Flight attendants, your job comes with a tremendous benefit. Please don’t abuse it.
In the airline industry, employees “take care of their own.” While that is hardly unique to airlines, the brotherhood and sisterhood inherent in wearing the same uniform is something deeply ingrained into airline culture. And it should be. But sometimes there are lines that are crossed; lines that should never be crossed.
One of the great benefits of working for an airline is non-revenue, space available (NRSA) travel. If you work for an airline, you can jump on a flight at a moment’s notice to anywhere in the world. For many airline employees, that perk extends to dozens of other airlines. If a seat is available, it is yours.
But there is a code of conduct that accompanies such a benefit. Namely, you take the seat that is given to you. You don’t EVER ask a “paying” passenger to switch seats, unless it is for an equal or better seat. Even that request should be avoided when possible. No pressure should ever be placed on a passenger to move if s/he doesn’t want to.
A Sad Story On United
Jo Vangrovsky shared a story on Flyertalk that took place on his United flight from Hong Kong to Newark, a flight of over 13 hours. He tells a story I have sadly witnessed on other occasions and even once faced myself.
I was flying from HKG to EWR on a 777 on UA. I have pre-selected the emergency exit aisle E+ seat((the three on the right) when I bought my ticket 6 months ago. It was free because I have Platinum status on UA. I’m somewhat tall at 6’4″ so I never book a flight unless I see that an exit row seat is open.
Anyway….. I boarded the flight and sat in the correct seat. the flight was 100% full in all three classes.(business, premium plus, economy) About 10 minutes before the door was closing, a flight attendant came up to me and asked me nicely to move to a middle seat in the back. The flight attendant said the “older” gentleman needed to sit there because he “wasn’t feeling okay sitting in the back”…
“older” as in late 50s…. I just turned 50 myself.
Being dumb and a somewhat nice guy, I complied. It was awful being stuck in the middle of the 4-seat in he very back of the 777. Just imagine a 6’4″ man who had his knees up against the seatback in front for 13.5 hours.
During the flight, when I walked past my original exit aisle seat, I noticed that the flight attendants were always chit-chatting with the “older” guy. Half way into the flight, I finally overheard them talking and it was clear that the guy was an off-duty UA employee coming home after vacation in Hong Kong. He only wanted to sit there in order to catch up with the crew. Sounded like he was an airport supervisor or something.
Am I wrong for thinking that I was basically robbed? Do I have any recourse if I complain to UA?
Jo, you are not wrong for thinking you were basically robbed. You do have recourse if you complain to United. In fact, if the flight attendant can be identified, disciplinary action may be taken, including the termination of pass privileges for that employee and/or the one who “stole” your seat.
Yes, you should have politely declined. You’re a clearly a nice guy, though, and I don’t blame you for not risking the ire of a flight attendant on such a long flight.
But this was not right.
A Plea to Flight Attendants
To any flight attendant (or airline employee) who might be reading this, please do not ever engage in this behavior. When you do, you reflect poorly on your airline and poorly as an employee. Is is absolutely unacceptable behavior (frankly for revenue passengers as well). Maybe it is just because I fly United most often, but I’ve witnessed situations like this (where a non-rev asks a passenger to move an inferior seat) at least five times over the years. It should never happen.
Something not quite as draconian happened to me once on a Thanksgiving Day United flight from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles. It was a 767-300 and a non-rev family was upgraded to business class. I had pre-selected a window seat and the non-rev flight attendant and her daughter were seated in the seat next to me and the seat across the aisle.
The off-duty flight attendant asked me to move across the aisle so she could sit next to her daughter. She smiled and was kind, so I complied…but I wasn’t happy. As I travel blogger, I always choose window seats when available in order to get clear shots of my meal(s) with natural light. That did not occur here. A blurry, dark picture of my breakfast is evidence…
Certainly I could have said no, but how do you say no to smiling flight attendant traveling with a little girl?
I travel so often and I know so many flight attendants on a personal basis. Most of you are the simply wonderful. But to those of you (who probably don’t read blogs like mine) who feel entitled to hassle passengers to help out your non-rev buddies, shame on you. You are ruining things for everyone…
However, as an ex-airline employee, this can be said of the opposite as well. This benefit is baked into our compensation. I agree in this story where the nonrev didn’t have the right to switch seats with a revenue passenger, but the opposite is true as well. I can recount at least a dozen times when revenue passengers seated separately in standard economy would try to upgrade or switch seats with me to Comfort+, because they did not want to pay the premium associated with a slightly better cabin
Irrelevant. One is paying passengers “trying it on”, far less egregious than employees engaging in blatant deceit to defraud a customer.
