“This line is for first class and 1K members only”

Despite having been a top tier elite with United since the age of 14, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been singled out (negatively) due to my age. I see posts about being told that a line is for first class passengers only (inferring young people can’t be elites) all the time, but it almost never seems to happen to me.

Tonight, for the first time in three years, I did get the “you’re in the wrong line” treatment. Flying from Chicago to Tampa this evening, I was the last person to board via the red carpet (the flight was operated by an A320 with only 12 first class seats, so there weren’t that many people boarding via the red carpet). As I slowly walked up, still probably 20 feet from the front of the line, the gate agent scanning boarding passes loudly said in my direction “this line is for first class and 1K members only.” I couldn’t quite tell if she was saying that generally or specifically to me, so I didn’t say anything.

Immediately following that, she did say something that I knew was directed at me: “you’re in the wrong line, this one is for first class and 1K only.” I kept approaching the front of the line, at which point she said “you need to go to the other line now, I’m about to close this lane and you won’t be allowed to board.”

At that point I showed her my boarding pass, said “you’re incredibly rude, I’m a 1K and in first class, don’t assume,” and promptly boarded.

The worst part? The guy that boarded on the red carpet in front of me was a Premier Executive in coach that wasn’t entitled to board via the red carpet, yet she said nothing to him.

Filed Under: Travel, United
  1. That’s awful. There’s no excuse for that, in my opinion, at any station. But it’s even weirder because O’Hare isn’t an especially suit heavy airport and any flight to Florida doesn’t strike me as business heavy.

  2. I get it every now and again at the AA first class ticket kiosk in Boston when I’m in jeans and a t-shirt. I usually bark back at them and they have an embarrassed response that they have to ask everyone. I usually then throw the bullshit flag and call them out that they only do it when I’m dressed that way.

  3. A while back I was singled out, not due to age, but how I looked. I was headed for the Business Class/Elite boarding lane on Air France, flying as an AF-KL elite, with a biz-class ticket … but I had been awake, on my feet and working for nearly 30hrs before I got to the gate. I was wearing jeans that were a tad rumpled and a black hoodie sweatshirt (I just wanted to get to my seat, pull the hood up and sleep for 7hrs) with my backpack and a camera on each shoulder (often how I travel for work).

    When I got the gate I was scolded for being in the wrong line. Being half asleep I assumed she meant I was at the wrong gate, so I walked away to go look at the gate signage. Realizing I was at the right gate I went back to the gate and was told again that the line was for elites and biz class only and that lane was now closed.

    My answer was simple … I reached into my wallet, pulled out my Delta Platinum, Northwest Gold and AF-KL Gold and asked her politely to pick which card got me on the plane. She apologized repeatedly as she personally walked me to my seat.

    I hate when they assume you don’t belong.

    Happy Flying!


  4. I think that kind of treatment deserves a “skykit”! Did you ask for one or?

    Very much enjoyed you part on Sat!

  5. A similar thing a happened to me 10years ago when I was in my early 20’s flying on Concorde to New York.

    I was about to walk through the ‘Fast Track” channel at Terminal 4 when the BAA official said “Excuse me sonny, this is for business class or first class passengers only” To which I replied uh huh. “Are you flying in business class or first class?” Nope! “Right, I thought as much, your line is over there”. To which I merely replied Concorde, waving my boarding pass at him as I walked past…

    Never judge someone on age or appearance.

  6. I wonder if it’s the same lady who asked me if I was flying with my mom’s FF number after my standby cleared. I fired off a complaint before boarding even began. I wasn’t elite until I was 24, but apparently young women aren’t frequent flyers.

  7. If you’re playing the percentages, I’m sure gate agent would say they’re right most of the time. …Smile

    @Coins… Glad you spoke up. Many would have demured and walked away.

  8. I like to fly in casual clothes because I want to feel comfortable and I get stop all the time at both the gate and the TSA line.

    Getting stopped at the TSA elite passenger line is something new and usually happens when the airports are busy. I get yelled at that I can’t cut the line and to head to the back of the line. A lot of them will bury their head in the ground when I show them my ticket, but I did have one that brought over a supervisor saying that my ticket was fake because I am too young to be elite.

    The gate agents can be worse. I had one old lady once say,” he kid get back in the other line, this line is for business travelers and people that spend a lot of money with the airline.” I flashed her my ticket and said my company spends a lot of money for me to fly so Im a big kid now 😛

  9. Presumably she didn’t say a word once she saw your BP? I hope you complained to 1K Voice.

    I first made 2P and started flying F semi-regularly at age 20 and am a 1K in my mid-20s. I’ve never gotten gruff from anyone, and I regularly see elites who are young and/or casually dressed at SFO go about their business just fine. I’m sure our local culture and IT economy play a big part in those social mores.

  10. Several years ago, I had a similar encounter with a flight attendant on a United 757. I enter the plane and start to turn left, at which point he informs me that my seat is in the back. I look at him and say “5A is in the back?” and he apologized profusely.

  11. It’s “implying,” not “inferring”

    “Confusion would more surely fly
    If you’d infer what I imply”

  12. If the gate agents were younger they wouldn’t “assume” by your age or by the way you look. Unfortunately now they all look like our mothers.

  13. But if they didn’t try to police the Red Carpet the carpet would be littered with non-elites thus making the trek from the gate area to the plane a lot more difficult. I’d prefer the occasional status question assuming the agent is polite.

