American Airlines Tells Crews To Police Self-Upgraders

American Airlines Tells Crews To Police Self-Upgraders

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American Airlines has sent out a memo to flight attendants, reminding them to crack down on passengers trying to upgrade themselves to extra legroom economy seats for free.

American crews should crack down on self-upgraders

American Airlines has Main Cabin Extra, which is its extra legroom economy seating, located at the front of economy. This seating comes with early boarding, extra legroom, and complimentary alcoholic drinks. Main Cabin Extra seats can be reserved by select elite members at no additional cost, and can also be purchased for an additional fee by others.

American Main Cabin Extra features extra legroom

However, to some passengers it’s not necessarily obvious that Main Cabin Extra is a separate product from economy. After all, the difference isn’t as obvious as between first class and economy class, for example.

As noted by @xJonNYC, a memo has been sent out to flight attendants, reminding them that passengers shouldn’t self-upgrade to Main Cabin Extra. Here’s what that memo says:

It’s not unusual for Main Cabin (MC) customers to ask to change seats after they’ve boarded the aircraft – to sit next to a family member or get out of a middle seat, for instance. However, customers may not be familiar with our seat change policy, particularly when it comes to Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seats.

While you may allow a customer to move to an available Main Cabin seat after boarding is complete, they’re not permitted to move into an MCE seat unless they are booked in that class. So, if a customer asks to move to a seat in a different seat classification (i.e., MC to MCE, MCE to First, etc.) politely decline their request unless there is a customer service or regulatory conflict present.

If a customer asks to change seats before the boarding door closes, work with the gate agent to accommodate the request. As always, please remain on the aircraft to avoid a minimum crew violation while assisting the customer.

Interestingly American used to allow self-upgrading

What makes this latest update interesting is that back in January 2018, American had a very different policy about self-upgrading. At the time the airline introduced free alcohol in Main Cabin Extra, and in a memo to flight attendants, said the following about self-upgrading:

Can customers move into open MCE seats once boarding is complete?

Yes. Once the door is closed, customers are allowed to move to any available seat within their ticketed cabin (no change to current procedure).

That got a ton of media attention, and also caused concern from flight attendants. Within a couple of days, the airline issued an updated memo, backtracking somewhat:

I honestly appreciate your feedback; this is part of the reason why we choose to share with you, first, before rolling it out to the rest of the company and our customers. Our number one priority from the start was to ensure the enhanced MCE did not add responsibilities for flight attendants to police the cabin. But we agree with many of you, if a customer did not pay for the seat, they should not be able to move into it. If a customer asks to move into a MCE seat after boarding, you should use your best judgment in politely declining their request to prevent a negative or escalated situation.

Both then and now, logically you’d think that American would have a mechanism by which flight attendants could process upgrade payments onboard. They already have the tablets that they use to charge for drinks and snacks, so why not the same for upgrades? As part of that same memo in 2018, the airline explained the lack of onboard payment for upgrades as follows:

Several of you also asked if we would consider selling upgrades to these seats onboard, similar to the service of other carriers. This is something we are considering, but again, we’re trying to balance this with not adding more responsibilities for flight attendants.

In other words, American doesn’t want to get in trouble with the union for adding more job responsibilities for flight attendants.

American used to allow self-upgrading to Main Cabin Extra

Bottom line

American Airlines is telling flight attendants to crack down on passenger who self-upgrade. Specifically, the airline is reminding flight attendants that the extra legroom economy section is a separate product, and only those assigned a seat in that area should be allowed to sit there.

This is all fair enough, though logically you’d also think that flight attendants would be able to process payments for those looking to upgrade onboard. Not being able to process an upgrade to an empty premium seat seems like a customer service and revenue fail.

Interestingly in early 2018, American reminded flight attendants that passengers were allowed to self-upgrade to Main Cabin Extra. However, after that got a lot of publicity and flight attendants provided feedback, the airline backtracked on this policy.

What do you make of American telling flight attendants to crack down on self-upgraders?