No, I agree with John. It’s the exact same when any passenger tries to self-upgrade to a higher cabin.
It’s still whataboutism though saying that others do equally wrong stuff as well-
Maybe you should absolutely give the human with the little girl the window seat- especially since the reason you gave for not wanting to was the lighting for your breakfast photo op. Seriously. Just from reading that you fall into the category of “people no one wants to meet in real life” That’s the most inane selfish reason I have ever heard. Be a decent human, and stop taking pics of your breakfast. Also, leave the FA and her daughter alone.
Yeah but in that situation you are in the right and you have all the power to say “no, this is my assigned seat”, with the ability to escalate as far as you need to. Matthew’s point is that even as a non-rev, you have an unspoken power. The power of “is there going to be a problem?” which you can use your chumminess with the flight crew to invoke. This will make people more likely to accede to your requests, even if you are not in the right, as this employee clearly was not. You need to weild that power wisely, not use it to inconvenience other passengers for your comfort.
You have 2 choices:
– say no (refer to your boarding pass and USDOT requiring to be in your allocated seat)
– fly another airline if this happens so often
This would never happen at my airline.
You don’t have the choice to fly a different plane when you are already seated. This is a captive situation. And Steve’s point is a great one. Flight attendants are given the right to write law on the spot, the part where it says it a federal offence not to comply with the flight attendant. Imagine if a cop comes into a coffee shop and asks if it’s okay to have free coffee. What’s the big deal, right? It kinda is a big deal.
As a current active flight attendant for United( formerly CO) I would never ask anyone to move . I have been on quite a few flights, 33 years , where people all the time say “no.” The gentleman could have easily said “no.” Shame on the crew, but if he didnt want to do it, he shouldnt have done it and then complained about it. Yes, non- revs know the rules and regulations, but hey we’re human just like anyone else. We want to sit by family /friends when we travel. And it’s not free travel, it is a perk of working for the company.
Ummm That’s the very definition of free travel, GB Lipscomb
And the guy did it because he was lied to. How dare you tell him he can’t now complain when he finds out the truth. What a disgusting perspective.
Honestly, the pay is not so good for the work. That is compensated by the flight benefits. So, while technically employees aren’t paying for their ticket, they are definitely earning it! For me, I find it annoying and rude for anyone to ask to make a trade for an unequal seat because I have a hard time saying no!
This article is absolutely absurd. One guy has a situation and we need to write an article about it. I’m sure if he complained, the company confronted the employee. No need to write a whole article about it. Imagine if every corner you cut at work was exploited to the public.
If this story is true I hope the FA and non rev passenger were disciplined. That said, we are an airline family. My husband worked for United for 37 years. We have used our flying privileges many times over the years and overall we had good experiences. I take issue with your statement that airline employees take care of their own. I think it is accurate to say they do their jobs and are friendly and courteous to everyone most of the time. Shouldn’t it be that way in any work environment? My husband and I were never given special treatment over other passengers on a flight except maybe the crew asked about what my husband did for the airline and would chat a bit with us. We were seated on a flight and told to deplane because a mistake was made in counting passengers. So we got off the plane because we were non rev employees. It happens.
I was on a Qatar 777 a few months back when a man asked me to swap seats with her girlfriend (bulkhead row middle seat). I declined several times, thankfully the whole 3 bulkhead seats were empty and the boyfriend moved.
SO many typos in this article! I understand that the focus should be the story, however proofreading this, before it was posted, would have taken almost no time at all. In fact, there are apps that check for those things; there’s no excuse for sloppy work.
Can you point them out? I am a horrible proofreader.
Try switching to a font which is harder to read when you are proofreading. That will cause you to pay more attention to what you are reading and you will probably catch more mistakes.
I see these (and the first two could be from copy/pasting the original Flyertalk story). They’re not really typos…more like omissions. 🙂
*4-seat in he very back of the 777. (“he” instead of “the”)
*coming home after vacation in Hong Kong (after “A” vacation…)
*asks a passenger to move an inferior seat (to move “TO” an inferior…)
*but how do you say no to smiling flight attendant (no to “A” smiling…)
They didn’t bother me at all, and I was fully able to enjoy the post, BTW.
Such an interesting comment. I read the whole article and didn’t even notice one of these examples. (And I constantly hock VFTW for his mistakes…). I guess we are really good at filling in info when it’s missing.
If you they “didn’t bother you at all”, why am I reading your comments? You’re the worst kind of corrector.
