Sometimes Gate Agents Fail to Process Upgrades, and Elites are Just Hosed

Earlier this year I wrote about how it often looks like gate agents process upgrades incorrectly, but there are perfectly innocent explanations that customers usually don’t see.

Whether it’s a three cabin aircraft and business to first class upgrades looking like someone skipping the upgrade queue over someone in coach, or someone being added to the list after upgrades have already been processed, out of order upgrade lists don’t always mean something was done wrong.

At the same time, things sometimes do appear to be done wrong. I was flying Dallas Fort-Worth – Boston and I was in seat 5E. The flight began boarding early so a couple of minutes before scheduled boarding time group four was already on the plane. First class overhead bins were full.

Throughout the boarding process 4B remained empty. We pushed back and 4B was still empty. We took off and 4B was empty.

There were 16 people on the upgrade list. On the American Airlines mobile app it appeared as though no upgrades were processed at the gate.

It turns out:

  • an Executive Platinum’s upgrade was processed, but that passenger sat in back, apparently unaware of the upgrade
  • there were nonrevs waiting to take the flight however that list appears not to have been processed, even though we took off with empty seats in back (and in front).

Had nonrevs been cleared onto the flight someone would have had a boarding pass with the coach seat that our Executive Platinum presumably flew in and they would have learned 4B was for them.

It turns out this Executive Platinum member probably got a free buy on board sandwich in back, while the special meal I ordered was miscatered. They did have the tray to the kosher meal, but everything on it was completely frozen. Maybe not having an upgrade processed isn’t a total loss, after all.

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. My flight ORD -> RIC went out w/ 4, yes FOUR, empty first class seats. I’m usually offered the upgrade purchase ($77 for this flight) when I check in, but wasn’t yesterday. Would’ve gladly paid the $230 for my family to sit up there (the extra space is a god send w/ a lap infant).

  2. After missing my flight from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta, my standby on the next flight was not cleared when my coworker, who has much less status than me, was. After checking with the gate agent, I discovered that they had somehow checked me in on the earlier flight so didn’t think I was still standing by. The agent ended up “unclearing” another standby who had not yet checked in at the desk.

  3. Gary, sorry for your bad experience. As compensation you will be receiving a complimentary copy of American Way magazine

  4. Why am not surprised? AA living up to it’s slogan: AA = Always Awful when possible.

    AA XP? Expect to get hosed unless you happen to get lucky.

  5. I never see empty F seats on UA. Half the seats may not be assigned at T-24 and it goes out 100% full on departure.

  6. I still can’t get overthe fact you voluntarily order the kosher meal. As someone who only eats kosher, it’s just hard to imagine it’s actually better. Maybe grass is always greener…

  7. I was on AA242 ATL-DFW 2 wks ago sitting in 4B and 4A was empty with 55 on the upgrade list. No one cared less. Last week when I boarded AA242 I was #1 of 45 on the upgrade list sitting in 7C first row of coach aisle and there was an employee sitting in 4B. I complained explained (I had to repeat myself 5 times, she never understood what I was saying the first four times) to the lady with a manager vest about the experience the week before and she said “mistakes happen”. This flight, she actually asked the employee in 4B to get up and take 7C so I could have 4B but that is only when I brought it up multiple times to multiple people at different locations.

  8. I can count on zero hands the number of times I’ve ever seen upgrades not processed by a Delta gate agent. Not only that, but if you scan your boarding pass, you’ll get a new seat assignment printed out at the BP scanner — even if you’ve already updated your mobile phone boarding pass with your new upgraded seat. There’s literally no way to not know you’ve been upgraded if you have.

  9. Have seen this 3 times in last month on UA. On a flight from London, there were 3 seats open in Polaris and I called the purser over and asked why no one got upgraded. His straight-faced answer was ” Gate agent’s role and oops door is now closed…” SOB

  10. Hosed is the right word. Airplane food was/is/always will be terrible (on domestic carriers).

    Both you and the hosed EP got a lousy free meal.

    You got a better seat, better legroom, better overhead bin space, lav with less waiting time, and less engine noise in the forward cabin. On a three hour plus flight. And a blanket.

    The EP got none of that. Wonder what the fare difference between the two of you was . . .

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