Horrible Upgrade Advice From A Flight Attendant

Horrible Upgrade Advice From A Flight Attendant

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It amazes me how often we see mainstream media stories (including from Travel + Leisure) about how the key to scoring a first or business class upgrade is to dress up. Well, here’s the latest such story I can’t help but call out.

Pants to avoid if you want an upgrade?

Express published a story this week with the title “Flight attendant says ‘never wear’ 2 types of trousers if you want to get free upgrade.” A former flight attendant allegedly claimed that passengers should avoid casual clothing if they want to get upgrades. According to the story:

Celina explained that if the crew need to upgrade someone, “they will look for people who they understand won’t disturb the other passengers that actually paid for those expensive seats.”

Dressing very casual or relaxed can sometimes give flight attendants the wrong impression, so it is always best to avoid it, she claimed. According to Celina, crew members are more likely to move those passengers who “dress smarter” to the first class section.

Celina warned passengers should “avoid” items of clothing such as open-toed shoes or sandals and flip-flops in summer if they are looking for a free upgrade. She also urged travellers to “never wear sweatpants, and… leggings!”

I’ve written before about why advice like this is total baloney. Airlines have specific protocols by which they upgrade passengers. The number of times that someone gets upgraded simply because they dressed nice is so minimal that it’s not worth mentioning.

For that matter, a vast majority of upgrades are processed by ground staff, so it’s not like flight attendants actually have many situations where they’re processing free upgrades.

You’re not going to get these seats by dressing up

So, who is this flight attendant?

Typically when these kinds of BS stories are written, they quote anonymous flight attendants, and don’t actually mention names. What makes this story different is that the former flight attendant is specifically named.

I don’t want to blow up her spot and be overly critical of her, and that’s also why I won’t mention her full name (even though it’s in the original story). But she claims to be a former flight attendant, and based on looking at her Instagram, she worked for… Norwegian on the Boeing 737 fleet.

Norwegian is an ultra low cost carrier, and the airline doesn’t have first or business class on these planes. Now that advice makes a whole lot more sense…

Where exactly is the first or business class cabin here?

Bottom line

Wear whatever the heck you want when flying. Or at least don’t choose your clothing based on a belief that dressing nice will get you an upgrade. If you want to sit in a premium cabin seat, either pay for it with cash or miles, upgrade with miles, or have elite status. That’s what’s going to give you the best odds.

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  1. Eric Guest

    I'm a 25 year FA and I can tell you that upgrading outside of *strict* parameters will result in a meeting to discuss theft. I am not saying that upgrading friends, family or favorite coworkers doesn't happen. But at my airline it is a terminateable offense. And we are union. It falls under the Three S's where there is nothing the union can do for you: Stealing, Sipping or Sleeping.

  2. Christian Guest

    These days everything is strictly computerized, as it should be, not to mention there are so many frequent flyers on the upgrade lists these days.

    Now, back in the '90s it was quite different, of course! In 1998 was flying economy with a British airline (Branson's) with a friend and due to check-in problems we arrived at the gate at the last minute after the flight had boarded, and not seated next to each...

    These days everything is strictly computerized, as it should be, not to mention there are so many frequent flyers on the upgrade lists these days.

    Now, back in the '90s it was quite different, of course! In 1998 was flying economy with a British airline (Branson's) with a friend and due to check-in problems we arrived at the gate at the last minute after the flight had boarded, and not seated next to each other. I asked if 2 seats together were available...the gate agent looked at the computer, then she looked over at my friend (who was waiting by the jet bridge door) with a double-take, and smiled saying she found us the only 2 seats together on the airplane. We boarded and were directed to row 1 in Upper Class. We were backpackers, but reasonably dressed, but it was very obvious the upgrade was because my friend was extremely handsome.

    Also once flying MEL-LAX on the kangaroo carrier I had been given a commercial upgrade to business, but due to a computer entry error it wasn't properly recognized at the airport. The First lounge manager (I could use it with my status anyways) went above and beyond to fix the problem and get me into business. Then as I boarded the aircraft I found her and the Purser waiting for me inside the door. She deeply apologized that I had been assigned a business class seat next to a parent with infant (for the record, I love infants), followed by the Purser saying he would escort me to my new seat....which was in First.

