Did I really just downgrade myself on a long haul flight?!?


I’m sitting on a United Airlines 767-300 somewhere over the Pacific Ocean right now, wondering just which screws are loose in my head today. Yeah, I’ve always been a little crazy, particularly when it comes to travel, but today might be the nuttiest yet. And so, as we pass the half-way point to Hawaii (I hope I win the contest!) I’m wondering to myself just what was I thinking. I chose to downgrade myself for no good reason.

My flight itinerary is reasonably simple, if not a bit circuitous. I’m booked from New York City‘s LaGuardia to Denver to Honolulu to Tokyo‘s Haneda airports on the outbound half of a weekend mileage run to Japan. By virtue of my elite status I received upgrades on the first two segments and I happily selected my seats in row 1 as I often do. There was a bit of a delay getting out of LGA but we did eventually and I even had time to grab some food in Denver during the connection. Sure, I was upgraded but I like choosing my own meal when I have the chance so I grabbed a burrito for the flight and made my way over to the gate.

Boarding was pretty simple and I was all set to curl myself into my assigned seat, 1J, and enjoy the flight.

IMG01458-20110707-1607

The guy sitting in 1H asked if I’d mind trading seats with his wife in 2A. Window for window and while I’d be losing the bulkhead row that I generally prefer I’d get to be on the port side of the plane which, when flying into Honolulu generally means better views on the landing (similar to San Diego). All in all a relatively fair trade and it doesn’t cost me all that much to make two other people quite happy. I gladly accept. That’s when things get strange.

The man in 2B, acknowledging that it is a long shot, asks if he can "make it worth my while" to trade with his wife who is seated in row 17. That’s in the Economy Plus section of the plane, not the first class cabin. I’m pretty sure I shocked him and his wife when I said yes. More so when I refused to take the cash he tried to offer me in trade. I know I was a little surprised at myself.

And so I ended up with this view for the 6.5 hour long flight.

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Needless to say, the Purser was quite confused when they started to take meal orders up front as there was no Mr. Miller to be found. She eventually tracked me down in 17J and she too was surprised that I made the trade of my own volition and without remorse. She admonished me just a tiny bit but was accepting of my explanation that I did it of my free will.

Here’s the craziest part of the whole thing: I’m not really sure I got that bad of a deal. The 767-300 domestic configuration on United is called the "ghetto bird" for a reason; the first class cabin really isn’t all that significant an upgrade over Economy Plus. I had the meal that I wanted. I had the drinks that I wanted (I have more than enough drink chits anyways and there may have been a comp or two as part of the trade). I have enough leg room that I can cross my legs when I feel like it. Yes, my seat is a bit narrower, but it isn’t sufficiently so that I really notice. So why help another couple on their way to Hawaii start the trip off a bit special?

Yeah, I know that I’m nuts. A part of me is wondering while writing this why I don’t really care. After all, I was sweating the upgrade before it actually came through. In the end, however, I legitimately do not mind having made the swap.

Definitely a few screws loose.

ps- Just bought my seat mate a beer with my drink chits. Gotta use ’em some how, right?

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

37 Comments

  1. wow, awesome story. thats amazing, and i bet they’ll appriciate it, and re-tell it for years.

    well done!

  2. I am flying Atlanta to South Africa tomorrow. Hopefully someone in first class would not mind trading me for my economy comfort seat 🙂
    All kidding aside, if you are ever in SLC, send me an e-mail, I would like to take you to lunch.

  3. That is just what makes you who you are Seth…. a wonderful Wandering Aramean! Good on you! 🙂

  4. I’ll let you know my flying schedule. Please try to be on all of my flights. If my upgrade doesn’t clear, I can have yours, right? 🙂

  5. Gene is spot on 😉
    Have fun on the trip. I am glad that you could use the deal. I hate to be stuck in Europe where MRs are pretty scarce.

  6. Thinking further, I did an f to j onboard downgrade on sq one time (on a SYD-sin flight operated by a 747).

    Turns out my boss was on the same flight, and he only booked in j. When I found out, I tried to change my ticket….but j was full. uh oh!

    I went to the guy sitting next to the boss and discretely offered a trade of seat. At first he was not into it, till I showed him the f boarding card…and that guy bolted up front so fast it wasn’t funny.

    If it was a 380, I’m not sure what I would have done. I guess I could have closed the door to the suite and hid out!

    1. HNL-HND is operated by ANA (Air Japan). Actually a pretty nice flight chasing the sunset towards Japan.

      As for how I made it to Global Services status, turns out there’s more than one way to get there. I’m reasonably convinced I’m the lowest revenue GS member ever. 😀

  7. Good man. You are completely right that first class over economy on the ghetto birds is not that different aside from the food and wider seat. You made four people (five with the chit) very happy. It will come back.

  8. Yeah I am with everyone else. You specialize in finding the best mileage runs how are you GS?

  9. Well, as you said there was not such a big difference between F and Y. Also makes you feel good that you made the couple happy. On the top of that you can brag about it here and gather plenty of sympathy. A winning move all along 😀

  10. seth,
    thank you for being a gentleman…I suspect karma will reward eventually..

    I am new to mileage runs…can you tutor me on that?

    thanks

  11. What goes around comes around. You are a gentleman and a scholar. Better to have a few loose screws and a big heart than no heart at all.

  12. Nothing wrong with being nice to others, as long as you know what you are doing. Someone of your experience obviously did. 🙂 So, kudos to you.

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