offer us some helpful guidance?
(We’re aware we generally write about First World issues. We know we’re not fighting fires, saving lives, or fighting criminals. 🙂 )
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If I’m in a position to clear and they haven’t cleared and have started the “those that need more time” boarding “group” I politely ask the gate agent if it looks like my upgrade is going to clear. In 75% of cases they say “what’s your name?” and then they print a 1st class boarding pass, in the other 25% of instances they say “not yet, we’ll let you know” and within a minute or two they page me to the stand to collect a boarding pass or it shows on the monitor as having cleared. I generally find when they haven’t cleared by the typical time it’s because the incoming aircraft was late requiring a quick turn or there are a lot of pre-boards to deal with. In other words I don’t think that it’s intentional.
Usually 1 on list with 2 or 3 seats but they magically disappear right before the boarding process and I get to sit in the back…even when trying to use a RUC!!
Thanks for the blog.. we just got back from Madrid, bought an economy tickets ( automatically upgraded to comfort being platinum.. I did not even know they do that with international flights ) As we approached the lady checking us in, she said “oh it’s a full flight so we just left it at that. Then before we boarded the flight, we were called to upgrade us to Premium Select… We really were so appreciative 🙂 that premium select felt like business to me , cause we were exhausted…and not expected it. we took a chance to buy economy instead of our usual biz class and it really worked .. saved money this time!!!
Welcome back from your trip! I really like those Premium Select seats. Some people don’t — but I think they’re much better than coach.
In the early days of Premium our family of 6 (at the time, it’s now 8) got upgraded on BA to Premium Economy for free. I don’t know why because we didn’t have status with BA (although I was Platinum with their partner American) We had to turn it down at first because they didn’t have any bassinet seats in Premium and we had two kids under 2 with us. In the end we got three seats at the front of economy and 3 at the back of Premium Economy, the best of both worlds!
Back to the present Delta days, I also try to board last, when an upgrade is possible, although it does run the risk of losing baggage space.
@ Chris.. thanks.. Its my first time on premium select , I used to think it was a glorified coach .. but seriously IF one can not get the biz class , the premium select is not a bad idea.. I would pay for it now that I have experienced it..
I had a suggestion flight last week where I was first on the upgrade list to first, but it showed all the seats full. I had talked to the gate agent on an unrelated question. I knew he was very busy due to a late arrival. So I thanked him and never asked about an upgrade.
A few minutes later he paged me and told me that he had one first class passenger who had not checked in. He said boarding was about to begin but he could not assign the seat to me until 30 minutes before the flight. He specifically told me not to board as it would take me off the upgrade list.
When it was time, he called me back over, gave me a new boarding pass for first class. Needless to say, I was very grateful, and gave him a job well done. I had that ready to go even if I didn’t get the upgrade as I did appreciate him making sure I had a chance for an upgrade.