A post-correction benevolent
“As I travel blogger, “
My husband is an underpaid pilot with AA. First 9f all, if we can’t get seats together we just dump our screaming toddlers next to the poor unsuspecting fools who won’t kindly switch seats so we can go visit dying grandparents once in a while. Try finding 5 seats together!! You have to rely on the kindness of strangers!!! We usually go to the last row in the plane “no man”s row.” The row no one wants. It’s almost an upgrade to go from the back row to the empty seats that actually recline. The only problem the FAs want the back row so they can sit their lazy asses in. They argue with my hubby until he pulls out his Fing Employee Badge!! Anyway sorry you couldn’t get a beautiful shot of your breakfast, that must have ruined your day. Next time I’ll seat my 3 toddlers behind you and give them sugar.
Wow I never met an underpaid pilot. you must be his third wife
surely the more important advice is to empower your readers with encouragement to take personal responsibility for their lives, use their words to advocate for their own self-interest, and refuse to be a victim? it would help Jo is more areas of her life than air travel.
I don’t disagree, but in the “is there going to be a problem?” era it is often difficult to stand up to flight attendants.
I agree with most of your article. Flight benefits are a huge perk of our careers that we must protect, though it’s getting harder and harder to find open seats…. However, people have no problem treating FAs like dirt. Most people don’t even recognize our existence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been wacked in the gonads by someone’s carry-on without so much as a “pardon me”.
There is no excuse for that.
This kind of crap happens all the time. The FA in the Flyertalk example should be fired…for lying to a customer and making his trip miserable. Throw the lyin’ cow out on her arse to make an example of her, in the hope that others might take heed. Nothing more than a deceitful, corrupt, scumbag.
I worked in leader positions for a major airline for 3 decades. Never saw or heard of this happening. You having witnessed this so many times makes me wonder about some things.
You have led a charmed ( or blinkered) working life…
I’m not exactly Captain Assertiveness but if I’m asked to move to a different seat it will, at worst, have to be a parallel exchange.
As a rule, I would not accede to a request to move from an exit row, aisle, E+ seat on a 13 hour flight to a non-exit, middle-seat in economy. That said, if a flight attendant said that it was for an elderly person, there’s a good chance I would have agreed as I would have assumed they were referring to a 75+ year old, probably with disability issues. I would have been very ticked when I learned it was for a 50-something with no actual issues and doubly ticked when I figured out it was for a non-rev employee. This is a lesson learned that if I’m asked this in future, I will make sure to see who the person in question is before agreeing.
Interesting that this happened. As a former flight attendant I can honestly say this doesn’t happen often. Non-rev passengers are seated on a space basis and are upgraded if the seat is available. No flight attendant would actually do this specially given that the passenger visibly needed his seat due to his height. Normally, in a situation where a seat change is requested, flight attendants will ask for volunteers. When it comes to non-revs they are trained to know not to ask for anything else once they step on the plane. Flying isn’t free…flight attendants pay taxes. Flying benefits are more comparable to your benefits package when signing on to a job. You work for them they aren’t just handed out. Everyone here has this idea of flight attendants being intimidated but 9 times out of 10 passengers dismiss protocol and flight attendant direction. For example, when people are on the phone while the airplane is taxiing, passengers using the bathroom when aircraft is taking off or landing, recording or taking pictures of employees while on the plane, seatback instructions that are FAA regulations for safety, etc. If you are the one that does everything right congratulations but the sentiment that passengers are worried of going against flight attendants or getting in trouble is rare. Passengers are quick to use situations as a means to a free benefit.
An ill older person should not be sitting in an exit row.
Oh you’d be surprised who can pass in an exit row these days. People who can’t lift their own bags into the overhead but will somehow become Samson when they need to throw the exit door out of the plane?
I was just thinking the same thing…. Very fishy, pax have to have full mobility of all limbs to sit in exit row. I’ll move anyone I don’t think can handle the responsibility.
First of all you should not have moved from your assigned exit row aisle seat to a middle seat if you knew it would be more uncomfortable for you. Evidently you did not voice your concern to the flight attendant. I find it hard to believe any airline employee would do this. If so I’m sure the airline would address this to the crew involved. The benefit of free or discounted airline travel is a perk that airline employees rightly deserve. Frankly if there is an emergency situation that arises on a flight I’m sure that extra help would benefit all the other passengers on board. Bottom line you should have politely declined to move and asked for a supervisor.
The 2 examples provided are false-equivalent.
