American Reminding Gate Agents Not to Skip Upgrading Passengers Who Aren’t at the Gate

Three years ago I wrote about the problem of gate agents skipping over people for upgrades if they weren’t waiting at the gate. American has just sent out a memo addressing this problem.

American’s rules do not require you to be at the gate in order to get an upgrade you’re waitlisted for. You even see whether you’re upgraded on the mobile app, and don’t need a new boarding pass from a gate agent. Nonetheless agents would assume that anyone not there when their name gets called isn’t coming (as opposed to working productively in the Admirals Club or getting some food). And since they’re under pressure to push back exactly on time (“D0”) they don’t want to deal with upgrade issues just before doors close. They were skipping steps – and customers.

Well the airline is finally doing something about it. In a ‘non-urgent advisory’ sent October 18th they notified agents that customers can see their place on the upgrade list using the app, and get their own upgraded boarding pass.

This means they’re able to remain in the Admirals Club or other parts of the airport until shortly before flight departure, so they may not be present at the gate when their name is called for the upgrade.

The airline doesn’t explicitly say agents may not skip over customers who aren’t in the gate area. However they do describe it as a “best practice” that once upgrades have been processed to “not release these seats to other customers until D-15-D-11.”

This does mean, by the way, that while doors are supposed to close 10 minutes out you may lose your seat if you don’t board by 15 minutes prior to departure.

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 was skipped for Upgrade on DFW-MIA flight just last week even though I was at gate 35 min before departure. CSR said for wide-body flights, you must arrive 45 min before. On DL your upgrade is just processed as you board – no fuss

  2. I believe that the shuffling of leadership will start to see changes in the customer experience and handling of these types of situations. Let’s hope the 737 density is corrected soon, the A321 reconfig is as good as or same as DL’s and a huge improvement of amenities verses the old US Air set up.

    Light and glimmer of hope or a train coming at me, leaning toward the hope side.

  3. Please provide context. In a lot of instances, some passengers dont have enough 500 mile upgs to process the upgrade or maybe the passenger is on a delayed connection and won’t make it. You should be at the gate waiting to board. If you’re in the Admiral’s Club, check in at the club so they can note that you’re there and won’t miss the upgrade.

  4. I wish they would send gate agents a memo and tell them not to start boarding early. As a weekly flyer I usually get to the gate just as they’re starting the pre-boarding. I found that even if they board five minutes early, that puts me halfway into the boarding line, which means I’m going to end up checking my bag usually on the older planes American flies.

  5. Lol, this article has so many holes , gets facts straight . And per FA contract we are not allowed to board early… have a great day be at your gate 30 before boarding unless your connection is late and yes we can see you are late and we will hold your upgrade if we know you will make it in time… have a great day!!!

  6. I was number 1 on the upgrade list, sitting at the gate when number 2 was cleared and not me. They never called my name. I went to the desk and asked why they cleared someone lower on the list. They said they didn’t know I was there. They ended up giving me the upgrade and apologized to #2. That was at DFW.

  7. They are making it almost impossible for the agents to work a flight. If you wanna upgrade be at the gate at lea 30 minutes prior to departure

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