Paying It Forward This Holiday Season, Gifting Upgraded Seats to Those It Means the Most

The first time I realized that you could give away an upgrade was a Flyertalk.com thread perhaps 15 years ago where a member was on a challenge to give away all their upgrades for a period of time, maybe it was one of the folks whom I later served with as Delta forum moderator.

There’s always a bit of a question as to whether a seat you’re upgraded into is your to do with as you please, or if you don’t take the upgrade whether it belongs to the next person on the list? (You know what the next person on the list thinks.)

Recently there’s been much press over United CEO Oscar Munoz giving away his first class seat to an elderly passenger. And last year blogger God Save the Points turned it into a game, if you caught him during your travels you could have his upgraded seat.

It surprises me how people don’t think about the little niceties they can do for others when they fly. For instance how often does an airline club member guest someone in need into the lounge? My guess is that when we travel we don’t take the time to get to know what’s going on with fellow passengers. Frankly it can be awkward or stilted to try. I know I’d hate to seem creepy approaching a stranger, even if it’s to do something nice for them.

One way to overcome both the question of appropriateness and the awkwardness of dealing with the passenger you’re helping directly is to enlist the help of a flight attendant, as a man flying American Airlines from Orlando to Philadelphia on Thursday seems to have done.

He gave up his first class seat to a mother and her lap infant. She was traveling not just with her baby, stroller, and diaper bag but an oxygen machine for her child as they headed to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

And for the mom it seemed to make all the difference in the world, certainly more than a domestic first class seat on a flight blocked at under two and a half hours for someone who flies up front all the time. He enlisted the flight attendant, who went over to the mother to tell her the passenger in 2D wanted to switch seats with her.

Not able to hold back tears, I cried my way up the aisle while my daughter Lucy laughed! She felt it in her bones too… real, pure, goodness. I smiled and thanked you as we switched but didn’t get to thank you properly.

..Not just for the seat itself but for noticing. For seeing us and realizing that maybe things are not always easy. For deciding you wanted to show a random act of kindness to US. It reminded me how much good there is in this world. I can’t wait to tell Lucy someday. In the meantime… we will pay it forward. AA 588 passenger in seat 2D, we truly feel inspired by your generosity.

Bear in mind this is a bigger sacrifice for the man than it might seem. They were on a legacy US Airways Airbus A321 aircraft that doesn’t even have a main cabin extra seating section at the front (not that the mother would have been in one of those seats). Then again ship 180 doesn’t appear to have satellite internet yet either (or seat power) so he likely wasn’t giving up much productivity sitting in back either.

How do you feel about this, though? Should anyone with a first class seat — paid or upgraded — feel free to do with it as they please? Does it matter whom they give the seat to? Or should anyone choosing not to use their first class seat vacate that seat for the next person on the upgrade list?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Do what you want. Alaska attendants didn’t care that i have my FC seat to my disabled aunt so she wouldn’t have to attempt to walk back who knows where. And going to the restroom would be tough.

    On an Intl flight i think they are much more severe about limiting access. Though when i did the same for my mom flying Singapore, they let me move up to an empty cabin during landing.

  2. One time I did this and there was another empty seat in F and the gate agent came and got me and moved me back to F, I think over others who were waiting on the upgrade list. She also blew my cover because I had asked her just to switch us silently and not point me out. It was all very weird and a little uncomfortable but the guy deserved the seat and he was grateful and whatever. I would have preferred if the extra seat in F had gone via the upgrade list but it wasn’t my decision.

    I’ve been a little reluctant to try it again but this story makes m ant to give a look around the boarding area next time I’m in F. In the end, I don’t really regard it as my seat or not my seat, but think it’s the GA’s decision. If they allow it I won’t feel bad and if they reject it I will just take my seat.

  3. One time I did this and there was another empty seat in F and the gate agent came and got me and moved me back to F, I think over others who were waiting on the upgrade list. She also blew my cover because I had asked her just to switch us silently and not point me out. It was all very weird and a little uncomfortable but the guy deserved the seat and he was grateful and whatever. I would have preferred if the extra seat in F had gone via the upgrade list but it wasn’t my decision.

    I’ve been a little reluctant to try it again but this story makes me want to give a look around the boarding area next time I’m in F. In the end, I don’t really regard it as my seat or not my seat, but think it’s the GA’s decision. If they allow it I won’t feel bad and if they reject it I will just take my seat.

  4. When I had a United Club membership I’d guest people in all the time. Usually the people who were turned away by the lounge attendant because flying domestic first doesn’t get you lounge access. I’d just say to the attendant he/she is my guest and walk them in, wish them a nice flight and go do whatever I was going to do.

  5. This is a great story showing how a little human kindness can make a huge difference.

    Once the seat is assigned to you it is yours for the duration of the flight and you are free to switch seats if you desire. However you got there, paid seat or upgrade by virtue of earned status, it does not matter. Once it is yours you are free to switch.

    The airlines make it clear they can switch your seat any time for any reason so obviously they should not care if you do the same.

  6. Back when I flew enough to be Platinum and receive upgrades, I would give up the seat to a military person (I’d try to pick the lowest ranking individual). I’d coordinate with the gate agent who most of the time would make the switch and I’d remain anonymous. A few times, they’d put me in an empty FC seat if available (this was before the AA/US Air merger and Platinum Plus). If it had to be done on the plane, the AA attendants handled it with little fanfare. All in all the AA agents and attendants were great to work with.

  7. When I used to travel for business I had accumulated both miles and upgrades I would watch the boarding area for a traveler who I felt could use a little more space and comfort. I watched one elderly couple get on my flight in Iowa and fly to Denver where they changed planes for Portland, Oregon. I went up to their gate agent and asked if I could upgrade the couple to FC. The agent was taken back and immediately said yes and then went even further by having the airline pick up one of the upgrades. On a number of occasions I have given up FC to the military who are flying in uniform. It is a great way to thank them for their service.

  8. Cathy Beck said it best!
    Such gestures demonstrate our better natures!
    Thank God for the gift of being charitable!

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