I’ve grown accustomed to the inconsistency I experience and witness when flying these days. From above and beyond service all the way down to outright rudeness, it’s not one specific work group that’s exempt from the swings of customer service etiquette.
Last week I observed the laziness of a United Airlines gate agent at Washington Dulles airport. I was flying to Atlanta on a CRJ-700 and had already been upgraded at the 100-hour window for 1Ks. At the gate, I noticed there were nine people on the upgrade list with zero seats left and the notice, “United First has checked in full.”
Boarding commenced and I settled into seat 2A and went back to my Words With Friends game with Alec Baldwin (kidding). About 15 minutes prior to departure, seats 1D and 1F were still unoccupied and I heard a gentleman in 4D ask the flight attendant in coach about upgrading as he was on the list and noticed the empty seats.
The coach flight attendant advised the purser (do they call the lead FA a purser on regional airlines?) and she told the gate agent who arrived a moment or two later with the flight’s paperwork for the pilots. There was still a good 10 minutes until scheduled departure time, if not more.
The gate agent replied, “Oh… yes, there were misconnects.” The purser continued, “Can you upgrade him, then?” His reply… “Oh, I’d have to go change it in the system. Just tell him the cabin is technically full… it was booked full.”
Proactive gate agents, like many I’ve seen, will process upgrades once realizing there will be misconnects and come find the passengers onboard to give them the open seats. This agent, however, was just plain lazy and didn’t do it in advance, nor was willing to sacrifice a minute or two to investigate if that customer was next on the list.
I couldn’t hear what the coach flight attendant said to the passenger, but I did hear his response, “Okay, that’s understandable.” Ack! No it’s not, actually. Granted IAD-ATL is a relatively short flight and the service difference is incredibly minor between cabins, but that’s not the point. The gate agent basically blew off a valid request when there was enough time to check. I know they prefer to shut the cabin door 10-minutes prior, but that hasn’t been happening lately in my experience.
If it were me and I knew I was next on the list and saw two open seats, I’d approach the gate agent myself and kindly request to be upgraded. It helps that I know a thing or two about the process, of course, but for this other passenger, while he seemed appeased, I truly wonder if that’s his actual sentiment.
I’d like to think the laziness I witnessed is the exception and not the norm, but as I type this from my Business Class seat on a United 777, I see one open seat in the cabin when there was a list of 53 passengers awaiting an upgrade this morning (and I don’t think it’s an INOP seat).
I’ll be in the air as this post goes live for another long day of flying. Fortunately, all my upgrades cleared in advance.