Flying First Class When You’re Not Old or White Enough and China’s Plan to Destroy Boeing

News and notes from around the interweb:

  • Should foreign pilot training be scrutinized as much as the Boeing 737 MAX itself?

  • Marshall Auerback claims it’s a big mistake for Boeing and Airbus to manufacture planes in China because China will steal the technology and use it to make their own planes, and won’t need Boeing and Airbus anymore (“signing economic suicide pacts”).

    That doesn’t seem quite correct to me. The missing piece for Chinese industry is not manufacturing but engineering and China already has heavy maintenance facilities doing much the same thing as is criticized here. This will not uniquely lead to Chinese competition which – if coming – Boeing and Airbus cannot stop in any case.

  • Hotel occupancy rates are down year-over-year though rates are still up slightly.

  • Great data (thread) on Washington National airport with some Dulles spliced in for good measure.

  • This isn’t unique to Delta, but Delta certainly owes an apology. There’s a lot of assumption around who flies first class — middle aged white men. Too young? Too female? Not white? Gate agents and flight attendants sometimes assume you don’t belong.

  • An investigative report on when Airbnb goes wrong. I’ve always been concerned about host cancellations, which happen all too often. Hotels walk guests too of course. (HT: Reid F.)

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, 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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  1. I’m a GS on United and the worst offenders of “you don’t belong” aren’t the staff, but other flyers who assume that since I’m not middle aged and white, they can just cut in front of me in line when GS are called to board. It’s blatant too. If I’m second behind another white dude. they’ll cut in front of me but not in front of the other guy. I don’t usually call them out though because it doesn’t practically matter if I board 2nd or 3rd on a 250 pax flight.

  2. My wife is AA EXP and has always been treated great by the airline. She also got white glove service when Diamond on DL, including a had written letter on her seat thanking for flying with them.
    I agree other “front of the cabin” passengers are the real problem. I loved what an AA FA said to one passenger when my wife sat down next to them and he said to her “oh did your husband give you his seat?” and the AA FA who sees my wife frequently responded “No. . .she earned her seat. . .oh and your not in the correct seat sir, your in 5 A, not 4 A” and he had to move to coach! I am sure he is one of the SOBs that complains about AA!

  3. Agreed other flyers are usually the worst and staff is typically cautious (although it did happen to me once at 25 wearing sweats). Was traveling with my 4 month old recently and immediately old white guy goes “oh this isn’t family boarding”. Of course he was my seatmate in first!

  4. I’ve flown in business and first with a buddy who’s African American and my kids flew together (but without adults) at ages 14 and 16 from Hong Kong to JFK in first as well and there was no hint of surprise on the part of the flight crew. They were Asian-based airlines, however (Asiana, Cathay, Singapore, EVA, Thai) where perhaps the crew aren’t as free with their personal views as on US based carriers.

  5. I gave first class to my niece for her honeymoon. She told me that one of the other passengers kept staring at her when she sat down. She looks like she a teenager. I asked her what she did, she said she just stared at him until he looked away. Good for her.

  6. If foreign airlines thought they could throw 737 certified pilots at the 737-Max then they should be re-educated. Either Boeing didn’t notify the new plane was not just another 737 model or airlines should be held responsible for not adequately training pilots.

  7. Why even ask? Just take a look at the boarding pass, which the passenger is going to have to display anyway. I’m not sure about Delta, but AA boarding passes have PRIORITY stamped all over them when you fly in first, so a single glance will answer that question without resulting in a lot of hurt feelings if the assumption is inaccurate.

    That being said, I’m a middle aged white guy, and I’ve been asked the same question before, often entering into the priority lines for check-in or security. Once, at 3 AM in LAS, waiting for the check-in counters to open, there are 5 of us in the Priority line and about 200 people waiting in the regular line. Half a dozen times, every time an employee walked past, they confirmed that all of us were flying first class.

    As far as the video goes, it’s clear the gate agent made an assumption about what class his wife was flying in. Was it based on race? Was it based on attire? Did he not question the next passenger in line because he just scored a last minute upgrade and the gate agent remembers him from that interaction. Of course, we don’t know the exact nature of the interaction. For all we know, he just confirmed that the first person in the first class line was in fact flying first class, assuming that others in line would overhear and if they are in the wrong line, take the hint and move.

  8. I fly my 17 year old in AA domestic F fairly often. The Avios cost is usually marginal & it comes with 2 free 70kg checked bags. Shes 17, I’m not paying $100 each way for her to bring all her clothes. This is the era of CEOs bearing sweatpants & billionaires wearing basketball shorts. It’s a bit ridiculous to think someone flying that super lux A320 with no seat power, bad wifi, no IFE, ancient seats, etc. needs to have a certain appearance.

