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.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) March 28, 2018
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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