An American Airlines passenger complained on social media that he and his girlfriend were upgraded on an Embraer E-175 regional jet flight, but his girlfriend was ‘kicked out’ due to a broken seat. She was moved to economy, he says, but then a pilot sat in the broken seat. The American Airlines twitter team responded, “Oh my” but I think the passenger misunderstood the situation – in addition to raising all sorts of triggering questions about his girlfriend being sent to the back while he continued to enjoy first class.
You all are terrible. You (gate agent) upgraded my girlfriend and I to first class. You kick her out because broken seat move her to the back. Then pilot sits in said broken seat. pic.twitter.com/F1I69By3az
— Jake Williams (@jwilliams0787) November 8, 2023
While there isn’t full information about this situation, it’s something we’re going to see more frequently than before. On day of departure, American’s deadheading pilots will have priority over passengers for upgrades. If there was a broken seat that the pilot was in, that pilot will be ahead of passengers upgraded at the gate for a first class seat, and American will need to downgrade the last passenger upgraded. So this is something we’ll see,
- A passenger moved due to a broken seat, but not their broken seat
- A pilot in uniform flying on duty (not commuting) in order to operate a flight and having a higher upgrade priority at the gate. That pilot would be cleared into first class before passengers at the gate.
One of the items that pilots got in their new contract this summer was first class deadheading – flying first class when not piloting an aircraft between segments that they’re working on a trip. This is broadly similar to a benefit that United pilots won three years ago.
- This promotes well-rested pilots. Larger seats are more comfortable and less stressful.
- However, pilot unions have argued for years that the U.S. has the safest air transportation system in the world without this benefit – as a defense to barriers to entry into the profession which drive up their wages.
This is a union bargained perk, for better quality of life at work. It’s something that United pilots achieved during the pandemic when the airline was trying to avoid pilot furloughs by allowing more junior cockpit crew access to flight hours by reducing minimum guaranteed hours. The union demanded a concession in exchange for not furloughing its members, and this was one of those concessions. American’s pilot deal matches this.
When I was a ConciergeKey member on a coach ticket I frequently would be number one on the upgrade list at the gate for one remaining first class seat. Now, if there was a deadheading pilot on the aircraft, that seat would go to the pilot instead of the ConciergeKey on the upgrade list. It’s a very real question whether the airline is being run for the employees rather than customers, at least for pilot employees.
American Airlines has been successful in selling first class seats like they never have before, so some pilots will still be disappointed to have a low upgrade success rate like an Executive Platinum in recent times.