  9. It’s easy to be offended if you want to be. As a well-dressed white male, I was recently asked to show my room key at a hotel restaurant when I wanted to charge my meal to my room. I saw 2 other diners who were not asked to show their keys. Had I been black, I would have been 100% CERTAIN it was racism! Maybe I would have even “spoken to management.” 🙂

    I think it’s better to just brush off this petty, meaningless stuff, and not assume the worst about people. But that’s not a fashionable position these days.

  10. Sometimes when I am entering the first class line I get asked if I am travelling first class. I am white and I assume it is more to do with people not really knowing which line to form up in. Also, sometimes it is helpful because it means people in the wrong lane can get in the proper lane before it gets any longer.

  11. it could also be that people just feels SO important just because they sit in front (as for so many stupid things), and are super sensitive just because of it. To often there are self proclamed divas (m and f) just beeing pathetic thinking how special they are. those are the guys I stare at with disbelieve.

    sitting in front or in eco is not a big thing. just start with the assumption that EVERYBODY on the aircraft could afford to sit in front (I bet there is more truth in that, than we imagine).

    and people still thinking (and acting) in colors and genders and races… are the ones I do not waste my time with. I am color blind.

  12. Foreign Pilot training should be on the table for examination. Doesn’t mean Boeing is off the hook for not adequately disclosing MCAS or not putting Airspeed indicator warning lights as a mandatory feature instead of part of an option package, but foreign pilot training is that dark little secret that gets whispered about privately but rarely discussed openly…and not just foreign pilot training but the relationship between Captain and First Officer in foreign countries, particularly when the FO is female.

    Put it all on the table and look at it. It’s past time.

  13. You never really know about who’s in First. I recently flew down to Orlando for work, a route that seems to attract the worst flyers possible. My upgrade cleared so I was waiting close to the jet bridge door because I know that the moment people realize boarding is about to start, everyone gets up and clogs the boarding area. A couple in their late 50s (estimating here) who really didn’t look like they flew much (lots of questions to the gate agents, not dressed very nicely, just seemed really confused) were standing right where the boarding line would form. I remember being annoyed that they would clog up the process. Surprise–they were flying in first and I learned on the flight that they had saved up for a special trip that included Orlando attractions and a cruise out of Cape Canaveral. This was their trip of a lifetime and they splurged on the first class seats. The man even joked about how they figured no one would believe they were actually sitting in first class. The flight attendants could not have been nicer to them (AA) and one of the pilots even came out and thanked them for their business and wished them a wonderful vacation. I admit, I judged them wrong and I intend to keep this encounter in mind in the future.

  14. I had an incident a few years ago flying from Buffalo back home to the Bay Area… My first flight out of Buffalo had a mechanical issue, and then weather at JFK just ended up cascading.. there were a LOT of flights cancelled that day… but, with my first flight being a mechanical, I had priority.

    I was supposed to have left Buffalo around 6am and gotten into San Jose around 1pm Pacific… that was not to be. I ended up finally getting a JFK-SFO flight that left JFK around 7pm Eastern…
    I get my boarding pass and sit down (it’s been a long day already, and I’m wearing a sweatshirt and blue jeans) in my aisle seat… a well dressed lady comes and takes the window seat on the 757 in first… the first words out of her mouth were “you’re in my husband’s seat”. Nothing else.

    She kept that up for several minutes, and finally the flight attendant came over and asked what the issue was. The lady promptly says “this person is in my husband’s seat. My husband was supposed to be sitting next to me.” I gladly show my boarding pass with the seat assignment, which several gate agents and the lovely lady in the Crown Room (yes, that should tell you how long ago this was!) had marked up with words like “mechanical delay” “priority over Wx-delay passengers” “will take any bay area airport”, etc., and of course, my “Platinum” status (again, pre-Diamond!). The FA shows it to the lady sitting next to me and says that I’m in the right place. The lady’s boarding pass shows that she’s sitting next to me, and I think she was Silver. They went and found her husband’s boarding pass which did, indeed, show the seat I was in — marked through by the gate agent with the notation “involuntary downgrade — bumped by priority” on it.

    The flight attendant just said “I’m sorry. This is no longer your husband’s seat. He was bumped by a higher priority passenger (indicating me). There’s nothing I can do.”

    I sat back, and we ended up having a nice conversation most of the way to SFO — it turns out that she was an entertainment attorney going out on business. They’d both gotten upgraded until I bumped onto their flight… She later stated that it was primarily my appearance that made her so angry.. (I did notice that most of the other people on the JFK-SFO flight were dressed like businesspeople, but hey… I did that all week, and this was my way home!)

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