Flights are a bit less crowded these days. At least some of them are. Most surprising to me is that I’ve actually been seeing empty seats in first class cabins. Not a lot of them and there are still plenty of flights where the big seats are all full and a very long wait list exists, but on my trip through Sacramento last week there were actually a number of empty seats in first class both to and from California. That meant I got to take advantage of one of the nice but slightly less useful perks of my elite status: Companion Upgrades.
The concept is pretty simple. If an elite is flying and they have a companion they want to upgrade the companion goes on the waitlist and if the stars align correctly the companion gets to ride up front along with the elite. I’ve used the benefit several times in the past, including to and from Ecuador, Orlando, Jacksonville and Anchorage, but it has been a while. I actually completely forgot about the benefit until I settled into my seat on the flight from Houston to Sacramento and noticed how empty the cabin was. A quick check on Continental’s PDA site confirmed that there were 7 empty seats available up front.
About the same time as I was realizing this I overheard a conversation between another guy flying the same route as me and a flight attendant dead-heading her way back to Sacramento. We all started chatting and I was trying to explain why I would fly across the country and back, via Houston no less, just for fun. She wasn’t understanding it at all. That conversation was rather abruptly cut short when the flight attendant’s cousin boarded the plane. Neither of them knew the other would be on the plane and we had a bit of a family reunion in the middle of the cabin. That also gave me a great opportunity to use a companion upgrade, in this case for a complete stranger. I took the cousin’s boarding pass and made my way off the plane and back up to the ticket counter where I explained to the agent that I wanted to companion upgrade my “friend” who just boarded. About 60 seconds later I was back on the plane with a new boarding pass for the cousin and everyone was happy. And the flight attendant started to understand a little bit why I’d fly a little extra for the benefits.
When we deplaned in Sacramento I looked around the gate area to find someone to do the same thing for on the return flight. As they started boarding the plane I asked a random guy if he wanted to ride in first class. He eventually understood that I was serious so he handed over his boarding pass, happy to trade it for a big comfy seat.
I am pretty sure they both enjoyed the upgrade, and I know I enjoyed the companion upgrade benefit in both cases by being able to share a bit of a better ride with both those random strangers.
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