Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Planes & Automobiles

Let's call this Part 2- Something Angry in the Air

This post is about a thirty minute interaction between a gate agent and a man on my flight home from LA about the ins and outs of being a frequent flyer.  A little back story for the non-frequent flyer readers - being a frequent flyer is an interesting hobby.  I say hobby because those in the club collect miles, spend miles for prizes, and have many message boards and blogs about the art of collecting miles.

Here is what you need to know about being a frequent flyer (FF), in no particular order.  *This information is what I have gleaned from listening to Matt talk about his FF status.  I could be mistaken in some minor details, but you will get the important ideas. 

1.  If you want to collect miles you should stick with one airline and fly them as much as you can so you can earn status.  As you move through the levels you start off with silver, gold, then platinum.  If you move beyond the platinum threshold you earn something über exclusive like 1K status or über über exclusive global service.

2.  Each level of the program gives you certain benefits: early boarding, free checked bags, high priority on stand-by lists, free itinerary changes, double qualifying miles for your flight when the regular folks earn only single miles, and the best is a priority line to get through airport security.

3.  Desire to read blogs of people who live and breathe mile accumulation.  Here you learn insider information about upcoming airline sales and promotions.  These promotions help the FF earn many more miles, and thus further up the status ladder.  On these blogs they like to determine if a promotion is "worth the miles."  They convert FF miles into money using some formula (maybe the number of miles divided by the distance?  I have no idea) and determine if the per mile expenditure is worth it.  

4.  When you fly a certain number of miles in a certain amount of time you earn upgrade certificates.  These coupons are used to upgrade your purchased coach seat to first class, if seats are available.    

5.  The thing the frequent flyer loves the most is free upgrades to first or business class.  The higher your status the better your chances are for a free upgrade.  The über übers get first dibs and then down the line to the lowly gold status flyers.  An elite FF just has to wait until 48ish hours before their flight to see if they got the gratis upgrade.  The airline waits this long just in case someone actually purchases the available seat. 

Car rental companies and hotels have their own FF-style programs that give free upgrades and other spectacular treats.  I have to say I don't know all the specific ins and outs of these programs, but that's why I have Matt to figure it all out.  When I have flown with Matt in the last year (minus the kids), he's always used upgrade certificates or gotten the gratis bump to first.  It's a tough life.  Especially in Business Class on British Airways (should be one of the wonders of the world).

Item Number 5 is the basis for today's post.

Now back to our story - Something Angry in the Air

Matt used his coveted upgrade certificates on our inbound and outbound flights to first class, so life was good for my trip home.  I had a lot of time to kill at LAX since the drive did not take as long as the folks in San Diego suggested.  That's not to say I didn't get my exercise for the afternoon.

They changed our gate three times.  Good thing is that the changes were within ten gates of each other.  One statement by the gate agent gave me a bit of concern.  She told another passenger that asked if there were any more upgrade seats available, she told him that they were all filled.  And someone might have to be downgraded.

Downgraded?  I've never heard of that, I thought you could only go up.

Knowing what I know about FF programs, status is king.  Personally I have no status on this airline.  I was riding Matt's coattails to get the upgrade, and at this moment he was on his way to Boston.  I was a nobody.  The cabin filled and there was one seat left.  I had high hopes that the doors would close soon, and we would be on our way.  No such luck.  The gate agent walked on the plane with a handful of papers.  She stopped at the row just in front of me.

"Mr. XX, I'm going to need you to move seats."

"What do you mean move seats?  I have a ticket for this seat.  I was awarded an upgrade for this over 24 hours ago."(**This means he has some form of elite status and was awarded a #5**)

The lady proceeded to tell him, and all of us in earshot, that there was a glitch when the system awarded the free upgrades.  A couple purchased tickets more than 36 hours ago and one ticket somehow got booted out of the system.  Although he had an upgrade the all mighty dollar trumps that.

He asked for the location of his new seat.  He was assigned to be in the fifth row of coach - in the center.  As soon as he heard the words center seat, he was hot.

"I am not moving.  I will not be downgraded to a center seat."  He buckled his seat belt and crossed his arms much the same as a toddler would in a tantrum.  The gate agent wasn't sure what to do.  She walked up to the front of the cabin to talk with the flight attendants.

In the meantime he was ranting to the guy next to him.  You could feel the tension, but I was super relieved that I was not the one being booted.  When she came back she said that they would offer him a $250 travel voucher.  He immediately pulled out his credit card and offered to pay the difference of the ticket he paid for in coach to stay in this seat.  She graciously explained that the seat he occupied was paid for prior to his upgrade and he had to move.

He again crossed his toddler tantrum arms.  "What are you going to do if I don't move, call the cops?"  I have to give the gate agent major kudos because she gave him the eyeballs that said, "stop being an asshole and get up."

I think he realized she meant business and he said he refused to sit in the center.  The agent told him she has never in her career had to do this, but she would so that the plane could take off.  She walked into the cabin and made an all call for someone to move to the center seat so Mr. XX could be comfortable.  Someone immediately volunteered, and he moved his downgraded hiney to his new seat.

The couple who ponied up the money for the two seats boarded and we were almost on our way.  The gate agent filled the lead flight attendant in on the blow-by-blow of Mr. XX.  He said that they would be sure to take care of him during the flight.  The gate agent shook her head and said something to him.  His face changed into a disgusted look and he said, "He said that?  Oh we won't take care of him then."  Take that Mr. XX.

I guess sometimes status can't save you.

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