    So all sorta of things did/do happen, but extremely rare these days.

    Now that I'm in my middle-ish years with top FF status, I'm happy that airlines use status to determine upgrades, cuz I doubt my looks would get me upgraded...maybe not even my friend anymore:):):)

  3. George Romey Guest

    At least in the US there's only 2 "proper" ways to be upgraded outside of being on the upgrade list or possibly buying a first class seat at check in. And these are very, very rare.

    1. Coach is oversold, first has empty seats and all upgrade requests have been accommodated
    2. There's a weight and balance issue (usually on RJs) in which they need to move passengers from coach forward into first class...

    At least in the US there's only 2 "proper" ways to be upgraded outside of being on the upgrade list or possibly buying a first class seat at check in. And these are very, very rare.

    1. Coach is oversold, first has empty seats and all upgrade requests have been accommodated
    2. There's a weight and balance issue (usually on RJs) in which they need to move passengers from coach forward into first class which has empty seats.

    Presumably in this case the gate agent has some latitude and he/she likely isn't going to pick the 300 pound guy in a dirty wifebeater.

  4. John Guest

    Bens right. Sure anything is possible maybe one person in the millions that fly every year get it based on looks. The reality is rich people tend to dress down. They have no need to impress anyone. I fly in gym shorts and a tshirt. I have to wear a suit in court. I'm not going to tromp around in one on a plane. So yeah dress nice if you want to look like a desperate idiot.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      You are a basketball team mascot?

  5. Steve M Guest

    In my experience, not that anyone cares, upgrades are based on the number of flight legs taken with said carrier.

    For instance, yyz to lhr, then lhr or lgw to Malta. Prem Econ to lhr and biz to Malta.

    The return to yyz from lhr usually results in an upgrade from Prem Econ to Business.

    1. Leigh Guest

      Very few airlines use segments in calculating status, or it's one of several factors. The list of frequent flyers, even the most premium, is so long that unfortunately I don't think your logic flies.

  6. Wilo Guest

    regardless of the veracity of that article, I agree: I don't want to see women wearing leggings, not even in economy!

  7. jswede Guest

    It may be dated somewhat, but this is absolutely the truth not all too long ago. And the flight attendant wasn’t saying that she was making the upgrades, she’s talking about what the ground staff would look for.

    And Norwegian definitely had a premium class. Whatever you wanna call it - premium, business, first, whatever - they were flying the same airplanes and they were configured the same as the other airlines

    1. ksu Guest

      Ben writes: "Norwegian on the Boeing 737 fleet". The 787 fleet had a premium class. The 737-fleet never had (and still hasn't). The 787-fleet and 737-fleet had different crews. So the FA quoted did not work on multi-class aircraft.

  8. frrp Member

    The express is like the lowest tier newspaper in the whole world.

    It would be like commenting on something published in the national enquirer, or fox news.

  9. BradStPete New Member

    Sorry Lucky, when push comes to shove and all things being fairly equal.... dress (neat, clean and appropriate ) DOES matter. I as a F/A have upgraded pax after boarding and I have seen "high ranking" non-revs denied a upg due to their attire.

  10. roslyn Guest

    totally agree with your assessment I have been upgraded a heap of times as a platinum EY member always on the ground from J to F.
    my advise to anyone is if you want to travel in J or F buy or use points.

  11. Azamaraal Diamond

    I do not like the headline - back to click bait? Another reader commented that your post seems to say that dressing poorly is ok. Dress code should prevent people improperly dressed from being upgraded. How you present yourself in public days a lot about how you will perform as well.
    Doesn't have to be jacket and tie. Some lenience given to someone just connecting off a long haul, but at least clean and presentable.

  12. red_robbo Guest

    I would say that 99% of on-board upgrades are for friends of crew. The old "Would you like to come with me Mr. Smith, the seat you requested has become available".

  13. red_robbo Guest

    I would say that 99% of on-board upgrades are for friends of crew. The old "Would you like to come with me Mr. Smith, the seat you requested has become available".