The switch from exit row to last row because of an “older” passenger is an intentional deception. This cannot and should not be tolerated. This is *especially* true for US airlines, who charge extra for the privilege of the exit rows.
On the other hand, the mother-and-daughter request is completely legitimate. Imagine if these 2 are last-minute revenue customers. Would you treat them any differently?
Actually, let’s flip the first case around. Let’s say the passenger was rev ticket, but a coworker of the FA (you know, because sometimes you have to pay to due to timing constrains), and the FA did the same thing. What would you think? Would you feel *any* better?
I think the bigger point is not about rev vs non-rev, it’s about deception vs sincerity.
I have switched from aisle to middle before for couples to sit together, repeatedly. However, the couples requested, with all the longing in the world. And, yes, I have received that kind of favor before, when the stupid ground-service person give us “together seats” being 2 seats in consecutive rows (to be fair, it’s next 6AM morning-after-holiday…). When the request is reasonable (roughly same legroom, usually same row, by the person with obvious reason), it doesn’t matter if the requesters are rev or non-rev. (note: a similar requests: pregnant ladies, elders, and children on bus rides; I will stand! I *have* stood for 1.5h bus ride).
On the other hand, if the request is unreasonable (who the hell request a pax to move from exit row to last row for *any* reason?), it really doesn’t matter. The person may as well pay for the ticket. So long as that person doesn’t pay me, no switch.
“I have switched from aisle to middle before for couples to sit together“.
I was on a United TGL-EWR last month and was asked by the woman next to me to switch my aisle seat for the center seat in which her husband was sitting. I told her I have nightmares over those seats so, no. They had to nap, watch movies and occasionally chat apart from each other. I’ve every reason to believe that once back on the ground no damage was done to their relationship with the possible exception of not being able to bring up that “hilarious story you told on that flight from Berlin to Newark”.
That’s what you get by being overrated society. You like to show you care for the disabled and animals. You got bitten in the face by dog of “ESA”. You think flight attendant are for safety instead of server or eye candy, you got this one. Serve you right….
You: murican society
Now with all the monetization of seats: Economy plus, preferred seats, non-basic economy, just paying to preselect any seat etc. I just say ‘sorry I paid extra to be in this seat’ when people ask me to change.
Now it is true that airports and airplanes are like being in a police state—follow orders or off to the gallows with you.
The article is not only rife with typos but there are also mistakes beyond that and such inaccuracies can cast doubt on other aspects of the story as well. In the case of the family of non-rev passengers being “upgraded” to a premium cabin, this simply didn’t happen. Non-rev passengers don’t get upgrades.
Max, the only typos are what I quote from the man. Second, you are splitting hairs. On United, pass riders show on the upgrade list and are checked off as “upgraded” if they clear onto the flight.
Except they still aren’t upgraded and saying it in the context it was said was misleading. I am more tolerant of bloggers than legitimate journalists in accuracy in what they say but itw still wrong, no matter what the displays say.
My dad was a gentle and sweet guy who turned into a cold hard immovable object when he felt anything was unfair. Ghee flew a lot to Asia and his opposite number called him “hair of fire, eyes of ice” at the negotiating table.
I would have stared down the “old” guy, asked if this was the elderly man in question, verbally but calmly stated what I believed to be happening, and stood there until shit got right. Eyes of ice.
Lol, I love this!
I love this!!
So many airlines block bulkhead and other easy access seats / seats with cots etc. especially for long haul and only release them at checkin on request. Personally I am open to trade seats. The replacement seat needs to be equivalent though – legroom, window, aisle or middle – whatever. Most airlines have monetized seat location and how you get what you consider to be “a better seat” through frequent travel/status or paying for it on your current ticket they have value. Do you burn your money?
What a disgrace to that Flight Attendant who felt privileged. As a former Flight Attendant, I would have never behaved in such dispeakable manner. My sincere apologies to you sir for ensuring such disrespect.
Couldn’t help but notice that this is an open letter to…. flight attendants. With three decades, and as many carriers, serving as cabin crew, I can attest to observing poor behavior from standby travelers. Happily, it is not typical. But – there is no beating the law of averages, and so we end up with some folks on the wrong edge of the bell-shaped curve. However, I find it curious that this message is specific to flight attendants. Pilots? Mechanics? Accountants? Agents? Aviation standby travelers in general? Nope, an open letter to flight attendants. We do play a role in this problem, of course. But now this article is out there, and the law of averages means that some readers will assume the worst, with an incomplete picture of the event.
I would probably have replied by asking how much compensation I would get. That probably would have been the end of it.
