Every now and then airline passengers cross a line.
For example, a couple of years ago, when I had booked and upgraded a reservation for a cross-country flight, a guy came up to me and said, “You’re in my seat.”
I checked, saw my boarding pass was for the right seat and showed it to him.
He sort of laughed and said, “Well, actually, you’re in my favorite seat. It’s the one I always request, but couldn’t get it this time.”
At that point I just shrugged and said, “Sorry,” but I didn’t move. He looked disappointed but didn’t make a further issue of it.
But last week a gentleman — and I use that term loosely — took things to a whole new level. The experience left me openly questioning if airlines have gone too far in coddling their elites.
We were boarding a delayed flight in Mexico, with bulkhead seats, which we knew meant needing the overhead bins. Fortunately, my two travel companions and I are all frequent fliers with United, which gives us priority boarding, and we lined up early.
But just as they were starting boarding, this guy came in from the side, followed by a large entourage, and declared, “I am Global Services, so we get to board first.”
“Well,” the young female gate agent replied, “you can only bring a couple of guests.”
There were 12 people in his party, ranging in age from one woman with a toddler up through several pre-teens, teenagers and adults.
He started arguing. He was considerably larger than the agent and just shook off her protests.
He pointed to two of the teenagers and motioned them ahead. Then he started gesturing to others in his group, saying “Come on! Come on!” In every case he took their boarding passes and just handed them to the now flustered gate agent.
And, no doubt, United has told employees not to upset its Global Services members, so she didn’t stop any of them. Those of us in line were also treated to the sight of some of the older kids skipping gleefully down the jetway.
Of course, we all got on the same plane and in the grand scheme of things there was no serious harm done. Except, of course, the family also put all of its bags in the most forward bins, so some of us who boarded after them had to go put our bags further back and then backtrack, which didn’t help speed up the boarding or debarkation process.
To be Global Services requires spending $50,000, maybe $75,000, a year with United, so it is in the airline’s interest to indulge these super-elites.
On the other hand, Global Services travelers are pretty indulged already. And with United, as with other airlines, highest-level travelers will automatically be given higher priority than lower-status travelers on the waitlist for sold-out flights and upgrades. (A higher-priced ticket helps, too.)
But sometimes you have to wonder: What’s next?
Editor’s note: While discussing a similar case with DOT, the Enforcement Division informed one of our advocates that airlines can create their own priority list detailing which passengers will be first to be bumped. This applies when bumping passengers from first class back to coach or when bumping passengers off overbooked flights. All passengers with tickets do not have the same privileges in every case. Check your airline’s contract of carriage. That’s where the boarding priority is outlined.