There are a plethora of perfectly good reasons for losing a first or business-class seat — take the guy who urinated all over his cabin or threatening cabin crew over your meal choice as good examples — but there’s a lesser-known reason that you can be kicked out of your hard-earned seat with little right to recourse.
A couple flying American Airlines found this out the hard way this week after they unexpectedly received an upgrade to first class only to have it snatched away from them a matter of minutes later. The passenger in question, Jake Williams, took to X (formerly Twitter) to express his outrage at the experience he and his girlfriend endured…
@AmericanAir— Jake Williams (@jwilliams0787) November 8, 2023
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
Pilots Get Priority
What happened, exactly? After being upgraded on the Embraer E-175 regional flight, