Flying with status is great, and upgrades make it even better. Usually it’s good news when upgrades happen in advance – I love seeing the notification on my phone and in my inbox. But sometimes it can complicate matters more than help, specifically when traveling with a child in premium cabins.
Last Minute Upgrades Are Common
As an American Airlines Gold Advantage member, I don’t usually clear in advance. To be honest, even last year as a Platinum the occasion was rare which is why I didn’t see much point in trying to maintain my status. Since my three year-old (also Gold with AA) and I often travel with my husband who is an Executive Platinum, we tend to use his upgrades over our own. On those rare occasions that we fly without my husband, the upgrades clear last minute and can sometimes split up our seats causing the hassle of rearranging ourselves or others.
Though upgrades can clear up to 24 hours in advance, they rarely do. That gives little time to plan ahead or make adjustments. I am always grateful for an upgrade, but a little more advance notice would help.
Upgrades on Day of Travel Don’t Let You Pick Your Seat
With American, 500-mile requested upgrades are done automatically when the space is released. That leaves only whatever seats are not yet confirmed for other passengers. I knew there was a possibility that these upgrades may cause inconvenience to another passenger and I had hoped to get the seating arrangements resolved quickly and in a way that would not cause anyone hassle.
Unlike the seats we select well in advance that are together and in an advantageous location, day-of-travel seat assignments are essentially a grab bag. I wish that there was some way to secure your seat but avoid actual selection until later.
Other Customers Are Inconvenienced
On two of four recent flights, my daughter and I (both Gold) cleared. On one such flight three of us (including my husband, an Executive Platinum) all cleared into different rows and spread out over the cabin. We alerted the checkin staff at the gate who tried to reach out to another passenger and arrange a switch prior to boarding.
The staff was unable to reach him prior to boarding but had already switched his seat to accommodate us. The other passenger wasn’t happy, but the gate agent simply stated that he was not going to split up a family and have the child seated by a stranger. I might not be happy either if I was traveling alone, but his seat was still in first and frankly, it was a 45 minute flight – it wasn’t really a big deal.
I don’t want to inconvenience any other passengers, maybe he paid for his first class seat in advance and really wanted 3A instead of 6A. It also seemed like a little bit of an over reaction though given the short flight time and that he was in the same cabin, on the same side of the plane, just three rows back.
Upgrades Are Earned and We Aren’t Giving Them Up
Some elites sharing first class with us don’t believe my three year-old even deserves to fly in a premium cabin. They have said so much directly to our faces, commented on blog posts, and say even more than that with their looks of disdain.
But she has just as much of a right as any other elite or (paid ticket or award) flier. We are fortunate that we have the opportunities to fly as often as we do and that my daughter enjoys it so much. It’s been a dream she appreciates it every time we fly whether we are in the front, middle or back of the plane. She gets excited about plane rides and doesn’t mind being confined even for 15 hours at a time.
We believe airplane etiquette and manners are important – please and thank you to the flight attendants, headphones for devices, low talking voice, no seat kicking or even feet on the bulkhead, many of which some adults can’t seem to manage. If there is an emotional breakdown we quickly try to calm her down or remove her and go for a walk. I can count on one hand the number of times from her first flight at 8 weeks old, to now some 250+ flights later that she has had a meltdown in the air and we have never, ever let her “cry it out”.
She has earned her upgrades the hard way, just like every other elite and met all of the requirements. Simply put, we won’t give them up to sit together nor to accommodate a passenger that has already decided what a child’s behavior will be before she has sat down in her seat.
What’s the solution
Can American and other carriers mark families traveling together or flag particularly young travelers on their own ticket like my three-year old? I wouldn’t want to give up one of the few upgrades I clear as a Gold and don’t think I should have to, but I also don’t know what the right answer is.
First class domestic cabins are small and getting smaller. There are rarely two open seats together but it seems like maybe passengers could get an alert and proactively move to another seat to accommodate the family.
The alternative is sitting next to a three-year old or their mother, neither of whom is going to be particularly happy during the flight. Is that better?
What do you think? Is there an easier solution I am missing?