I scored an upgrade just for being nice!

A Delta 737-900ER sporting the Gogo 2Ku radome at JFK Airport in New York City

It is the stuff of legends and a bygone era. Sure, every now and then a website will run a story about how dressing nicely or flirting with the gate agent can get you a seat up front. But we all know that’s not really true, right? Except that today I boarded a flight with 19B assigned. And I ended up in 4A. So that didn’t suck.

The adventure started with a relatively last-minute dash to JFK airport as I decided to press my luck and get out of town a couple hours early, maybe getting to Florida in time for dinner. I was a relatively late add to the standby list and by the time I got to the gate I was showing as number eight for zero seats remaining. I was mostly resigned to taking the original flight (and having time to grab some lunch) but hung out in the gate area, just in case. The agent started calling names and then repeating them. No passengers were going to the counter. As more and more standbys ahead of me no-showed for the flight my name was eventually called and I jumped up, just happy to score a seat. I joked with the agent that I’d take the worst middle seat she had; she replied that 19B was actually a good middle seat, with exit row legroom.

Still hungry and now knowing I needed some food to stave off the hangry I ran across to one of the concessions, even though the my zone was already boarding. I grabbed an overpriced, premade sushi pack and raced back to the gate where I merged into the boarding line. That merge proved fruitful.

A couple invited me to cut in line and I declined, pointing out that we were early enough in the boarding that there would be room for my bag and we were all getting to Atlanta at the same time. That started a brief conversation about not much of anything at all, culminating with the scanner at the gate spitting out a new seat assignment for him. But not for her. He did not want the upgrade if it meant splitting up. He suggested to the gate agent that she just give it to me but she declined, noting that she really was supposed to process the list.

The problem with that plan is that he wanted his original seat – with his travel partner – back. And the gate agent had already cleared a standby passenger into that seat. She was not happy at the prospect of needing to figure that all out (and I don’t blame her given that we were less than 15 minutes from scheduled departure time at this point). He handed his boarding pass over and I snuck a peek at it: 19B.

I had “taken” his seat.

And so, being generous (and, honestly, just trying to help make boarding smoother) I pointed out that she had just assigned it to me and that I would happily give it back to him. And so, rather than finding someone else already on board and process that upgrade she just gave him the boarding pass back, smiled at us and waved us all on to the plane. He gave me 4A, I gave him 19B and his partner remarked that it must be true love, picking her over the upgrade.

So, yes, some mild shenanigans involved. And there’s someone who I’m sure has a higher elite status than me who deserved the upgrade and didn’t get it. But a couple others on the later flight did get upgrades this afternoon as my standby and my wife being sick opened a couple seats up. Plus, the “early” onward flight to my final destination ended up delayed 2+ hours so all I really got was extra time in Atlanta. Maybe that’s travel karma.

But I also scored the mythical upgrade just for being nice. I’ll take it.

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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, and LinkedIn.


  1. LHR-LAX AA 777. Last row on Economy => First row in Business. It happened, without any status, and chepaest ticket on the plane 🙂

  2. I love stories like this, Seth Miller! Being nice is so important!! Some of my best upgrades at the hotel come from being nice to the FD. And when it turns out not to be what I expected, I remain polite but firm.

  3. I am 100% certain I will never get upgrade. Last time a airline changed my seat it was to seat without a window. I wasn’t happy at all.

  4. Title was a little misleading 🙂
    For a moment I thought you were nice to the gate agent and that got you the upgrade. Now that would have been some news ahah.

    1. I’m pretty sure that my being nice to the GA earlier in the discussion helped on this one.

  5. Seated in gate area for a DUB-ORD flight in economy. Gate agent comes by and says she notices I’m traveling alone and would I mind a seat change so they can put a family together? I say OK. She comes back 10 minutes later: “Sorry I had to bother you, but I’m sure you won’t mind.” Seat 1A.

  6. Seth, the way I figure it, if you travel a lot, you get an upgrade just for being nice a few times in your life. The rest of the time, you just get to walk around knowing you treat people the right way, which is even more important. Congratulations for getting both this time.

    1. And yet another person on Twitter is commenting suggesting that it is far better to pitch a fit as you’re more likely to be upgraded as a result. Not only to I think that isn’t true, but I cannot imagine feeling good about living a life where my goal is to make other people miserable so that I might get something better

    2. Seth Miller if that were their approach, they may get the upgrade, but not enjoy it. Think of all the mental stress they’d put themselves through just for a bigger seat and a glass of champagne/bubbly/prosecco/whatever they serve in the name of champagne

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