    At IAD an agent asked why I hadn’t boarded across the Red Carpet earlier in the boarding process and instead opted to board last. I reminded her that it was a cramped CRJ without First Class and besides where would I be going until everyone else boarded.

  14. A partial solution is to put an elite luggage tag on your carry on, there easy to spot from a distance so if the agent isn’t trying to be a dick they could tell you are an elite. Alternatively just point at your luggage tag if they ask you – I’d be to lazy to open up my wallet to get my elite card :p

    Or perhaps the GA’s are used to all the vain 1K’s who stand on the ratty piece of red carpet for 20 minutes before boarding.

  15. Hey Ben. Sounds like a good time to remind the team that even young guys like us can be among our most-frequent flyers. Sorry that happened to you, and thanks for flying with us.

  16. I first got status when I was 17, and looked much younger than I was. Even as a 1K, I feel that people want to question whether or not I should be in F. A pilot on UX thought I was an NRSA and wanted to kick me out of F for not being in dress code, until he saw the big 1K on my bp… 😉

    It’s annoying, but can be fun when you prove them wrong.

  17. As I learned from your informative session at the Chicago-Do, it’s time to write a letter to customer service…

    Great meeting you and enjoyed your talk.

  18. I remember a couple of years ago when I was flying out of LAX on US, when the TA looked at my girlfriend and I (we were both casually dressed and in are mid 20’s) and stated loudly that the line I was in was for either first class or elite. Which I then replied with all of the above please. 🙂

    Then on our connecting flight via CLT, the flight attendant blocked the two of us from turning right to enter the biz class cabin as it looked like we were lost. After they let us through, they then came by to ask us if we were the military couple they upgraded earlier as. (Which is nice to see that US takes care of our men and women in the armed forces flying overseas) But alas, we paid for those seats.

  19. Time for you to shop for clothes. Seriously. One’s attire is one of the first things noticed by others, and these first impressions are long-lasting; you’re obviously not projecting the correct impression. The fact that most gate agents keep their first impression to themselves doesn’t take away from the fact that your first impression, at least to this GA, was one of belonging in the back. I bet he/she would have never said that to this guy: http://www.stockphotopro.com/photo-thumbs-2/B93HNE.jpg

  20. Ehh, I wouldn’t get worked up over it. A quick flash of your BP and a smile is all that is needed. Just because someone is rude to you is no reason to be rude in return. In my 20’s I was on a UK based project and was flying paid biz every other week, but flew on Sunday in track pants and flip flops and got plenty of comments from those assuming I was in the wrong line. I usually played the dumb card and said “Sorry, I thought my BP got me into this line” and promptly flashed my biz class BP.

    Still look young for my age and my laptop case is a backpack and frequenty get asked by my men much older than me in F (I am now 36) if I am headed back to college from a weekend visiting Mom & Dad. Most are shocked when I tell them I am closer to 40 than to college age. I just smile. 🙂

  21. @Will: Luggage tags don’t mean much, but it’s not like UA distributes them anyway.

    @No to white trash on planes: Pretty sure you’re a troll, but Lucky doesn’t exactly fly in, say, Budweiser-graphic tank tops. Even if he did dress trashy, anyone who gets paid to deal with the public needs to be tactful and this GA apparently was not.

  22. I’m young and travel often in F/C but most of the time I am in a jacket…either because I am coming from/to work or I will need a jacket during my trip and would rather wear it in the airport and have them hang it up than pack it…never had any issues. Believe me though if something like that happened to me I think it might have gone even worse for the GA…

  23. Actually tho, one time I was flying F on UA P.S. LAX-JFK and I was walking down the Red Carpet about 10 minutes into boarding (they had just called group 3) and this self important agent type yelling at his assistant on his blackberry comes barging through and gives me this “what are you doing in my way” I don’t respond and just hand my BP over to the GA. When we got to the plane he gave me a nasty look as he turned to the right.

  24. The correct way for anyone in a customer-facing position who needs to enforce an elite line and has a doubt is to ask, “Excuse me, sir, are you one of our elite members or in First Class?” Much more tactful.

    But at least UA enforces the elite line. AS GAs just let anyone and their brother board completely out of sequence with no regard to proper boarding order. :rolleyes:

  25. I just nominated my middle school daughter the 1K status (250K Elite Award). I am looking foward to the gate agent’s response when she boards by herself on the red carpet.

  26. As a young-looking 31yo female EXP who travels mainly in jeans, I’ve received a bit more than my fair share of these kinds of questions. Surprisingly, though (at least to me), it’s been the ticket counter agents who have been the most aggressive at trying to (loudly) point out that I’m in the wrong line. That said, several FAs have made it clear that they assume I’m simply with the man I’m sitting next to and are very confused when they realize that yes, I got that upgrade all by myself. 🙂

  27. I’m a lowly CO Silver but have been turned away from the elite security line at O’Hare. The “EliteAccess” on my bp didn’t help, so I had to dig out my CO/*A card and point out the elite signage at the line before the agent relented.

  28. Not gate agent. But I was standing in line for first class boarding with my wife and young daughter, we dressed very casually, a guy in suit badging in telling us to move out of his way because he was in First, at which point I told him this is the first class line and everyone here is waiting, he reluctantly stood in line behind us.

  29. @Imm2b, what a jerk! I guess if you don’t dress nice enough, you aren’t supposed to be in F :rolleyes: I see that reaction occasionally, as I always wear a t-shirt, and jeans (or shorts if very warm). When they see the big 1K, they usually look away..

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *