Dear Frequent Flyer, Your Airline’s Just Not That Into You

Every road warrior has stories – good and bad – about their favorite airline.  But the thing is, for most people who have a favorite airline that they use the most frequently, those good stories outweigh the bad.  The “Hey, the flight attendant on yesterday’s flight was so nice because X and Y” stories outweigh the crappy, “Girl, you betta check yourself!” stories.  But make no mistake about it – the airline is a business, and they couldn’t really care less about you.  Your money? Yes.  But you?  Not so much.

Sure there are nice amenities to be had out there.  Complimentary access to lounges, free upgrades, and free drinks.  People who travel a lot get free baggage on the “big” airlines, whereas four of the top five airlines (Alaska, Delta, American, and United) will charge a fee for regular travelers.  As far as I know, Southwest is still the last hold out, and doesn’t charge.  Then again, Southwest doesn’t have the niceties that the other big airlines have – namely a first class section, nor parters that will get you halfway around the world on points alone.

But even with things like upgrades, nothing is a given anymore.  As an Alaska Airlines frequent flyer, I used to get complimentary upgrades on Delta when they were partners.  But it went from a routine thing to a more unusual thing. And by unusual, I mean that they would try and do their damndest to sell that seat out from under your “cheap” ass.  Why do I say cheap?  Because you were going to get it for free, and the airline is there to do one thing – make money for their investors.  So even if there were half a dozen seats open on a Delta flight and I was the only person on the upgrade list, Delta would do their damndest to sell those seats instead of upgrading me per their agreement with Alaska.

And now Alaska seems to be doing it as well.  No matter where you are on the upgrade list, if you haven’t been upgraded before a flight, don’t expect it to happen when you get to the airport.  On Alaska, I’m personally at 96% of my million miler status, and are one of the highest elites out there.  I could – and do – buy instant upgrade tickets so that the “perk” of having to leave my husband every week to go to work at least happens in a roomier cabin, with people who don’t touch you constantly and flight attendants who don’t splash you with errant liquids from the drink cart parked in the middle aisle.  Of course you don’t always get upgraded, and that’s a fact of flying.  But what’s gotten worse, is that now Alaska is in the habit of selling that seat out from under you.  Or at least me.  I’ve watched it happen countless times as I’ll be first on the upgrade list starting 24 hours before the flight, and there’ll be a seat or two open.  But once I get to the airport for my flight, suddenly there’s a new name on the list, they’re above my name, and they have that coveted upgrade seat.

Now I’m not saying that the people of your favorite airline, from the gate agents to the pilots to the cabin crew, don’t like you.  They more than likely do – especially if you make their job easy by being an easy flyer or maybe bring them a treat.  But the airline as a whole?  They don’t see you as a person.  You’re a frequent flyer number that’s a source of revenue to them.  Anything else that happens to occur that might be good or bad for you?  They really couldn’t care less.

In my book, “A Million Miles Amok“, I warn people not to let fancy things like upgrades and the like spoil you, though I myself have been spoiled.  But I think it’s becoming more and more transparent as of late; the airline wants you for your money, and really not much else.

The golden age of travel is, indeed, dead.

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