Conversations (35)
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  1. DJJP Guest

    I have concerns with the title of this article. FA's are not told to "police" MCE. That is false. AA FA's do have the tools to view the seat map in real time. in the interest of fairness to those who've purchased this product or were granted an upgrade, most FA's will look at the seat map before the boarding door is closed. FA's recognize MCE is a product that has priority boarding, complimentary drinks,...

    I have concerns with the title of this article. FA's are not told to "police" MCE. That is false. AA FA's do have the tools to view the seat map in real time. in the interest of fairness to those who've purchased this product or were granted an upgrade, most FA's will look at the seat map before the boarding door is closed. FA's recognize MCE is a product that has priority boarding, complimentary drinks, and extra leg room. A lot of passengers, however, aren't aware of these enhancements. Avoid the walk of shame, and take your assigned seat as printed on the boarding pass.

  2. Tim Guest

    Let the FA upgrade and when they do, allow them to get $5 for their time in processing.

  3. Steven E Guest

    I’m sure the crew have enough on their plate without having to take on this little piece of irritation, If the company isn’t able to find a solution then it’s on them and not the Flight Attendants- isn’t there enough disgruntled passengers already, so tale care of it on the ground before door closure otherwise it’s a NO

  4. Robert Guest

    Is this even a thing these days? I rarely, if ever, see empty seats on any flight

  5. Paul Guest

    I feel so guilty for all the times I've sprawled across the middle FIVE seats on 747's

    1. Alex Guest

      That would be cool except for the fact there are only 4 seats across on a 747.

  6. BenjaminGuttery Diamond

    I spend A LOT of money each year to EARN status. I don't even drink, and rarely board early, so the space is the most important and only benefit to me. Airlines and Airports need to crack down on all this "self upgrading" and even fake disabled people on international flights. These people are doing cartwheels and walking around just fine for 10+ hours on the plane, then all the sudden they need a wheelchair...

    I spend A LOT of money each year to EARN status. I don't even drink, and rarely board early, so the space is the most important and only benefit to me. Airlines and Airports need to crack down on all this "self upgrading" and even fake disabled people on international flights. These people are doing cartwheels and walking around just fine for 10+ hours on the plane, then all the sudden they need a wheelchair and need to be pushed by another human when it comes to going through security or customs (basically they are line jumpers). I truly feel for the people who need and use those services, but I know for a FACT (with my own two eyes) that just like how passengers abused the "service animal" policy, there is a significant percentage who is abusing those services as well.

  7. iamhere Guest

    Exactly what I was thinking. If you just let people move after the door is closed more people will just not upgrade and take the chance. Then they move for free. However, as the FAs can take payment for drinks and food then you would think they should be able to take a payment for this. The real issue I think is what to charge. Food and drink have a fixed fee. Also, giving the FAs yet another job to do and manage may be an issue too.

    1. WishMaker New Member

      Other airlines have a simple way do do it: there is a fixed fee per flight hour: flights with total duration of up to 1 hour $ 15 USD, 1 to 2 hours $ 30 USD, 2 to 3 hours $ 45 USD and so on. You get charged for all the flight even if you try to upgrade 1 hr after the flight started. Some asian airlines even have it on the on-board menu.

      Other airlines have a simple way do do it: there is a fixed fee per flight hour: flights with total duration of up to 1 hour $ 15 USD, 1 to 2 hours $ 30 USD, 2 to 3 hours $ 45 USD and so on. You get charged for all the flight even if you try to upgrade 1 hr after the flight started. Some asian airlines even have it on the on-board menu.
      I just witnessed it in a VietJet flight two months ago: at mid flight a passenger tried to sneak in the front seats that have more leg room (and not free water or drinks). The passenger was quickly approached by the crew and was invited to enjoy it for the rest of the flight for 35 USD for remaining of the flight, even if that happened 1 hour after takeoff; or to return to his original seat.
      Mind you that 35 USD in Vietnam is way much 'expensive' than in the US, but the message is clear and aligned with on-board food: if you want it, buy it before you board or pay a higher price once on board.
      Free upgrades are absolutely out of the question.
      I think AA should do the same.

  8. Chris Guest

    When coming around for the drinks service, the payment can be processed like a buy on board. It should also be made available on the buy on board menus.