  14. Lurk Guest

    The only time I was approached by an airline rep when in check in line was when dressed "nicely" - sports coat and shirt. Not business wear. She asked if we were members of BA's frequent flyer club, which we were, but didn't have the cards, so I said no (before everything was digital). She then went over to another decently dressed couple, had a short chat with them, and escorted them over to the...

    The only time I was approached by an airline rep when in check in line was when dressed "nicely" - sports coat and shirt. Not business wear. She asked if we were members of BA's frequent flyer club, which we were, but didn't have the cards, so I said no (before everything was digital). She then went over to another decently dressed couple, had a short chat with them, and escorted them over to the business check in counter.

    Side note - after a long trip backpacking in Thailand, me and my travel mate had overstayed our visa. In the airport I wore a shirt and sports jacket, my mate shorts and a ragged t-shirt. He had to pay a fine, I was not even asked.

  15. AkDiver Guest

    Funny I canceled T&L a long time ago when the article I was reading stated you could drive to Kenai, AK on a 4 lane highway. Tells me the author never went there. We still don’t have a 4 lane highway to Kenai.

  16. Keith Guest

    Lucky, while dressing well (or at all these days) isn't going to get one upgraded, it might have been better to let this myth live on unchallenged. As your recent Frontier review demonstrates, too many people now fly as though they are not in a public space. Perhaps a few of them could be convinced to shape up if they think they might get upgraded for free.

  17. JH Guest

    British Airways back in the mid-90's ABSOLUTELY did this.

    At the shift briefings we were told that they would be looking for an approximate number of upgrades and to comment the pax "SFU"...Suitable For Upgrade...if they were dressed appropriately.

    At closeout the agent would pull up the specific SF comment list and start upgrading from the top.

    1. red_robbo Guest

      Yes, I remember SFUs well, but the big difference is that any required upgrades were sorted at flight closeout, and were not something carried out on board by the cabin crew, which is what this article concerns.
      Also, things have changed drastically since the 90s, with any required upgrades now almost exclusively based on passenger status with the airline, i.e. their level of executive card.

  18. Frog Guest

    Are the number of instances that flight attendants upgrade passengers “minimal” or is it an “absolute zero”?? My guess is that it’s the latter.

  19. Sean Guest

    I worked for a big three gulf airlines 8 years ago and had upgraded hundreds of passengers. We never do the upgrade with passengers who wear shorts , tank tops or slippers. I once accidentally upgraded a passenger wearing shorts and got called out by gate supervisor.

    Normally if we have to do it we will do with solo passengers, no special meal and dress well.

  20. George Romey Guest

    Given that 90% of the time I see more than 5 names on an upgrade list, well more than half the time over two pages of upgrade requests, one could wear a formal coat and tails and they're not getting upgraded unless they're on that list and they are at the very top. This is hogwash.

    Now I can appreciate the sediment to encourage people that fly premium class to number have taken a shower/bath...

    Given that 90% of the time I see more than 5 names on an upgrade list, well more than half the time over two pages of upgrade requests, one could wear a formal coat and tails and they're not getting upgraded unless they're on that list and they are at the very top. This is hogwash.

    Now I can appreciate the sediment to encourage people that fly premium class to number have taken a shower/bath sometime during the past 24 hours (unless they're flying very long haul) and not wear a wife beater (particularly if you're my age) or hoochies shorts .

  21. Tom Guest

    Most comments (like this one) are worthless. Chad's, on the other hand, is true greatness.

  22. VJ Guest

    On a Bangalore to Frankfurt flight many years ago; I came across a seat mate who booked through a travel agent, did not pre-select seats, did not check in before reaching the airport but got upgraded to business because all seats in economy were filled up and the flight was oversold.

    1. Sri Rai Guest

      This happened to me several times on Emirates. It was mostly because I arrived at the gate late due to a connecting flight and got upgraded..probably because they gave my seat away.

  23. pstm91 Diamond

    My first complimentary/random upgrade was when I was 21 and had just completed a ~12-week backpacking trip around SE Asia. Flying Bangkok-Abu Dhabi on Ethiad and they pulled me aside at the gate and asked "would you like to be upgraded?" I laughed and asked if anyone ever said no to that...

