Arlington National Cemetery
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Should Military Personnel Receive Special Treatment as Airline Passengers?

V eteran’s Day was celebrated earlier this month in the United States in honor of men and women who proudly served their country in the armed forces — and many businesses offered discounts and special deals to present and past members of the military as a small token of thanks for their service.

FlyerTalk members based in the United States have long discussed and debated about passengers who are military personnel receiving special treatment and benefits when traveling on domestic airlines — such as a complimentary upgrade to a seat in the premium class cabin or priority boarding — leading to the question of whether or not they should receive these perks simply because they are military personnel.

Should Military Personnel Receive Special Treatment as Airline Passengers?

Arlington National Cemetery
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Some FlyerTalk members believe that because military personnel sacrifice their lives defending their country while deployed in some war-torn area for months at a time away from their families in spartan conditions, they should be thanked by civilians and airline employees with gestures of appreciation — such as relinquishing their seats to military personnel when upgraded whether during the holidays or other times of the year, for example.

Other FlyerTalk members, however, believe that life in the military is a chosen profession paid by collecting taxes from civilians and companies such as airlines where the risks and living conditions are known. They argue further as to why military personnel should warrant special treatment when people in professions where they risk their lives — such as police officers and firefighters — do not. The argument has even been extended to include passengers whose professions are in fields where lives are saved every day, such as doctors and nurses.

Still other FlyerTalk members argue that when a person actively serving in the military is given an upgrade by a fellow passenger, their own upgrades have supposedly been taken away from them. This, of course, leads to a separate argument as to whether or not passengers have the right to give away their upgrades once awarded to them — but that is an issue for another time.

Military personnel have been recognized in numerous ways aboard aircraft. They have not been charged for beverages, where passengers applauded after hearing an announcement to that effect. They have enjoyed priority boarding — in some cases, even before passengers seated in the premium class cabin. There are cases where military personnel pay special airfares when they book their flights in appreciation for their service…

…but some airlines have a policy not to upgrade uniformed members of the military — even if there are seats available in the first class cabin aboard the airplane. One possible reason could be an incentive to dress as an impostor pretending to be a member of the military or worse: commit a practice known as stolen valorI wrote this article addressing how stolen valor could affect you as a traveler — which is a violation of federal law in the United States subject to a fine; imprisonment for not more than one year; or both.

Although Delta Air Lines does not offer free access of its Sky Club lounges — whose annual fees are due to increase next year — to members of the military, this workaround of how to get that access for free for members of the military was posted 28 months ago. Extensive additional information pertaining to credit card benefits for members of the military have been posted at The Military Frequent Flier over the years — especially with articles such as Additional Help on Getting Your Credit Card Fees Waived and Credit Card Benefits for servicemembers – A master summary!

By the way, you might have noticed that some of the aforementioned links in this article are for discussions on FlyerTalk which have been closed and locked. The reason is because the debate pertaining to perks and benefits for military personnel can be rather contentious…

Is Appreciation For Military Personnel Greater in the United States?

…but I noticed something else in my research for this article: most of the discussions regarding the debate over perks and benefits for military personnel are primarily in the forums on FlyerTalk dedicated to domestic airlines in the United States.

Why is that the case?

Flags Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Could the reason be the patriotism many Americans feel with regard to everything that has to do with the United States? Is there something about saluting a red, white and blue flag with stars and stripes as opposed to saluting flags with a red maple leaf, three colored bars or a red circle?

I am proud to be an American; but I do not adorn my car with American flags or attend Independence Day parades. That is simply my choice, which does not mean I like or appreciate the United States any less than those who do those things — nor do I disparage them in any way. That is part of the beauty of living in the United States: the supposed freedom to celebrate or commemorate any holiday or milestone of significance any way that you choose.

All right — for those of you who bring up airport security checkpoints and the Transportation Security Administration, the “loss of freedom” and “illusion of security” arguments and debates are for a different discussion on a different day.


Arlington National Cemetery
Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

So, as I asked before: is the passionate debate about perks and benefits for military personnel rooted in patriotism? A love for a country which is arguably one of the best in which to live? A pride which swells to the point of being perceived as pompous, perhaps? Is it about showing an appreciation and respect for a special group of people who sacrifice themselves to protect the freedoms and the ways of life in the United States? Is the debate steeped in politics?

What about military personnel themselves — should they accept the gift of a free upgrade, whether by a fellow passenger or a flight attendant? Are they violating any rules or breaching any ethics or morals when they do so?

Why is it that you do not see people based outside of the United States embroiled in a debate over whether or not military personnel should be given an upgraded seat in the premium class cabin aboard an airplane simply because they are in the armed forces?