    Even better…pay the flight attendants a commission on last minute upgrade fees!

    More revenue, happier guests and staff!

  9. Anthony. Guest

    It's only right. I just took a trip to pty out of miami. I had the very first seat 1B no longer first class but on my way back I was stuck with less leg room and I noticed a guy move up once he noticed nobody had that row lol

  10. WishMaker New Member

    Even if seats are in the same cabin, MCE is a different service, starting with the extra legroom.
    There is no airline that I know of that does not charge more for seats with extra legroom when booking even if those are in the same cabin; so why this should be different ?
    Many airlines, in Asia in particular, do charge for on board and even mid-flight same cabin upgrades to MCE equivalent,...

    Even if seats are in the same cabin, MCE is a different service, starting with the extra legroom.
    There is no airline that I know of that does not charge more for seats with extra legroom when booking even if those are in the same cabin; so why this should be different ?
    Many airlines, in Asia in particular, do charge for on board and even mid-flight same cabin upgrades to MCE equivalent, so I agree that AA should follow UA's approach on it.
    If it's related to the extra work for the FA's, well AA could share a commission of those seat upgrade sales as they do for other on-board sales already, that's a WIN - WIN for all.

  11. CHRIS Guest

    This would require flight attendants do two things that are unlikely to happen now that their duties as mask police have ended:
    1. Putting down their phone
    2. Leaving the galley

    1. Flyin1 Guest

      You obviously have never been on a plane CHRIS. Why don’t you take a minute out of your really busy day (HA!) and write the airlines to tell them they need to remove all issued tablets from flight attendants and pilots. Let’s go back to the old days. No electronic devices for flight crews. Sorry you hate your job.

    2. CHRIS Guest

      They're gonna make you WORK now peaches!

  12. DesertGhost Guest

    If you want to sit in a better seat, then pay for it. This isn't rocket science.

  13. dander Guest

    Self upgraders are annoying. Pay for the legroom and the slight benefits like everyone else. However, when it comes to service, I find just smiling saying hello and talking civil to a FA guarantees better treatment.

  14. D3kingg Guest

    That’s not an upgrade. An upgrade is to a higher cabin class. Just as an upgrade from a standard room to a deluxe room at a hotel is hogwash. Unless it’s an executive suite or club level then it’s not a room upgrade.

    It’s still main cabin. Once the doors have closed passengers can move into a seat with extra leg room. Main cabin extra is still main cabin.

    1. DJJP Guest

      MCE with American Airlines isn't only a seat with more legroom. You also receive complementary alcoholic beverages and priority boarding when you pay for this product. So, it is an enhanced product with a cost that people are willing to pay.

  15. Sel, D. Guest

    Strongly disagree on letting people pay to upgrade on-board. If I have an empty middle seat when the door closes I expect it to stay that way.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      @Sel.D

      Unless you’re a first class passenger you basically have no rights.

    2. NYGuy24 Gold

      Regardless of what you seem to think these extra space seats cost money. People don't have a right to self upgrade. Shouldn't have some cheapskate overflowing from the middle seat into mine when they didn't even pay for the seat.

  16. Miguel Guest

    Peasants should stay where peasants belong!
    Vive La Differance

    1. Lee Guest

      It's worth noting that Prince William and Princess Kate travel in economy. So, it's not a socioeconomic class thing. Someone from any socioeconomic class can use cash or points to buy a first class or business class ticket. That's the way every airline works. Your thinking is misguided.

    2. SwimBikeFly Guest

      Lol. No they don’t.

  17. avgeekagent New Member

    While I'm sure there must be a statistically significant number of self-upgraders, I've really not found it to be an issue on flights that are not full. MCE aisle/windows are usually assigned prior to departure to elites, and few people are bold enough to just plop themselves down in a middle seat (assuming they even realize it would get them free booze).

    On full flights, all bets are off--the middles in MCE seem to go...

    While I'm sure there must be a statistically significant number of self-upgraders, I've really not found it to be an issue on flights that are not full. MCE aisle/windows are usually assigned prior to departure to elites, and few people are bold enough to just plop themselves down in a middle seat (assuming they even realize it would get them free booze).

