Need your thoughts: how best to execute this plan?

Quinn left an interesting comment on a recent post about my experience at TPA, with an idea I have been hinting at on FlyerTalk for a long time but never actually got around to doing:

Hey Lucky, how about you do some investigative journalism? Pull a Barbara Ehrenreich. On an upcoming trip, don’t put in any upgrades, and remove your MP number from the itinerary. Dress like a typical college student and see how you’re treated. Or, put in the upgrades and have them clear as a 1K, then remove your MP number.

Now the way I was originally going to approach it was slightly different. Since I usually wear khakis and a sports jacket when I fly, I never get any weird looks, never get any questions, never get carded for entry into the RCC, etc. My plan was to just dress like a typical college student (shorts and a t-shirt or something like that) and fly as a 1K, interacting with as many employees as I can. I would love to see whether all of a sudden I get carded for entry into the RCC, get comments from other passengers, get questioned by FA’s, etc. That was going to be my initial approach, mainly to see how different it would be.

Quinn raises a different yet equally interesting scenario, in my opinion, flying just as a normal college student. Does this mean I would just fly as a totally average passenger and all the things that come with it? That means regular economy (no First and not even Economy Plus), no RCC access, no priority boarding, etc.? On one hand it would be interesting to see what it’s like to fly again with no status, but at the same time I think age plays less of a role here since I’d be flying as the average passenger, after all.

Just in case there are any doubts, I’m not trying to do this to get any employees in trouble, that’s not my intent. Rather I’d be curious to see (for my own enlightenment and maybe for that of my readers here) if there are any differences, yet another potentially interesting data point from my collective travel experiences.

So what do you folks think? Which should I be doing, dressing like an average college student and flying first, using the RCC, etc, or should I be flying as a totally average student without any frills at all? I would appreciate thoughts, be they via the “comment” function here or otherwise via email ([email protected]). BTW, I already have several itineraries in May which would be great for a scenario like this…



  1. I think that the thing that makes either scenario interesting is the insight you’d bring to writing about the experience. Even if you have a completely normal infrequent traveler experience, your ability to relate it to the way you usually travel and tell the story in a compelling way would make it worthwhile. And you fly enough, so why not do both… 🙂

    I’ve flown as a poorly dressed college-student 1P in E+, lounges, and C/F before (domestically and internationally), and I never got any looks, and certainly no doubts that I belonged there, from other passengers and employees. Usually I’d be wearing mesh shorts and a t-shirt. I think it’s almost as though the more casually dressed you are, the more other people perceive you must belong there, since you obviously must fly frequently enough that it isn’t a special occasion worthy of dressing up.

  2. OK, sounds like a plan. So one time I would try to upgrade all my flights and use the RCC, and the other time I would be flying regular Economy (all the way in the back) without any status connected to my name? Do I have it right?

    Sounds like fun!

  3. Yup. Unless anybody can think of some other twists to add. No need to assign middle seats for yourself or anything–that’d just be cruel. 🙂

    Also, I think you’d be able to compile a lot of good advice for infrequent travelers if you do this.

  4. My children, 1P (college student) and 2P(High school student) get treated very well while traveling alone. No problems with upgrades, boarding, etc. I think the disparity of treatment may be more of an issue of an isolated employee rather than a general attitude. (Why would you fly coach if you didn’t have to 🙂 )

  5. Deborah, that’s the feeling I get, and that’s what I’m hoping the result will be from my little experiment. I always get treated very well, but I read all these horror stories even about people in their upper 20’s that get treated poorly, especially by other passengers. I’m hoping I come to the same conclusion, but we’ll see!

    Right now I’m leaning towards doing the one trip in First as stated above and then reserving Economy “Minus” middle seats, and then seeing how well I can work the system, how often I can get myself into Economy Plus without status, etc. I figured that could be the most beneficial for those that read about it.

  6. I like the idea of doing both. They’re different experiments, and each could be interesting.
    A question: when traveling as a “no status” passenger, do you try get to act like a no status passenger? What about in irrops, are you allowed to bust out your frequent flier knowledge? Call the 1K line? I think maybe the answers should be yes, no, no… others?
    Also, if possible try to do the “no status” experiment on the itinerary with the most potential for irrops, too. The general consensus seems to be that this is when status makes a big difference. Since you can pull your MP number reasonably close to the departure date, you might look for a bad weather or other anticipated delays.

  7. You’re exactly right Nick. I would not be able to use any 1K resources at all, and I would reserve Economy “Minus” middle seats. That being said, I can try to talk the agent into giving me an Economy Plus seat or an aisle seat, but it would be totally unrelated to my status. I think that’s fair enough, right?

  8. To make it an accurate study, fly the exact same routes on the exact same days in various cabins. I find that I get treated better on certain routes on certain days (I’m 1k) by both passengers and employees. There are some “business heavy” routes where I feel lucky to make it to my destination alive after all the pushing and shoving, and I in no way look like a college student (although I wish I did)

  9. Yep, the good thing is that I’m flying TPA-IAD-SFO-LAX-SFO-EWR-IAD-TPA three times within a week, so I’ll do one in middle seats in Economy “Minus,” one in First wearing torn clothes, and one in First dressed “normally.”

  10. I travel all the time in “college attire” and get the looks and questions often. I think its a good idea(eye opener for you too in some ways)…if you can survive!

  11. I flew for work in my twenties quite a bit, I made 1K on segments alone one year. On occasion I got the “WOW, you’re 1K’ But I guess it had more to do with my attitude. I didn’t act like a twenty something and on occasion got guessed as being in my 30’s. The standard comment was “You look really young, but you act older than your age”.

    I never got hassle on any UA flights, even when I did my first C class bookings on UA international flights with award miles.

    Now in my 30’s I get the “Wow, your a million mile flyer, aren’t you kind of young”… So I guess it’s all perspective.

  12. Big difference in treatment when dressed down. Making 1K on 130 segments a year, mostly Domestic, and flying Int’l on holiday, many different interactions can change based on attired. From GA to the Ticket Agents, if I walk up as a 28 yo in blue jeans, t-shirt, bit different service.

    Oddly, I find other customers act different. I was flying from BWI to ORD 3 weeks ago on a 6 segment trip that week. The BWI portion was the final leg, and the standby flight was delayed 3 hours. The RCC moved my flight up and managed to get me home about an hour earlier. I changed out of my suit before boarding. While I boarded, a person stated “No cutting, no cutting” as I boarded to the right. The GA told them I was not, which the person continued to mention. I guess it proved funny when the guy was trying to board the ORD flight and was confirmed on the DEN. I can follow instructions and read. 🙂

    I have received upgrades to business / first using miles, certs and complimentary. I have received complimentary upgrades more then anything. Many flights have crew members that know friends that I have made on my routes, so the crew welcomes me and really goes above and beyond. Going to AMS a month ago, despite a baseball cap, sweatshirt and blue jeans, they were awesome.

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