View of Business Elite Cabin From Seat 9D
Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

Sneaking Into the Premium Class Cabin of an Airplane During Flight

pproximately half of the seats in the premium class cabin were full on an airplane operated by Delta Air Lines during a flight from Amsterdam to Portland today — and because there were plenty of empty seats, FlyerTalk member shipitfish admitted to being “sleepy that I needed a nap” and “so I just went for it and took a 1.5 hr nap up there during the lull when the FAs were not coming through much. No one stopped me.”

You read that correctly: shipitfish posted — or possibly more appropriately, boasted — to sneaking into the premium class cabin of an airplane during a flight.

FlyerTalk Member Response to Sneaking Into the Premium Class Cabin During a Flight

FlyerTalk member injera responded with this thought: “I’d feel mortified if I got caught so wouldn’t try that myself, but if you can get up there with enough time for a good snooze, more power to you, presuming you apologize and go back to your assigned seat if caught.”

Other FlyerTalk members were not as kind: “I don’t think this happens much anymore with relatively full front cabins, but perhaps more dire than being sent back is being held at your destination airport with DL demanding payment for the difference in fare”, warned FlyerTalk member aCavalierInCoach. “Know this used to be the approach for poachers.”

FlyerTalk member indufan posted, “Or they could ask for the person to be arrested and, depending upon jurisdiction, be charged with a felony.”

Additional responses are found in this discussion.


Members of the flight crew usually have a manifest with the names of all of the passengers and into which seats they were assigned. Had they been diligent, they would have caught shipitfish with what is essentially considered “stealing” a seat and probably would have simply directed shipitfish out of the premium class cabin — even if it was only for 90 minutes or so during a long-haul transatlantic flight which lasted approximately 10.5 hours.

If I were a passenger who witnessed this, I would have called attention to a flight attendant and apprised him or her of what occurred. Fellow passengers paid their hard-earned money or frequent flier loyalty program points — or a combination of both — to enjoy the privilege, amenities and accoutrements of being assigned a seat in the premium class cabin. Why should someone believe that he or she deserves to experience a product or service of which he or she is not entitled?

Seats in the premium class cabin of an airplane used for an international flight are usually the “bread and butter” of an airline in terms of revenue and profit. If the seat goes unsold once a flight commences, it is because no one paid for it. If passengers were able to simply use the seats free of charge without penalty, more and more people would attempt to fill them without paying for them. After all, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, so to speak?

Sadly, this topic is not a new one. Back on Saturday, June 13, 2009, I asked in this article whether voluntarily upgrading oneself is something about one should be proud, is it nothing more than a form of stealing, or is it something somewhere in between?

Perhaps I am wrong with my thoughts and opinions pertaining to this topic. What are your thoughts?

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Let’s be real – the money of fellow J fliers is not really ” hard earned” in general. They aren’t doing back breaking laborer work. And churning credit cards or referral links is hardly torturous work.

    Someone wants to sleep, let them sleep. No harm to you.

    1. @Jon, I take umbrage, kind sir! My money is indeed “hard earned”. The value of my time, spent in any endeavor, physical or mental, is mine alone to value. And I value it quite highly, thank you. If you don’t have to put forth much time and effort for your money, then good for you. But I have to fight for every dollar and every point. And I guess that makes me feel cheated when someone tries to grab an expensive perk for free.

    2. Agreed.

      The majority of miles I have earned, albeit flying over 100,000 miles last year, are from credit cards and finding loopholes in the system. If I was in a higher class and saw someone from coach sneak in, at first I would feel intruded upon. Being in a higher class makes you feel that entitlement (i.e., better than others). We are all human beings and should treat each other as such. When really thinking about it, I step back and think “More power to you. Work the system.”

  2. I am sticking that there is no issue if person self upgrades, if passengers have a problem with that notify a crew or have crew better monitor the cabin.
    As far as “Fellow passengers paid their hard-earned money” right now majority of travelers in Business class traveling for Business and really do not really care how much they spend. Some companies policies are better with allowing to travel in Business class and Some are not.

  3. So what is he exactly steeling? Nobody’s using the seat and he is not taking it away from anybody. He breathes the same air and he is already being carried to his destination.

