A passenger grouses about his girlfriend being downgraded to economy class and her first class seat being re-assigned to a pilot on American Airlines. But there are many circumstances in which this makes perfect sense.
Woman Bumped Out Of First Class On American Airlines. Pilot Takes Seat.
The incident took place on an Embraer E-170 regional jets operated by one of AA’s wholly-owned subsidiaries. Apparently, a couple were upgraded at the gate, but one was downgraded when it was discovered that her seat was broken.
But rather than leave the seat open, a pilot took it. What gives? Per the boyfriend:
You all are terrible. You (gate agent) upgraded my girlfriend and I to first class. You kick her out because broken seat move her to the back. Then pilot sits in said broken seat.
You all are terrible. You (gate agent) upgraded my girlfriend and I to first class. You kick her out because broken seat move her to the back. Then pilot sits in said broken seat. pic.twitter.com/F1I69By3az
— Jake Williams (@jwilliams0787) November 8, 2023
I can think of at least two explanations for why could occur.
First, passengers cannot sit in broken seats…but airline employees or certain non-rev travelers can (they are listed as “Additional Crew Members”). That’s for safety reasons and sometimes context dependent. A seat that is broken the recline position is a different issue than a seatback monitor that does not work.
Second, View From The Wing notes something that we may expect to see quite a bit more in the future: pilots sitting at the top of the upgrade list will bump revenue passengers vying for an upgrade. That was unlikely the case here since the new contract only goes into effect on December 2, 2023 and this was not even a mainline AA pilot, but expect to see a lot more uniformed pilots in first class (as we do now on United Airlines).
Under the new contract, deadheading pilots will have priority over passengers for upgrades. So imagine a situation in which you are upgraded at the gate but the pilot finds his seat is broken. It could well happen that you are downgraded so that the pilot can have a functioning seat, then another pilot takes the broken seat.
Finally, we might see more of this going forward as pilots become leery of deadheading pilots in the flight deck after the recent Alaska Airlines incident. In this case, the pilot in this case could have been assigned to a cockpit jumpseat, but moved to the first class seat once it unexpectedly opened so as to diminish (real or perceived) risk inside the flight deck.
A couple were separated after one was downgraded back to economy class after being upgraded to first class. An off-duty pilot ended up occupying the seat. While the passengers claim foul play, there are many valid reasons this may have occurred.
We’ll be hearing quite a few more charges of upgrade shenanigans, but it is not clear there were any shenanigans here. As always, communication goes a long way and often a bit of an explanation can often pacify angry. It is also not clear if that occurred here or if the passenger simply decided to vent anyway.