Ridiculous or not? Airline rules were meant to be broken (by elites)

You don’t have to fly frequently to know the airline industry has some of the most ridiculous rules in the travel business. But if you fly enough, you may not have to follow all of them.

For example: Most passengers are herded through boarding areas in large, disorganized groups. Unless you’re an elite-level frequent flier; then you skip through a “breezeway” or over a red carpet, away from the long line, directly to your preferred seat. Frequent fliers also get to shortcut the lengthy security line at some airports, and they don’t have to pay many checked luggage fees and other surcharges.

It turns out that’s just the tip of a two-tiered system under which elites aren’t always held to the same rules as other customers. In interviews with current and former frequent fliers as well as airline personnel, a clearer picture of this two-class system has emerged. Airlines often waive rules for their best customers, go beyond their contract of carriage and even hold the aircraft for latecomers.

Of course, this is good business for an airline. Why not treat your best customers better? And no one begrudges the elites for taking advantage of it.

I can’t argue that if you pay for a more expensive ticket, you deserve certain amenities, like preferred boarding, a roomier seat and more attentive service. But creating one set of rules for regular passengers, and one for “special” passengers — that’s troubling.

One of the most dramatic examples is holding the plane. If you’re a garden-variety passenger, and you’re late for your flight, you’re out of luck. You may even have to pay for a new ticket. But an assistant for a “high-level executive” sent me the story of how they held the plane for her boss.

“He was considered one of the most super-premium-platinum-plus elite on his preferred airline,” she says. “He had been stuck in traffic enroute to the airport. I personally witnessed the airline hold a flight for him.”

Most of the rules that are waived for elites are considerably less over-the-top. For example, one airline staffer told me that when it comes to weather delays, the contract of carriage — the legal agreement between the airline and customer — is clear: The airline won’t pick up the tab for meals and hotels.

But if you’re an elite-level traveler on an international flight, and your connection in the States is delayed because of a thunderstorm, it’s a little-known fact that the carrier will “take care of you,” the insider told me. The other customers on that flight are on their own.

More often, an airline will just bend a little rule for a good customer. Tom Logue remembers flying from Memphis to Denver with his wife recently, and receiving such preferred treatment. As an elite, he was easily able to upgrade to first class, but his wife, who was traveling on a companion certificate, wasn’t allowed up front. Companion certificates aren’t upgradeable. But when he flashed his platinum card, she received her upgrade.

“They were pretty lenient,” he says.

In fairness, there are also examples of compassionate airline personnel — mindful that their rules often defy explanation — ignoring policies for non-elites who just need help.

Still, there’s a growing perception that there are two groups of airline passengers: one to whom all of the absurd rules always apply, and the other for which they may not.

Airlines call the practice “segmentation.” But ordinary passengers have another word for it: unfair.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • FLYER

    This is a tough one.. One one hand we all want equality– essentially what’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander… but… we also want– and sometimes expect– businesses to be lenient when things go bad– be that in part because of the business or sometimes when the business had no part in the reason it went bad…

    Let’s look back to past columns where we’ve expected the business to bend the rules even when the reason for the request was wholly not the fault of or a by-product of the business, but in part because the customer was a valued one— be that high status mileage member, past cruiser, etc. ..

    If we then say– essentially as the questions asks ‘Should airlines enforce their rules regardless of your status’ then the answer would be no.. period.. status or not.. no..

    So, it’s hard to make this question in a black and white format.. If you answer yes.. then no one.. and we mean no one, gets anything beyond what’s in print or contractually entitled to them.. and your mailbox would be flooded and you’d be the king of email… but on the other hand, if we want that flexibility– then there will be times in which it’s extended unequally..

    The reality is that while every seat on the plane essentially gets there at the same time, they’re not all created equal.. Some passengers are “worth” more to the airline.. and these folks have and continue to either pay higher ticket prices (i.e. walk-up fares, full Y, international C/J or F, etc) versus those on discounted Y tickets.. so from a purely revenue point of view… as a business… you’re looking at the goose the lays your golden eggs.. and sometimes those geese needs the rules bent..