    I’d rather call it trespassing. “enter the owner’s land or property without permission”
    If you trespass and then you start eating the fruits on his property then you can call it stealing.

    I guess you could call it stealing perhaps because of wear and tear on the seat.

    1. It’s called “Theft of Service”. You can steal something that is not an object you know. Like running out on a Taxi without paying or hoping a turnstile on the subway.

      Occasionally airlines actually charge people with this. I can think of twice when Air Canada did it and it made the news. But realistically, that tends to be the last resort when someone is busted and REFUSES to go back to cattle class, or utters threats and profanity against the crew.

      Most of the time, they just send the poacher back with their tail between their legs.

      However, it is good to know there is a criminal charge available as recourse.

  4. And then we have the absurd1
    I flew a short flight on JetBlue. While walking the aisle I stepped into a premium seat to let a cabin crew member pass. While I did this as a courtesy and had no intention of sitting there she went full ballistic. This JetBlue employee explained the rules and told me I was stealing. I explained why I let her pass and asked her if she saw me sitting.
    No apology came. I never fly JetBlue.

  5. Smacks of pinko creeping Socialism is one way to look at it, of course, letting steerage customers up front. Blame Obama. Predict that soon they’ll be barbequing skewered small creatures larded with garlic in the aisles. But the reaction makes me yearn for Ireland, where entire villages will shun an informer, speaking to them never again for life.

  6. More power to him! If I was in first class and noticed, I would have just laughed. As far as the airline charging him. How could they have collected? As for a felony, that’s ridiculous. It’s no felony and and I doubt that any police would want to be bothered with such a petty problem

    1. Wrong. it COULD be a felony.

      It’s already a crime…”Theft of Service”. Like running out on a Taxi or turnstile jumping on the subway.

      So if the VALUE of the service stolen exceeds the local jurisdiction thresholds for “Felony”, which premium seat prices are likely to do..then the person could be charged with a felony for stealing a first class seat. It may even stick with a jury if there are other factors like the person refuses to move back to coach and threatens the crew.

  7. there seems to be a trend here. I’m seeing more and more. The airlines impose some new rule and when the public responds, then it’s the public’s fault.
    In this case the seat is empty; there is no way they can sell it, what is wrong with someone using it. What’s more, the airline should move passengers to fill those seats up. At this point they need all the help they can get as far as engracing themselves with their patrons.
    If you travel and don’t see it that way you are either the airline or are getting paid to give negative feedback.

    1. What’s wrong with it?

      Consider, the airlines charge a specific price for the premium cabin. That includes complimentary drinks, more food, more privacy etc. They take money for it, either directly in the fare or through frequent flyer’s cumulative revenue as an incentive to the customer.

      If a plane was departing with empty seats, and the airline allowed just anyone to move themselves up to the premium cabin…..who would pay?? Why would anyone pay? If all you have to do is wait until the flight is leaving, why bother earning money or buying a higher class of seat? The result would be obvious…..nobody would buy the product anymore.

      “The plane is going anyhow” argument doesn’t wash. Not in a business sense, and certainly not in other contexts. Why not run out on a restaurant bill? After all, the food in the kitchen was going to be eaten at some point anyhow. Why not hop the turnstile on the subway? After all, the train will be going from station to station anyhow.

      It’s certainly not fair to the other passengers up in that cabin that have ALREADY paid or used miles. If it were me, I would demand my money back…if the airline is just going to allow people to take it for free..why should I pay?

  8. It is legally “Theft of Service” in most western countries. It is the same as jumping a turnstile or ditching a cab or running out on a haircut.

    Premium class seats are revenue generating products. If you pay for it, you get the benefit of the service.
    If you plunk yourself in a premium seat that you did not pay for, you are taking a service you did not pay for, and can be found guilty of theft.

    Allowing it just devalues the product for those who bought it with money or earned it with miles.

    Anyone who does this deserves to be taken out in cuffs like the criminals that they are.

  9. This is theft of service. A criminal act no different than jumping a turnstile in the subway. It amounts to stealing a service you didn’t pay for.

    If people want more comfort for naptime, they can buy a ticket for Biz or F. If they can’t afford it or won’t pay for it, they deserve what they end up with.

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