    I fully looked the part of a backpacker, so yes, this type of advice is BS 99% of the time on top of all the logistical reasons Ben has written about.

  24. Rob Guest

    Hey Ben! I was going over my instagram stories the other day when I came across this story from a youtuber with ca. 5M followers. In a nutshell he showed how they allegedly managed to get "upgraded" on BA just by handing staff Starbucks gift cards. Needless to say it seems barely credible and just another one of those clickbaity youtuber stunts... On the other hand, the fact that someone with such a following is...

    Hey Ben! I was going over my instagram stories the other day when I came across this story from a youtuber with ca. 5M followers. In a nutshell he showed how they allegedly managed to get "upgraded" on BA just by handing staff Starbucks gift cards. Needless to say it seems barely credible and just another one of those clickbaity youtuber stunts... On the other hand, the fact that someone with such a following is publicly stating that BA staff can be bribed to gain illegitimate access to something that hasn't been paid for (heck, and even encouraged people to try it out) seems very bold and risky to make

    Have you ever witnessed any sort of similar situations where such an exchange (not necessarily gift cards, but anything with a genuine economic value) between pax and FAs that resulted in the former getting upgraded?

  25. Regis Guest

    Regardless of protocol, there is always a human element that is part of the decision. Right or not, we are judged by external, how we dress and present ourselves. There are only upsides to dressing neatly and nicely. As the old saying goes goes: "Clothes are important; naked people have never achieved anything."

    1. Chad Guest

      What a stupid saying. Naked people make new people.

    2. Andrew Diamond

      Chad, you won the Internet today.

    3. Eskimo Guest

      And Roe gets to decide which people to keep. Wade is required to keep em all.

  26. Uk Based Airline Guest

    It’s actually not entirely incorrect.
    On most airlines as soon as the door is closed - the decisions on spare business/first class seats is made by the captain and the senior cabin crew member.
    Upgrades prior to departure have matrixes and systems that tell ground staff who to upgrade but cabin crew don’t have access to those systems - nor do we care much about it once we’ve left the gate.
    If...

    It’s actually not entirely incorrect.
    On most airlines as soon as the door is closed - the decisions on spare business/first class seats is made by the captain and the senior cabin crew member.
    Upgrades prior to departure have matrixes and systems that tell ground staff who to upgrade but cabin crew don’t have access to those systems - nor do we care much about it once we’ve left the gate.
    If a situation arose where we’d need to upgrade someone - we play favourites no doubt about it.
    Also if a pax greets us kindly and even brings something for the crew as a thank you - that usually goes a long way. and if they’re dressed appropriately - could also mean an upgrade.

    1. Andrew B Guest

      It’s acknowledged that it could happen on rare occasions, but highly unlikely and not worth factoring in to what you wear.

      I’ve only seen cabin crew move someone to first class once after the door was closed, and it had nothing to do with what they were wearing.

    2. Volleyball New Member

      I've experienced the opposite three times in the past three flights like this, two united, one delta, all were US domestic. FAs grabbed their work(?) phone or ipad to view the upgrade list. They then went back to coach to call out the passenger by name and invite them to the front. On one flight I was sitting next to a FA's friend, they chatted every time the FA walked by, I would imagine if...

      I've experienced the opposite three times in the past three flights like this, two united, one delta, all were US domestic. FAs grabbed their work(?) phone or ipad to view the upgrade list. They then went back to coach to call out the passenger by name and invite them to the front. On one flight I was sitting next to a FA's friend, they chatted every time the FA walked by, I would imagine if she could upgrade folks off the list, she'd choose her friend over someone better dressed...

      I believe the US big 3 mandate the upgrade list protocol. All other airlines are YMMV.

  27. Peter Guest

    LOL. I always wear t-shirts and shorts flying paid/award F/J.

  28. Wayne Guest

    If you’ve been upgraded, remember to put on your pants. Especially now with the threat of Monkey Pox, no pants, no seat.

  29. JK Guest

    Who here thinks Ben is just down-playing the importance of dressing nicely for free upgrades, because it cuts into the value of miles and points credit cards and therefore site referrals?

    1. SSS Guest

      Just you wait for it… soon we will start seeing Ben “reviewing” different outfits to travel in, along with the requisite links and affiliate promotions!!
      (One Outfit At A Time?)

    2. Santos Guest

      How about this: you wear a tuxedo on all of your flights from now on, then keep us updated on your upgrade success?

    3. JK Guest

      Only makes sense if one is flying in the evening.

  30. Jason Guest

    At most airlines, flight attendants would get fired if they tried to upgrade somebody. It's the ground crew that does it. period.

  31. Scudder Diamond

    As EP on AA, my upgrades usually clear well before I even put on my crop top and daisy dukes.

  32. Eve Guest

    Tbh, I won’t say she is entirely wrong. Ground staff can be picky in certain conditions, not saying it is industry wide. I think this specifically applies to certain markets and specific individual cases.

    I had experienced being turned down from an upgrade in Check-in counter even though I knew it was available, and I am more then certain it was due to my clothes where I was wearing a very street style clothe like...

    Tbh, I won’t say she is entirely wrong. Ground staff can be picky in certain conditions, not saying it is industry wide. I think this specifically applies to certain markets and specific individual cases.

    I had experienced being turned down from an upgrade in Check-in counter even though I knew it was available, and I am more then certain it was due to my clothes where I was wearing a very street style clothe like most teenagers. In fact the same has occurred to me in various lounges, express security lanes for biz pax, and so on where my really outlandish clothing style did run me in some staff coming and saying I might be in wrong location.

    In fact certain airlines in Asia have habit of not following there own airlines codes, in fact several don’t even use boarding groups even though it clearly is displayed on the boarding pass. For example Air India, who emphasise there boarding groups in Singapore, but not in Dubai or in many airports in India so doesn’t matter if you are Star Gold or Biz pax, it’s whoever is the first pax.

    My point basically is, she is wrong but she is also not wrong. Individual cases can occur where ground staff can be selective based on what you are wearing

  33. D3kingg Guest

    Back in the 90s this is accurate. Gate agents wouldn’t upgrade someone randomly due to an oversold flight wearing shorts and flip flops.

  34. stogieguy7 Diamond

    If you go back to, say, the 90's - then yes wearing a suit and tie could result in you being upgraded. I distinctly remember being upgraded to first on USAir back around 1996 or so from BWI-LGA and I didn't even ask. That said, I was wearing my best suit as I had a job interview. Status was less important back then. Today, what you wear has nothing to do with whether you get...

    If you go back to, say, the 90's - then yes wearing a suit and tie could result in you being upgraded. I distinctly remember being upgraded to first on USAir back around 1996 or so from BWI-LGA and I didn't even ask. That said, I was wearing my best suit as I had a job interview. Status was less important back then. Today, what you wear has nothing to do with whether you get upgraded. It's all about status, the fare you're flying on, etc. The entire process is very much calculated and the system couldn't care less if you're wearing sandals.

    1. ORDnHKG Guest

      Nope not really, my very first time flying united on ORD-NRT in 1998, I was op up when I was 18, an 18 year old me for sure wear no suit and tie, and not even own one, I just asked for an aisle seat since it is a 13 hours flight, then i found out it was a business class seat not til I got on the plane.

    2. ORDnHKG Guest

      Status and fare clases was just important in the 90s, I had no status, but looking back I had a very high fare class ticket (back then this was one of the only four fare classes that allow to use miles to upgrade, but I wasn't upgrading with miles, since this was my very first flight on UA)

  35. Lukas Guest

    When I read the title, I thought it's going to be about the woman with a "very beautiful passport picture". Haha.

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Chad Guest

What a stupid saying. Naked people make new people.

5
Keith Guest

Lucky, while dressing well (or at all these days) isn't going to get one upgraded, it might have been better to let this myth live on unchallenged. As your recent Frontier review demonstrates, too many people now fly as though they are not in a public space. Perhaps a few of them could be convinced to shape up if they think they might get upgraded for free.

3
JH Guest

British Airways back in the mid-90's ABSOLUTELY did this. At the shift briefings we were told that they would be looking for an approximate number of upgrades and to comment the pax "SFU"...Suitable For Upgrade...if they were dressed appropriately. At closeout the agent would pull up the specific SF comment list and start upgrading from the top.

3
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