100% correct, very simple been a frequent traveller he should have taken their names down report the issue and simply be compensated and upgraded to first class. !
As a senior Travel consultant I hear that regularly. Simply and politely say NO.
This is unacceptable behavior. You can write a letter to United with the specifics of this flight for compensation and an apology.
You really should have asked to speak with the Purser and got this rectified on the spot. As a 41+ year Flight attendant and Purser for a major airline, this is totally wrong behavior. Please don’t let this event stop you from assisting crew in the future for passengers who are really in need of a kindness. Safe travels!
I had a situation on a Polaris 77W where I had reserved one of the nice straight seats by the window, and I was told at check-in that my seat had been changed. When I inquired why, I was told that my original seat was inoperative. I was given a slanted seated in the middle section in the final row or two, so I lost my window and straight seat.
Once on board the flight, I checked on my original seat, and it was occupied by a flight attendant traveling in uniform. I never did complain but I feel that is abusive.
I think it was ex HKG on the HKG-SFO flight.
It’s happened to me while flying as a non-rev that the only seat available was a business seat that was completely inoperative (recline and entertainment system). I was happy to be offered it, as opposed to getting stuck there.
I wonder if someone was annoyed that they got involuntarily switched out of seat 1A and then saw me there.
Hey everyone, can I just say that the second story is just absurd?
1. you’re a travel blogger — that’s not a real job… wait, is that a real job?
2. you’re in business class — enjoy it. cattle class is the pits.
3. you’re complaining about not having enough light to photograph your breakfast with a crappy phone camera—in business class??? Is this satire? I mean, if you can afford business class, or take enough flights to get the miles to upgrade to business class, get a better phone! Also, airplane food in fancy-esque ceramic dishes and real metal flatware is still just airplane food. Better lighting was not going to make that food look any tastier. Lipstick meet pig. You did a nice thing by letting a mom and daughter sit next to each other. Good job.
How unfortunate to see your choice to illustrate the article with the heavily made-up, bare-legged “flight attendant” in spiked high heels, posed so the reader can look up her short skirt. Really?
When I am asked to change seats by an airline employee, I simply tell them I charge a $200 change fee just like the airline does for me when I want to change flights. That usually ends the discussion right then and there.
The fellow in your story should have asked to change his seat back once he realized he had been snookered. The non-rev guy can’t really do much about it because he doesn’t want to alert United to the fact that he tried to pull a fast one
Me and about 3 others had our seats given to flight crew. We had no say, they literally said our seat were given away. We were furious. This one was strange because even the workers at the gate were fighting with the crew about it. I think the leader of the crew had some leverage somewhere . He just kept saying “we absolutely need to be on this flight “ no shit so did I! This was United btw. I complained to United and all they gave me was 200 credit. I got home significantly later than scheduled.
Unfortunately in some situations it is crew movement and that could have been the case here. The crew may have just worked an inbound flight and could not get checked in for the flight taking them to their next aircraft. Your flight, from the sounds of it, was probably in an oversold situation. It puts stress on all involved and not always an easy solution.
I understand that many people just afraid to say no in airplane. Say No and end up dragged off the plane hand cuffed with God knows what charge. Once you’re inside you basically surrender your rights. Even if you,by miracle , not end up in jail, bad memories and ruined vacation guaranteed.
Luckily this hasn’t happened to me (yet) in any of my international flights. I hope it doesn’t ever. But then again I’m too cheap or poor to pay extra for seats. So nowadays even requesting for aisle is likely not gonna happen anymore because of all this monetizing going on, won’t it?
That sounds like a flight attendant thing. Good luck getting anything done through that union. By the way, I was just downgraded from an international first class seat so a deadheading flight crew could have my seat. There was no asking. And guess who did it? Btw frequent flyer usually does equal frequent ticket buyer something airlines are catching on to. Many are introducing the next tier solely for CEOs and others who actually buy the travel for their employees. Btw author is your travel provided free in exchange for your publicity?
I pay for all travel out-of-pocket. When I take a comp, I cannot provide the sort of unbiased reviews I strive to provide.
I had something similar happen to me with American (NASDAQ:AAL). I was headed home, across the country, after a particularly trying business trip. I requested an upgrade to First Class, using accrued miles. I was told First Class was full. However, when I boarded, I saw THREE AA employees IN UNIFORM in First Class. I was incensed and wrote AA to tell them as much, reminding them that “We ARE why they fly.” All I got was a tepid, “We’re sorry; that shouldn’t have happened.” Well, duh.