You cannot self-upgrade. If you see an empty first class seat, you can’t just take it. I have never, ever seen it actually work. What I’ve seen it passengers who tried it being embarrassed, and I’ve seen passengers escalate matters when they’re sent to the back and get kicked off the plane.
You used to be able to take any empty seat in coach once doors closed. That was great because sometimes you could grab a row of seats to yourself on a long haul flight (I used to do this myself flying to Australia as a kid in coach), or maybe there’d be an empty exit row seat. Sometimes you just want to spread out.
But now that airlines sell specific seats for more money, including extra legroom seats, the rules are a bit more complicated. You can probably move around within the coach cabin as long as you’re not taking an empty extra legroom seat. You should probably ask a flight attendant, because your ability to change seats is really at their discretion. They might even allow one of those better seats!
You Can’t Just Sit Down In An Empty First Class Seat
You’re still not going to be able to just move up to business or first class, though, sorry. A viral flight attendant video shuts down passengers trying to self-upgrade, and explains how she handles those who do.
- She tells them that upgrades have to be handled by gate agents. She doesn’t have to be the one telling them no. It’s similar to how my dad taught me to sell cars as a kid. You’re always on the side of the customer, it’s the faceless ‘guy up in the tower’ or manager who’s being difficult.
- It almost works, though, when customers try to charm their way into first class.
Just a few months ago, this guy walked on the flight and was like, ‘You’re so pretty. Like, this is the most beautiful cabin crew I’ve ever seen
But then when he asked for a first class seat she realized he wasn’t being genuine with his compliment.
- Upgrading someone on board could get them fired.
@destanieaaa Replying to @LilyNoa Hehehe… go back to 34B now :))) #flightattendant ♬ Aesthetic – Gaspar
Some airlines do allow on board upgrades. First, gate agents for U.S. airlines are usually supposed to come on board and upgrade someone on a wait list if a first class seat winds up empty (for instance, a passenger doesn’t make their connection or no shows). Second, some carriers like Emirates will even process upgrades – including mileage upgrades – on board.
You Can Upgrade Into An Empty First Class Seat On Emirates
But in these cases it’s never about picking someone you like, or letting a passenger aggressively self-upgrade. Sometimes a gate agent will upgrade at their discretion. Usually everyone on an upgrade list has already been bumped up, and either for weight and balance reasons or because coach is oversold someone has to get bumped up. There’s usually an order (such as based on status) for these upgrades, but in order to get a flight out on time there may be some latitude such as upgrading someone that hasn’t boarded yet. This is called an ‘operational upgrade’. It’s still not a self-upgrade!
American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER First Class
The flight attendant in the video suggests using an airline’s co-brand card for upgrades. That’s not entirely wrong. Having help towards status and having miles is part of getting upgraded. You can sometimes redeem your miles, and be higher up in the queue if you have status, though usually not just the credit card alone.
In the end dressing nicely and whispering revenue management won’t get you first class, and neither will pretending to be a cocktail even though cocktails are free in first class.