    I think that the notion of one set of rules for EVERYONE sounds good in print.. but I think the reality is just not there..

  • FLYER

    This is a tough one.. One one hand we all want equality– essentially what’s good for the goose ought to be good for the gander… but… we also want– and sometimes expect– businesses to be lenient when things go bad– be that in part because of the business or sometimes when the business had no part in the reason it went bad…

    Let’s look back to past columns where we’ve expected the business to bend the rules even when the reason for the request was wholly not the fault of or a by-product of the business, but in part because the customer was a valued one— be that high status mileage member, past cruiser, etc. ..

    If we then say– essentially as the questions asks ‘Should airlines enforce their rules regardless of your status’ then the answer would be no.. period.. status or not.. no..

    So, it’s hard to make this question in a black and white format.. If you answer yes.. then no one.. and we mean no one, gets anything beyond what’s in print or contractually entitled to them.. and your mailbox would be flooded and you’d be the king of email… but on the other hand, if we want that flexibility– then there will be times in which it’s extended unequally..

    The reality is that while every seat on the plane essentially gets there at the same time, they’re not all created equal.. Some passengers are “worth” more to the airline.. and these folks have and continue to either pay higher ticket prices (i.e. walk-up fares, full Y, international C/J or F, etc) versus those on discounted Y tickets.. so from a purely revenue point of view… as a business… you’re looking at the goose the lays your golden eggs.. and sometimes those geese needs the rules bent..

    I think that the notion of one set of rules for EVERYONE sounds good in print.. but I think the reality is just not there..

  • Absherlock

    While I’m not in favor of doing something to benefit one customer at the expense of all of the others (i.e. holding that flight), I see nothing wrong with giving certain customers benefits that others don’t get. It happens all the time in restaurants, hotels, cruises – heck, people who use their Target charge card save 5% over people who don’t! Quite honestly, I’d be more surprised if the airlines didn’t have these kind of customer perks.

  • Tom

    Unfortunately, this is the way the world has worked from ancient times and not just in capitalistic countries — communist and dictatorships are full of elites and priviliges. It’s not just airlines, rules are bent for elites by hotels, restaurants, colleges, courts, the government,  the media, churches — just about everywhere. You are either on the inside, or the outside.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    Making an exception for a customer that spends $ 10,000+ a year with you over a customer that spends only $ 500 a year with you is good business sense.  The reality is that businesses in all industries do offer special ‘perks’ to their best customers.  The 80/20 rule (80% of your revenuessales comes from 20% of your customers) is pretty accurate for most companies.

    As Chris Elliott has written several times, he is against frequent flyer programs and frequent guest programs but I have received exceptions, extra benefits, etc. from airlines and hotels as a non-elite member of these programs.  It is my opinion that it makes sense to join frequent flyer and frequent guest programs even if you never will be an elite member…you will have higher ‘status’ than a customer who is not a member.  For example, I will stay one or two times at an Omni hotel during the course of a year; however, I signed up for their frequent guest program since it gives you free internet access.

        

  • Glooby

    I really don’t see any problem here.
    Regardless of who you are or who your status is, any leniency of any rules is a good thing. If you are an elite flyer, well, good for you. You’ve earned it.
    If you aren’t an elite flyer, then just follow their rules and regulations and you’ll be fine.  There really isn’t any compelling reason for the airlines to treat elite and regular passengers equally.

  • ecauvel

     Obviously those who concentrate their money with a business and then frequent that business are going to have some extra perks.  That goes for any business, not just airlines.  A better question would be – are these rules even fair in the first place regardless or who the are or are not applied to.  

  • Carver

    I don’t have any problem with the airlines treating different passengers differently.  That’s between the airline and that person.  As long as the airline ges me what it promised me, what do I care.  If I purchase a coach ticket and I get a coach ticket , what business of mine is it that the exec plat got a free upgrade         

  • BillC

    I think that this is the way that almost all businesses work. I would only have a problem if the ‘elite’ travellers were able to do things like skip security, bring prohibited items onboard or do something patently unsafe/illegal due to their status.

