Getting to fly on a plane is a privilege many will never have, and we acknowledge that, but still … flying cattle class, especially on long-haul trips, is just never fun. Your butt gets numb, your legs ache for stretching room, your personal bubble chafes at the enforced compression, and at 4am, when you still can NOT sleep, you can start to feel ill and generally down on life.
Life in business class is different. There is room. There is dignity. There are soft hallelujah choruses when you recline your seat way back and pop up your foot rest. There are glowing complexions when you arrive at LAX more than a day later. So if you can get an upgrade, is it not worth the effort?
Here are seven plausible (as well as outlandish) ways of getting an upgrade, all of them with a history of success:
1. Dress smartly
There are occasions when airline employees need to or can bump up economy-class passengers to business class, and you want to do everything you can to help them pick you. One way of doing this is to go a little to town with your outfit and appearance in general. Refrain from smelly armpits, wild blue hair and six pieces of hand luggage – only paying customers get to take that sort of ‘style’ into business class. Denims, crocs, pink tracksuits and t-shirts with lewd slogans also do not a business seat spell. Keep it smart and neat. At the end of the day if you look the part then you might get to play the part.
2. Be helpful
The painful passenger who fusses about having an aisle separate them from their one true love, or the one who protests loudly about not getting the aisle seat they wanted, will never get an upgrade. That said, stewards do try to avoid messy situations and unhappy customers when possible, so they might be prepared to mix things up a little; if you’re the accommodating individual who offers to swap places so that Romeo and Juliet can entwine their arms during take-off, then you might be offered a spot in business class. (Provided of course you’re not wearing a Wayne’s World hoodie.)
3. Become, befriend or marry an airline employee
It’s not just pilots who get travel perks, but any airline employee, from luggage controller to engineer. Getting on that much-coveted ‘family list’ of discount flyers can change your travelling life, making far-flung destinations seem that much closer. True, most airline employees and those on their list must travel on stand-by, but this is a small price to pay for the chance of a cheap-cheap ticket, in one of the upper classes nogal.
4. Choose an overcrowded or problematic flight
This is a less straight-forward approach, because it’s not really up to you, and there’s a degree of inconvenience involved, but if a flight is overbooked, then upgrades are more likely, and if you personally have been particularly messed about, an upgrade might be wielded by the airline as a way of placating you and retaining your patronage. On a Durban to Jo’burg flight, this might seem small recompense for a long delay or taking a later flight, but if you’re flying Jo’burg to Moscow, it’s a pretty big boon!
5. Travel as an unaccompanied minor
Being an unaccompanied minor can also serve you on occasion. On one flight a few years ago there was a valve issue, so after passengers had had the dubious enjoyment of watching mechanics page through various manuals laid open on the runway and then ultimately shrug their shoulders, everyone was moved to another plane. To make the transition smoother, all unaccompanied minors were moved into a rather deserted business class for the sake of easy, speedy management. Score for the youth!
This is a tricky one, and it could backfire, but if you enjoy a gamble, straight up ask for an upgrade. If there’s space, you may just get lucky. Don’t profile the check-in employee overly much – we all know the one that looks like a kitten could have an inner tiger, while the man who appears to be sucking on lemons might have a secret inner light. Just go for broke and chalk it up to experience if you end up rammed into the very back row of economy with a chair that has no space for reclining.
7. Break an ankle
A broken ankle (or foot, knee, tibia – take your pick) requires a foot rest to remain elevated and protected. So if you break a lower limb while on holiday (AND – this part is important – you have travel insurance), it’s up to the insurance company to get you that foot rest to get you back home, and since foot rests are a chimera to economy class passengers, you’ll get bumped up a class, with the insurance company footing the bill (pun intended). If you really want to go all out, injure your pelvis and fly first class!