I am not sure of the answers to these questions — nor have I taken any sides in this debate. Believe me when I say I am definitely not passionate either way about this issue, despite the contrary for many FlyerTalk members based in the United States. However, I am interested in your thoughts…

All photographs ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

  1. No of course not. What have they ever done for us? Those precious little millennial snowflakes should get special privileges though. They should get a safe space on each plane where they can pat each other on the back for how much good they are doing for the environment because they drove their Prius on the way to the airport. Oh and their flights should be subsidized by taxpayers, because they deserve it, and because Republicans are evil. Ahhh, freedom.

    Meanwhile we have other travel bloggers out there who feel entitled to force another passenger from their upgraded seat because he thought he was more entitled to it, after losing out on trying to get bumped on purpose. Hardly anyone even challenges these kind of narcissistic actions, but you want to question whether military should get benefits?

    This the kind of attitude that drove voters to Trump. Many people are just sick of this shit. The entitled attitude that is the end result of leftist policies, instilling in people the belief that they deserve stuff that they did not earn. The soldiers and their families earned the right for special privileges a lot more than someone who signed up for a few credit cards.

    1. Hosea, you are clearly uneducated and ill informed.
      I am not saying that all troops should be upgraded or get special treatment, the point is the recognition from the public, something that the USA does very well. In Australia vetrens are barely recognised at all. USA and all countries shoud be proud of there troops.

  2. “All gave some, some gave all”.

    Do Active Duty personnel deserve special treatment? Perhaps “deserve” is a strong word but should they be offered it? Absolutely yes. They have offered to put their lives on the line for our freedoms. Don’t take that lightly.

    I’m afraid if I were on the flight where the family of a deceased veteran was booed I would be in jail right now. I don’t think I could have stood by and let that disgraceful behavior go unchallenged.

    DO NOT let civility and good manners die in America, no matter who you voted for.

  3. I have at least one military friend, who eschews what he considers unwanted “everyone gets a trophy!” stuff like this. As he puts it, sure he served a long time in the military, but he:

    1) Doesn’t feel the need to wear his uniform to get a “free” meal at Chili’s.

    2) Relatively few military are actually at the tip of the spear where they get shot at.

    He said he sometimes went to pains to avoid such attention.


  4. Im in the military and no we should not. If on Govt travel the taxpayer is paying the ticket, if its a personal trip then pay for the upgrade. All you mil haters can STFU

  5. Like my mama always said, “it’s the thought that counts” when was the last time anyone lost their upgrade to someone in the military? FYI, we fly a lot and have status also. Boarding earlie is like who wants to sit in the airplane longer? Plus military can check all their bags under the Gov fare so their not the guy with a masive roller bag two computer bags and his garment bag fighting with the gate agent because he’s asked to gate check one of his 4 carry ons while on his phone. The only time I want to be the last one on and first one off is if I’m in a pine box. Oh and for you assholes booing “gold star families” do us all a favor and leave the country. Not agreeing with the war or politics is one thing but being hurtful and insensitive during a time of someone’s loss of a loved one makes you a horable person.

  6. I spent 25 years in uniform and my wife spent 20. No one OWES us a darn thing EXCEPT our pension and medical benefits which we contracted for with our military service. If I am upgraded due to my own medallion status … even on a govt procured ticket … so be it (as that is a benefit I EARNED from loyalty to the airline). I have been offered an upgrade by someone sitting in first who offered to trade seats. I have politely thanked them and declined.

    That said, if someone (person or company) takes it upon themselves to offer something to thank me for my service (i.e. the military discount at Lowes and Home Depot) I say thank you and accept it. If one is not offered I DON’T ask for (or worse yet DEMAND) anything. Nor do I go out of my way to seek out a free meal on veterans day.

    And I agree 100% with Steve…STFU. All you mil haters have the right to hate. This is America. But at least know what you’re talking about… it’s US who gave you the right to voice your (uninformed) opinion. Try badmouthing the military or govt in places like North Korea…..

  7. As a military friend of Brian and someone with 32 years of service and counting, I would like to add my own non-emotional thoughts. Every military member is taught to be humble and treats everyone with the utmost respect. The reason they shave our heads in Basic is to show us that we are nothing until we earn respect by deeds. As much as the protesters talk about the 1% as the rich guys on Wall Street, we, the military, are the true 1% since only 1% of Americans now serve in uniform to defend the rights of every American. If I die in service to my country, I gladly give my life to know that I have achieved a cause worth dying for – freedom. If you do not spend a lot of time in other countries, you probably don’t appreciate what you have in America or other western countries (yes Australia and NZ included).
    I know some Service Members get tired of it, but I am glad whenever a citizen say thank you for your service. Should we be saying that to every cop, fireman, or Peace Corps volunteer, absolutely! The military just stands out because we sometimes wear our uniforms in the airport (typically not be choice). Do I need an upgrade, of course not. But if it makes the giver feel they have given back to the 1% who serve, then that is what makes America great. When we forget the sacrifice of others, then we have fallen as a country.

    1. There is no better time than the week of Thanksgiving for me to say thank you, Glenn — in more ways than one.

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