  • Kevin Mathews

    Chris,
    This is a pretty unfair article.  Every business in America treats their repeat customers with a little extra.  Especially the customers who continually buy the more expensive last minute fairs.
    I mean really, as a business, who are you more likely to give a break to?  The man who’s company has spent over $50K in flights over the course of the year, and because it’s business flying, you know he’d paid a premium for the seats.  Meaning the airline probably pocketed 20-30% of his Airfare as profit.
    Or the person who planned in advance, happened to pick your airline because you happened to be the cheapest, only spends maybe $500-$1000 annually on airline tickets and because they planned in advance, the airline is lucky to pocket 5% of their ticket price as profit.
    I’m not saying that it’s OK to treat the “little guy” like dirt.  I am saying that it’s more then fair to give extra perks to the people who basically make the airline profitable…  If it weren’t for the consistency of the last minute frequent fliers, the other advanced fairs would be more expensive…

  • john4868

    @Chris Elliott … Ok you lost me on your argument … Are you arguing that an airline shouldn’t take care of its best customers, customers that may mean tens of thousands of dollars in annual revenue, and that everyone should be treated in accordance with the contract of carriage.

    But wait … Don’t you often take on cases where the airline had followed the contract of carriage and you write them on behalf of a traveler for more?

    So is your argument now … Airlines shouldn’t take care of their best
    customers but should take care of anyone with Chris Elliott’s email address?

    Or is it … The airlines shouldn’t have rules?

    Sorry just really lost on what you are arguing.

    The fact is almost every business is going to treat its best customers better. It’s doesn’t matter what type of business it is because those customers individually mean more to the bottom line than others. If that customer goes somewhere else, it hurts more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tkelly Tom Kelly

    This is a great column to raise an interesting point. But it’s nothing unique to air travel. It holds true with any client-business relationship. I certainly hope that as a frequent customer to an airline, a hotel, a local restaurant or whatever, that my frequent business would provide me with added value.

    As a business manager, you should always provide a baseline of good (even exceptional) service to all of your customers. But you would be crazy to not provide incrementally higher benefits to your better customers.

    Preferred seating and boarding, upgrades to companions, ability to change flights are all valuable reasons for customers to keep their business on a given airline. I would always pay more on a ticket to know I had those services. Yes, perhaps the contract of carriage doesn’t require an airline to provide meals and lodging. But they certainly have the option to do so if they wish.

    Holding a flight? Probably pushing the envelope of reasonability.

    Thanks for the column.

  • frostysnowman

    The only “elite” perk that really bothers me is the separate, shorter security lines.  It’s something we are all required to do by the government before we fly.  I don’t think road-warrior Bill who has elite status with an airline or Joe who bought a first-class ticket with an airline has a right to a shorter line than Jim who flies twice a year for vacation.

  • cjr001

     I think this is where the problem is: that the ‘little guy’, of which the vast majority of people are, ARE being treated like dirt at the expense of the elite.

    But even as we see with Chris’s columns, even the ‘elite’ aren’t being treated very well at times. And not just by the airlines, but all businesses.

  • Guest

    I’m an elite flier and enjoy many of the perks; frankly, it’s the only reason i stick with my chosen airline, because they treat ordinary customers pretty badly. One can make arguments for the shorter security lines (we spent lots more of or time in airports, so security takes up a higher % of our time). But I voted YES, I think airlines should enforce their rules uniformly, because if they were hard-line on their most ridiculous policies, perhaps their most important customers would complainand things might change.

  • KathyJ

    How about a third choice? Like, get rid of some of the most offensive rules that are not in the customers’ best interests? Certainly some difficult rules help the airline run more smoothly and so indirectly benefit everyone, but just as surely, some are mere bureaucracy.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    My husband and I don’t fly as much as we used to, so you can put us in with “Jim who flies twice a year for vacation.”  But on our last trip I paid extra for us to be given all the perks – free baggage, choice seats, premium drinks – AND the shorter security line.  If it makes you feel better, we did feel kind of guilty walking past all those other people.  And the TSA Agent made it clear to us that she resented it, too. 

