Self-Upgrading is Stealing. Period.
“Sat in WT+ this morning on BA165 and along comes a lady who sits in the row behind me, immediately summons the crew and says ‘my husband tried to upgrade but was told there were no seats – the row is empty, can he sit here?’ Crew said they’d ask the ‘manager’ and get back to her.”
Self-Upgrading is Stealing. Period.
The story as recounted by FlyerTalk member hb133 continues: “Halfway through the flight, husband appears and plonks himself next to his wife. When I saw the CSM walking through the cabin later, I mentioned that there was someone sat in the seat behind me who wasn’t there when we took off. She said something about it being too much hassle to deal with, at which point I said I’d love to sit in Club or First if there were free seats but recognise that I obviously had to sit where I paid. She agreed with me on the principle (asking me if I’d like to sit in the cockpit!), but did absolutely nothing to send the man back to his paid for seat. Then spoke to the man, who tells her that ‘a member of crew said I could sit here’ and decided to leave him alone — isn’t the CSM meant to be the person in charge on board in these situations?”
The husband in that story apparently got away with “stealing” that seat in the premium cabin by using a tactic which is known as self-upgrading, which a passenger takes onto himself or herself moving to a premium seat without permission or paying for the privilege.
Seats in the premium cabin — especially on international flights — are very limited in number; so therefore, not everyone can sit in them every time on every flight…
…and for a number of airlines, revenue for those seats are consequently at a premium price much of the time. People may wonder why an airline would rather depart with those seats remaining empty than perhaps offering them at a significant discount. That is because officials at airlines do not want to condition passengers with waiting until the last minute to purchase those seats at a deep discount, which endangers the experience to possibly be devalued over time — similar to not expecting a luxury vehicle or any other opulent item or service to be available at a significant discount.
Seeing empty seats in the premium cabin during a flight can be tempting to some passengers who are seated in the economy class cabin. After all, who would not want to experience a lie-flat seat with thousands of complimentary entertainment options and gourmet food? As a seat is empty, it is only going to waste anyway, right? Why not just upgrade oneself to it?
It is not as simple as that. Food and beverages cost money. Cleaning of crockery and cutlery costs money. Members of the cabin crew must work harder and longer with extra passengers who did not pay their way. Maintenance of more of the cabin itself costs money and time…
…and should the mantra of “first come, first serve” apply here? Imagine the stampede and mayhem of passengers attempting to self-upgrade at the very second the Fasten Seat Belt sign is deactivated. Otherwise, why should one passenger get preference over another at a seat in the premium cabin? Should the person who paid the most for a ticket get an upgrade over the person who has earned the highest level of elite status in a frequent flier loyalty program?
Receiving something of which you are not initially entitled can be a wonderful surprise.
Taking something of which you are not initially entitled through your own volition is usually considered stealing — especially when you do not pay for it and if you were not granted official permission.
Passengers who are seated in the economy class cabin have no right to simply take an empty seat in the premium class cabin — which an airline can sell for thousands of dollars — without permission and without paying for it…
…and members of the flight crew who permit for such a tactic to occur because doing something about it may be too much of a “hassle” send out a signal to others that self-upgrading is okay for anyone who dares to do so — which can set a precedent for attempts to self-upgrade to occur more often in the future.
Lastly, self-upgrading is especially unfair to others who paid for the privilege to sit in the premium cabin — whether using money or frequent flier loyalty program miles as payment.
All photographs ©2013, ©2016, and ©2019 by Brian Cohen.