    On full flights, all bets are off--the middles in MCE seem to go first to non-revs, then, ironically, probably customers booking basic economy who were waiting on a seat assignment.

  18. Randy Gold

    AA should patrol MCE. UA has it right - the FA's check the seat maps and if an empty E+ seat is occupied they come around and ask for a CC payment.

    AA should do the same. Simply say the cost of that seat is $X. What CC did you want to use for payment?

  19. Ray Guest

    In general I agree that if you didn't pay for it, you shouldn't be allowed to self-upgraded to it.
    However, AA also shouldn't get to have their cake and eat it too so to speak:

    AA goes "seat assignments are not guaranteed" and "Fees for seats are non-refundable" when it comes IROPS/refund for MCE.
    Either it is just a seat assignment fee (people changing into open seats after boarding completed aren't moving "seat...

    In general I agree that if you didn't pay for it, you shouldn't be allowed to self-upgraded to it.
    However, AA also shouldn't get to have their cake and eat it too so to speak:

    AA goes "seat assignments are not guaranteed" and "Fees for seats are non-refundable" when it comes IROPS/refund for MCE.
    Either it is just a seat assignment fee (people changing into open seats after boarding completed aren't moving "seat classification"),
    or it is a class of service that AA needs to guarantee said service and make the MCE purchase refundable as per fare refund-ability.

  20. George Romey Guest

    DL I believe identifies Delta Comfort seats on the seats themselves. I'm not sure how if that deters self upgraders are not. Although DL I also believe considers Delta Comfort a separate class of service.

    Often middle MCE seats go to MCE/Group 8 or 9 passengers when the remainder of the coach cabin is full. Or a couple that's traveling together. If there are any open middle seats on a flight (rare as that is) it's often a MCE seat.

    1. DJJP Guest

      You might be confusing group 8 or 9 with airline non-revenue passengers and revenue standby customers who are boarded last and occupy all remaining seats.

  21. John G Guest

    This is not a new policy. I got "spoken" to moving to an exit row on an MD-88 out of Dallas going to Louisville by an FA. I was told I could move to any seat but an exit row. I moved back without saying a word thinking it was some sort of operational thing only for the FA to come back over and apologize not realizing I had EP status. This was in 2016.

    1. FlyerDon Guest

      Are you sure it was an MD88?

    2. Chad Guest

      You always need to ask the FA to move to the exit row because air regulations require them to give you the exit row spiel. They will get irritated if people are moving there without their knowledge.

  22. jfhscott Guest

    Well, good for them.

    I get MCE on account of status and regularly check the seat map to identify where I am most likely to have an empty middle. Someone who self-upgrades to such an empty middle interferes with the experience I have made efforts to enjoy.

    I get it - I am not entitled to an empty middle. But no one should cheat the system to my detriment.

    1. NYGuy24 Gold

      Exactly. I have experienced other passengers trying to do this very thing and thankfully FAs have stepped in and put a stop to it. Really don't understand the cheapskates that think they are going to get away with this nonsense.

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jfhscott Guest

Well, good for them. I get MCE on account of status and regularly check the seat map to identify where I am most likely to have an empty middle. Someone who self-upgrades to such an empty middle interferes with the experience I have made efforts to enjoy. I get it - I am not entitled to an empty middle. But no one should cheat the system to my detriment.

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Randy Gold

AA should patrol MCE. UA has it right - the FA's check the seat maps and if an empty E+ seat is occupied they come around and ask for a CC payment. AA should do the same. Simply say the cost of that seat is $X. What CC did you want to use for payment?

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Ray Guest

In general I agree that if you didn't pay for it, you shouldn't be allowed to self-upgraded to it. However, AA also shouldn't get to have their cake and eat it too so to speak: AA goes "seat assignments are not guaranteed" and "Fees for seats are non-refundable" when it comes IROPS/refund for MCE. Either it is just a seat assignment fee (people changing into open seats after boarding completed aren't moving "seat classification"), or it is a class of service that AA needs to guarantee said service and make the MCE purchase refundable as per fare refund-ability.

3
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