  • Grey83

    I am a regular customer at a seafood store. When I ask for clams they throw a few extra in. I used to play weekly at a golf course in the city where I worked, the starter gave me the resident rate, which was half of what I should have paid.

    These are normal perks for regular customers. If they were taking something away from the others that would be one thing, but giving a little extra, not a problem.

  • Chris in NC

    Interesting article. Having been an elite and a non-elite peon, sometimes your experience doesn’t depend on your status, but the kindness or professionalism of the employee behind the counter and your demeanor. While being elite gives you more clout, it offers no guarantees that the employee can bend the rule. 

    I have no problems with airlines (or any travel provider) bending the rules for its best customers. There is a reason why we concentrate our hotel stays with 1 or 2 chains. One hotel chain has treated us very well (even before we were elite), and we have responded by going out of our way to stay at that chain. Even so, its not 100% perfect, but no one is.

    What bothers me is that there are certain elite members that have an extra sense of entitlement and the expectation that every rule should be broken, simply because they are “elite.” I’ve witnessed elite members throw their status around in an attempt to bully agents into bending the rules and thats just plain wrong. Most of the perks that come with elite status are NOT guaranteed, and some elite members forget that fact.

    Some rules CANNOT be broken, no matter who you are. Where do you draw the line? Thats the bigger question

  • Alan

     I voted Yes because the only way to get the silly rules changed is to subject the elites to them. If someone is important enough to have a flight held for him, he’s important enough to get through to airline executives on the need to have the flat-tire rule reinstated.

  • Carver

    I find it fascinating that is is even a discussion.  There is something about travel that muddies the waters.  It’s axiomatic that when you pay more you should get better goods and services.  If I  bring 20k to the car dealership I get a Ford.  For 60K I get a Benz.  Is that discrimination?  Even at the post office, for 44 cents my letter takes 3 days, for $17.00 its overnight.

    Basically, elites are people who because of their frequent travel (and associated revenue) are effectively purchasing a higher tier of service.  This  is not a case a bending rules, but actually following the rules as applicable for each tier of service.

  • Crissy

    My parents go to the same restaurant a couple nights a week, they’re friendly with the staff and owner.  They often get a free soup or soda – little things that say, thanks for coming here every night for dinner.  This goes on in all industries – cops not giving each other tickets; government officials getting their streets plowed before others, or their road fixed.  If you shop frequently at the same grocery store you get discounts there. 

    In an ideal world we would all have the same rules and they would all be followed.  But that would also mean that the person who makes a mistake will never have a chance for a sympathetic person to give them a break either.

  • Chris in NC

    Carver, 

    I don’t think “travel muddies the waters,” rather there is a false perception that travel is a human right. The public conveniently “forgets” that airlines are a business and have to be profitable or else they cease to exist. I suspect that many travelers don’t understand or realize the actual costs to run a flight, or that most elite travelers are the ones that are subsidizing “cheap, restrictive” fares.

    Having said that, I agree with you. Elite perks are not discrimination because they are available to any traveler that is willing to pay for the service. Heck, last time I checked, US Airways allows you to “buy” your way into elite status.

    I have flown coach numerous times and don’t believe I was treated like dirt. No matter the fare, a traveler should expect excellent customer service, but sometimes I think our expectations are too high?

  • JJWeldon

    This isn’t tough at all.   Every company treats higher spending customers better than the occasional customer.  There should be some reward for devoted customers, customers that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as opposed to someone who buys an occasional coach ticket.

    I’m not saying anyone should be treated badly, but certainly reward people for a great deal of business.  I’ll bet every single person here does it in business.

  • emanon256

     I think enforcing rules and offering benefits are two separate things.  I agree that they should enforce rules.  And if there is a mechanical delay, or some sort of problem caused by the airline, they need to help every passenger regardless of their status.
     
