Let me upgrade you

The flight attendant stated, “we are serving lunch today and would you like the chicken enchilada or the pasta meal with salad?”  The choices were simple, the mere fact I now had choices made me think, “I love my life right now”.  This three-hour flight started as a middle seat in coach and through a series of circumstances, evolved into a first class window seat with all the comforts and perquisites included.

In the grand scheme, passengers get first class upgrades all the time. Frequent travelers are rewarded by airlines for purchasing seats at a premium and remaining brand loyal.  People with expense accounts or disposable incomes can swipe a card and bypass the masses in the rear of the jet. Nevertheless, for most people, the average Joe or Jane, partially or fully employed, with minimal means, any flight is a luxury item and an escape from whatever their daily lives entail. A great example of this person shared the check-in kiosk with me today. She clearly had no understanding of travel, and how to act or react to the process of arrival at the desk and moving toward a flight.  She just needed to fly to a destination, and I surmised, today’s flight may be an event that happens to her once in a decade.  She was intimidated by the screen, the prompts, the words in front of her, and the agent that provided little of any direction to her.  Once she received her bag tags, we lost contact but in my mind, understood that kiosk was just the first of many hurdles for her before she arrived at her destination

For me, I consider myself a seasoned traveler, having had jobs that paid for frequent travel and allowing for the great upgrades, free tickets, and extra assistance that comes with being seen as a preferred member. These jobs allowed me to be in the clique with the flight attendants, pilots, and other business travelers fluent in the secret language needed to lower the stress that comes with flying. However, those luxuries are now in my past, as I work in a mid-level job that has zero travel opportunity and a nominal income that brings angst whenever I need to book a flight.


Instead of longing for what once was though, I can now take comfort in the knowledge gained during those high-flying times and apply them to situations that I find myself in today. On my present income, it would be foolhardy to pay for a first-class seat, so now I monitor sales, search endlessly on multiple websites, and then purchase the fare that will not completely derail my monthly budget.  I refuse to devolve into renditions of “if I only had a better job” or I wish I stayed so I wouldn’t have to pay for this, or whatever the negative thought might decide to come and visit that day.  What I do is deal with where I am, and understand this is a good place, then apply what I know to make the most out of the experience.

This leads to how I found myself in 3A instead of 6B.  Using the knowledge from days of yore, I arrived at the airport in the mindset of avoiding all the minefields, and additional fees, that encounter travelers. Because of the number of events I am attending, I had to bring three bags, which would result in paying at a minimum $60 to check in two, and carry on the third.  This was not at all an ideal scenario, so I utilized the right luggage only needing to check one, as defined by airline policy.  Twenty-five dollars gone is never a good thing, but compared to $60, I will take that anytime. Before leaving though, I engaged the agent in conversation and tried to find a way out of my middle seat.  The response was affirmative, but not without an additional $41 to secure the exit row or $35 for an aisle.  When doing the math, the perceived comfort of purchasing either option ranged from paying $11.67 to $13.67 per hour. This, for maybe an extra two inches of space, was not a wise fiscal move so I declined.  How many times have you been faced with a financial scenario similar to this? For some, $35/$41 is not too much to pay for comfort, but what can that buy in the long run? Moreover, is that truly an investment that provides a return on investment? For me, the answer is no, so I kept my seat in 6B then proceeded to the security gate.

Here, I am welcomed to the joy of TSA, the dreaded Transportation Security Agency checkpoints, where passengers are subjected to every question and procedure just short of “drop your pants and spread ‘em”.  I have been to this particular terminal long enough to know that utilizing the TSA area furthest from my gate would cut my wait in half.  For me, my time is a valuable resource and the stress of standing in a line for 30 to 45 minutes was worth the extra walk.  The walk also provided the extra movement passengers should have prior to boarding an airplane, a pressurized cabin where blood pools in the legs and air is recirculated and not always filtered to what some scientist consider healthy levels.

The extra time not standing in lines provided 40 minutes of “dead time” where I could walk the airport or sit in the departure gate and people watch. Instead, I proceeded to the airline club room to wait in a different level of comfort.  These airline club rooms are amazing locations where travelers can watch television, read current periodicals, enjoy Wi-Fi, and obtain snacks and drinks such as coffee, juices, and alcoholic beverages at no additional cost.  Although I travel less frequently, I decided years ago this was a benefit I always wanted, regardless of how infrequently I fly, so I maintain a credit card where the yearly membership fee includes visits to the club rooms at no cost.  When I look at how utilizing this room saves money on snacks, drinks and the access to a place to relax and charge my devices while using Wi-Fi, this is money well spent. The other advantage to these rooms is the access to airline agents that can at times make your flight much more enjoyable, by, for example, finding alternate seats.  On this particular visit, I inquired about a seat change but this agent was not able to get me out of this middle seat.

Boarding time was approaching so I left the comfort of the club room to find my gate. The travel industry has changed over the years and with consolidation, staff is becoming much leaner. This has led to many employees wearing dual hats at some locations and on this day, the previously unhelpful agent I noticed on arrival had transitioned to working this gate.  Immediately, I engaged her with one real intention, getting out of this middle seat. With the most charming smile I could muster, I started asking questions and seeing what options I had for moving. With the consolidation, I mentioned earlier, this also means most flights are leaving full and many times oversold. There were no options for moving, but not taking no for an answer, I created some scenarios for her and asked how I could assist her. You see, the friendly, helpful passenger is the unicorn that shows up to flights. Airline employees are increasingly dealing with frustrated and angry passengers that have no mercy on them and kick and scream at will whenever something is not the way they want it. These complaints are not always without merit when you consider it wasn’t long ago there were no baggage fees, fees for aisle seats, movies and/or radio stations on flights, and meals, or at least bags of snacks were provided to all passengers when the beverage cart came through. There was a joy and pleasantry in travel that has been removed and now an adversarial relationship between passenger and airline is common. Sadly, the average traveler does not take time to realize the person they frequently encounter at the terminal had no say in changing the way we fly, nor can change any policy people perceive as inconvenient, unfair, or just plain dumb. These are also employees that are not highly compensated and frankly, just trying to earn a living and make it through their shift. When unicorn does appear to this team member, their responses can have a wonderful effect on the traveler.  For me, this turned into my gate agent becoming insightful and creative.  She had no reason AT ALL to find me a better seat, but when she said, “just wait near me a few minutes” my hope meter sprang up quickly.  There were also a few key phrases I have used through the years (that I am absolutely not sharing with you, thank you!) that I have been time tested to improve my chances.  Ultimately, the combination of patience, cordiality, and persistence, led to a last minute, last seat available on the flight, change to first class, seat 3A.

Loving my life right now allowed for the extra space and legroom to work with my computer and create this document. It led to a hot meal, with real silverware, unlimited drinks, and even a slice of Key Lime pie. Loving my life meant that I needed to not be upset that I don’t have the means to purchase my way to all the comforts I enjoy, it means I should take extra time to see how I can do just a little extra to improve my situation, using the tools at my disposal to make life better.

Sure, this trip includes another flight, 4.5 hours in length, and it will most certainly be in the seat assigned. However, regardless of outcome, I can enjoy the rest of my journey because I started on the right foot, with a positive outlook, a pleasant disposition, and was rewarded by the universe for taking an approach that included spreading smiles to strangers, and enjoying where my life is, right now.

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