Once in awhile on United I see a domestic flight go out with open seats in first class despite a long waitlist of elites waiting for a complimentary upgrade. This is usually attributable to a lazy or rushed gate agent, who just wants to get the flight out on time or cannot be bothered to follow upgrade protocol. Today though, I experienced something different–the agent could not give away the last unclaimed first class seat!
A friend and I were traveling from Chicago to Washington National this morning at 6am and the A320 first class cabin, with 12 seats, had checked in full. But with boarding complete and departure approaching, 1E had not showed up. The gate agent entered the aircraft with a new boarding pass for the passenger at the top of the waitlist, but the passenger promptly refused, saying he was comfortable in his coach seat.
The agent laughed and scurried out to clear the next person. Back she came with a new boarding pass. The conversation with the next passenger on the list, however, went like this:
AGENT: Sir, you’ve been upgraded to first class. Here is your new boarding pass.
CUSTOMER: Oh, okay. Is there bin space up there?
AGENT: Let me check. (checking) Yes, there is.
CUSTOMER: Uh, forget it. It’s a short flight anyway.
It was now pushback time and the agent threw up her arms and said “I can’t give away this first class seat!” I thought she was going to go back and try once more, but as stepped off, she just shut the aircraft door behind her. The seat remained unoccupied.
I was the beneficiary of a similar situaiton once on a Philadelphia – Houston flight, where the passenger #1 on the waitlist was cleared due to a no-show but refused the upgrade because he had an exit row to himself. I got the seat instead and gladly took it.
For me, even with legroom better in Economy Plus than in row one, I would never turn down an upgrade if traveling alone. Would you?
The gate agent is advised to take a manifest down and ask passengers next time if they wish to upgrade before she clears them.