    However, if they publish benefits, like fly over 25,000 miles and you get free checked bags, or free preferred seating.  Then they are not breaking rules for elites, but giving a certain benefit for providing a certain amount of business.
     
    I even think offering a hotel voucher in a weather delay to someone who flys over 100,000 miles a year sounds like a benefit they offer, not a broken rule.
     
    I don’t see this any differently than a vendor offering a quantity discount, or the post office having a separate entrance for bulk mailing.
     
    Now taking away something from a person who paid for it to give it to an elite for free, that I see as breaking the rules, and should not be tolerated. Or any other rule breaking, where it is not a published benefit of elite status, that should not be tolerated either.  If they know someone is arriving late due to a delay on a connection, I think they should hold the plane regardless of status, but sadly they don’t seem to do that.  I’ve been stranded a few times because of a mechanical delay causing me to arrive late, but my connection left on time.  Holding a plane because someone is stuck in traffic is ridiculous, because it could cause other people to miss their connections, inconveniencing a whole plane, because one person planned poorly, but happens to spend a lot of money is ridiculous.

  • MVFlyer

    I understand the frustration of people who don’t fly enough with one airline to garner elite status, seeing people getting treated better.  But at the same time, my company and I were spending $25K year just for my flying–and similar amounts for my colleagues.  That’s a chunk of change, and the airline wants to make sure we don’t take that money over to their competitors, of which there are many.

    As to breaking its own rules–the rules are theirs to break.  They are not really mutually agreed upon between the airline and the passenger, rather, they are imposed on the passenger by the airline.  So the airline can choose to enforce its own rules, or not.  As long as they are meeting the requirements for each individual passenger, they aren’t ‘violating’ their own rules, merely exceeding their responsibilities for selected passengers of their choosing.

    Holding a plane for a super elite could be a bit dicey, since it does affect other passengers, but we all know that airlines pad their flight schedules to take into account delays, ground holds, etc. (and, I suspect, to give the illusion the flights may actually come in early), so as long as they get to their destination on time, I don’t have a real problem with it.

  • bodega

    I have had the airlines bend rules for coach class passengers, so I am not sure the true reason for this article.  I am a good customer of a local store.  I recently walked in, with nothing in hand, to tell the clerk about a problem I had with a purchase and was given a new one for free.  I also am a frequent shopper at a major department store.  They have different levels in their credit cards based on how much you spend a year.  The more you spend, the better the service options.  We also have a family business.  We allow our good customers certain perks that we don’t offer those who walk through the door for the first time.  It is all allowed and part of running a business. 

  • sunshipballoons

    I just want to point out that if you voted “yes” to the poll, that means that you think that airlines should always enforce the rules.  I don’t really believe that 41% of readers here think that.

  • CTP

     This is NOT tough at all, as an elite flyer more often than not I am paying MUCH more for my ticket than the once a year, deeply discounted passenger does. Should I be treated the same as that flyer? IMHO, that would be abundantly unfair!.  If all seats on all flights were always the same cost, then you could argue about “fairness” but certainly NOT now with the way fares are. 

  • Carrie Charney

     Are you the reason they’re always out of clams when I want to prepare  clams oreganata for my guests? I end up having to settle for muscles! ;D

  • Lclar

    I’m among the cattle, but I still understand the fairness in allowing passengers who have spent thousands of dollars annually some added perks.  I may not like it when I’m the cattle corral, but I can fix it by flying more.  “Equality” doesn’t apply to everything.  We all expect to be treated politely and fairly, but when we pay more we expect to get more.  It’s true in  the hotel business, the travel industry (better shipboard cabins, better meals, hotels, etc.) car industry (Lexus is better than the Smart car, and so on.)

    Lonnie

  • Jennifer

     I have to agree with John.  Part of your job as an ombudsman, Chris, is mediating cases where you try to get travel providers to bend or break their rules even when the customer was wrong, such as trying to get refunds for Priceline hotel reservations or other non-refundable reservations. It’s only wrong when the rules are bent for elites?  Or, as John said, you don’t want any rules at all?  I have to say I’m a little confused.

    Airlines are private companies.  They are entitled to bend whatever rules they want for their best customers so long as they provide me what I paid for.  If I’m not an elite on XYZ airline, I can’t expect XYZ airline to upgrade me from Coach to Biz.  There are also many times that an airline does the unexpected and, for example, does hold a plane for a non-elite.  Didn’t you do a story on that as well?  If we hamstring airlines into enforcing their rules across the board, it will hurt everyone across the board. 

  • http://twitter.com/Jemimagold Jemimagold

     I don’t know about this “holding the plane” stuff. My husband is Plat Elite with Continental and I am Silver. Last Nov., due to a 3 hr delay in our MUC to LHR flight, we arrived at the gate for our LHR – IAH flight right after they shut the door. My husband who was there (he runs faster than me) ran up to them and asked them to let us board but they refused. The jet way was clearly attached to the plane and was like that for a full 10 minutes and no amount of pleading, telling them we were Elite, delay not our fault, waving at the pilot to try and get his attention, etc…  made a bit of difference.  And for what it is worth, we had the agent who met our MUC-LHR flight call ahead to let the LHR-IAH flight know we were coming.

    And, to boot, the Continental gate agents were very unhelpful in finding us another flight.  They told us to go back to the main Departure Hall (ie. outside security) to go see about finding a flight to IAH. 

  • Sadie Cee

    “Circumstances alter cases” has always been a watchword of mine.  There are definitely occasions when it is quite proper and in order for the airlines to bend their own rules to accommodate certain passengers.  This does not always have to be members of the “elite” but could be average, everyday people like myself.  Please also bear in mind that we don’t always know the reasons why people appear to be receiving extra privileges.  

    I have no beef with awarding certain extra prvileges to first-class pax. They are paying for them.  When it comes to security that’s where  I have a problem.  Why should some carry-on luggage be given a waiver as far as scrutiny is concerned while all others are being given the third-degree?  Does anyone know what the status of the “diplomatic bag” is under the present heightened security measures?  Is it still inviolable?  It is not the best kept secret in the world that this privilege has been abused over and over.  Enough said!

    International flights have been held for late-arriving pax many times in my experience and they don’t always turn out to be first-class pax.  For all we know, they could have been delayed because of a terrible accident on the only highway leading to the airport.  It tells me that airlines can be compassionate and who knows when we could need to be beneficiaries of some compassion?

    I remember a time when upon landing, if the flight was late, that the FAs would make an announcement to the effect that pax having to make connections would be allowed to deplane first.  There was one ooccasion when I appreciated this.  Haven’t seen anything of the kind for some time. 
      
    An interesting aside – an international flight was delayed for over an hour while the baggage of one individual coach pax was removed from the cargo
    hold.  He had quite unprovokedly in my full view and hearing threatened to do violence when he returned to the country to one of the ground attendants who was taking the boarding passes at the gate.  A supervisor was called.  On board the pilot asked for our patience while the baggage of one pax who would not be flying with us was removed from the plane.  Of course, we were thankful for these measures as they were for the benefit of all rather than to our detriment.  I would have been very uncomfortable to have been winging my way across the Atlantic with the luggage of a hothead (or worse) on board.

    My last question, why is there such a long delay between entering data and its appearace in this message box?  Am I keying too fast or something?  I have experienced this each time I have used the new format.  It doesn’t happen anywhere else.
     
     

  • Carrie Charney

    I don’t like the concept of involuntarily bumping a passenger in favor of an elite, who didn’t have a seat on the flight. I’m saying that as an elite and as a person, who has never never had to relinquish a seat without volunteering it.

  • http://www.travelenvogue.com/ Kailyn

    Whoa… If you break an airline rule, be prepared tor the consequences.  

  • Mark K

    The speedy security pass does NOT mean that carry on luggage is screened less than other carry on luggage, it just means the Elite passenger gets to go through a shorter lane to get to the actual screening quicker.  Getting the Elite pass does not always mean much especially when security is busy.  At IAH the non Elite screening line in terminal C can be shorter and quicker than the Elite line quite often (at that terminal the screening is actually separate lines, not just a bypass to the front for the Elites as it is at most).  

    There have been stories of holding planes for connecting passengers that were not Elites.  A Southwest plane was held recently and made headlines everywhere. 

    The typing delay only happens to me when I use Windows.  On my Mac there is no delay.  Not sure what that means or what causes the delay though.

  • Mark K

     Chris,

    I think “unfair” is your word for what you obviously don’t like about the treatment of the high level frequent flyers given your often repeated dislike of frequent customer programs.   Judging from the other comments already posted, not many agree.

    I think the flight was held for that top tier for other reasons than just that he was late.  It just looked like it was because of his status.  I have top level status on CO and they have never held a flight for me.  I have been lucky when my connection was late that the continuing flight was also delayed so I made the connection.  Maybe some thought the flight was held because of my status (and on a couple because a flight attendant knew my name).

    While I think that bumping someone from a flight to make room for a top level frequent flyer is just plain rude (it happened to me on Lufthansa), I don’t think that the airline giving a top level flyer’s traveling companion a free upgrade is all that wrong.  Who knows?  In the case mentioned, the seat may have gone empty anyway.

    Sometimes the coach passengers may get better treatment than they expect simply by asking politely instead of exploding in front of the gate agent.  I was in AUS and the plane was having mechanical difficulties.  After watching about half the passengers yell at the gate agent and stomp off mumbling about how they would never fly UA again, I calmly asked it there was any other flight I could get on and if there wasn’t it was OK.  The agent knew I was no one special, but managed to give me a ticket (but no boarding pass) on a Frontier flight leaving an hour later.  I thanked her profusely and later wrote to the airline thanking her for getting me on another flight.  Knowing that the ticket I held was not a boarding pass, I immediately went out to the Frontier counter and exchanged it.  (Many other passengers also received tickets but since they did not have the snap to go get their boarding pass, did not get on that flight.) Because I asked politely with a smile instead of demanding, I got on that flight and was back to my destination before the delayed UA flight even left the ground.

    So in a world where everyone gets treated worse than they feel they should, everyone is not being treated like cattle as the media would like us to believe.  There are still some airline employees out there that care and will do something to help when they can.  All it takes in most cases is acting civilly.

  • Dokeo

     In general, I think a business has a right to treat their best customers better than the occaisonal ones. But the perk that chaps my hide is the “boarding zone.” I remember a time when boarding was done by section: 1st class first (obviously), then coach, starting at the back of the plane. Now, we have zones, which seem to be linked to the status level of your program. So a coach passenger in row 5 ends up boarding before the coach passenger in row 15. Then Mr. 15 has to wait for Mr. 5 to put his bags up, etc. It slows the whole process down for everyone.

  • Anonymous

    Give your best customers perks and add bells and whistles, by all means – just not at the expense of everyone else. Holding a plane just because someone was delayed, and inconveniencing others on the flight, is something I don’t agree with. Even the cheapest passenger deserves not to have his/her schedule messed up, just because the Airline wants to pamper their elites.

    Pamper them as much as you want, just don’t mess things up for me!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1556838763 Nancy Marine Dickinson

     I’m not a once a year flyer by any means.  I’m also not quite the road warrior some people here are.  

    That being said, because I travel about 50,000 miles a year and I work very hard, sometimes paying $30 or $40 more to fly on my airline of choice, I sometimes feel that should be rewarded with loyalty from them.

    I also believe there are times when the “common flyer”, the one who flies only two or three times a year should have available to them the chance to “feel” special.

    This is a tough one, Chris, simply because I can see both sides of the coin.  Loyalty should be rewarded.  If someone flies 100,000+ miles a year on one airline, they shouldn’t have to pay to check a bag.  However, the occasional flyer – well, it’s an event for them and that shouldn’t be forgotten either.

    I don’t know what the right answer is…

  • Sershev

     I don’t think it is “bending the rules”. It is clearly spelled on every airline website what kind of perks will you get at each level of elite status you earn. Free checked bags, complimentary upgrades, priority boarding, no change fees on discounted tickets etc – those are all perks for being loyal to the business. Loyalty is rewarding. There is nothing wrong with it. Holding a plane for someone is might be a little over the top. Although, I don’t understand why the airlines are so paranoiac about on time departure: the schedules are usually inflated and even the plane leaves the gate a little late it is still makes on time arrival. NWA use to hold the planes for connecting passengers regarding the status all the time. Now when you fly Delta the plane lands in ATL half an hour early, the gate is still occupied and you seat on the plane anyway pretty much until scheduled arrival time. And if an airline has unsold first class seat I don’t see why a frequent flyer wouldn’t get it. But if you don’t like it, you can still fly Southwest where everyone gets the same seat and two free checked bags and no change fee.

  • Chris

    Wow, must be a lot of elite travelers voting today!
     
    The troubling part is that while we (meaning the non-elite travelers, like me) pay less for a seat, it appears not to matter a bit if WE miss our connection because the plane was being held for an elite traveler.  And in many cases that means multiple travelers in the back of the plane may be severely inconvenienced (and possibly monetarily out of luck having missed the last connection of the day and being peons we’re told “tough, you’re on your own”) because some bigwig didn’t allow enough time to get himself to the airport.
     

  • http://backseatflying.blogspot.com/ Gary Kung

    Are airlines treating their elites better? In the point of view of a non-elite, definitely a yes.

    But how about the point of view of an elite member? Not really.

    A lot of people do not know that – but in most of the cases, elite members are always the first one who get screwed by airlines, and their situation are way far more serious than typical passengers.

    For example, when Southwest (Yes – the most popular “cheap” airline) changed its Rapid Reward Program – who hurt the most? A-list people (as they no longer earn as many awards as they can).

    How about Delta and United? The inflation rate of Delta SkyMiles just like Peso (So the street name of the program is called SkyPeso) – that you will never earn enough for a ticket. For elite members, they basically sit with tons of “Peso’ that you can barely use (and it is one of the speculation why Delta impose no expiration date). When United started charging for same-day standby, most of the elite members, like other passengers, will have to pay for the same fee.

    So are airlines treating their elites better? Bonus miles, free upgrades, priority check-in, security and boarding, preferred seatings, and free luggage – maybe. But remember – there is no different for a passenger sitting at 1A and 25C. When airlines want to screw you – they can go way far and beyond.

    So regardless who you are (elite or non-elite), you should think about what you should entitle and what you should deserve.

    P.S. I know Chris is not a great friend of airline elites, as well as a lot of you sitting in the Economy. But I hope all of you (elites or not) can open your mind that put yourself into another side of the equation, so you know that we are all the same.

    FYI – in some cases, it is the DOT regulations that airlines need to follow to “treat” elites better…

  • andrelot

     If the rules being bend and ignored do not affect other passengers in a meaningful way, I don’t see a problem. I’d certainly not agree to holding a plane on the ground (although these days most flights have built-in delay allowances on their schedules), but upgrading passengers, giving them free stuff like meals and extra luggage allowance should be fine.

    I’m not an elite flyer of any airline, but to treat with some extra perks a very  high-spending and loyal costumer is just business good sense. And many people do that on a daily basis: if one is a cater provider, who’s most likely to get you out of your bed on a Sunday morning for a last-minute service to client’s guests at a regular price: a company who has $ 120,000 yearly spending tickets with your or someone who just hit you out of the blue or one who brags to the ultimate cent?

    I know some people don’t agree with this vision, to the point, here and there, we can read people defending the position that airlines should have a ‘mile based fee structure’ like it were a train service.  Yet I think that, up to a point, it is ok to prioritize your best costumers.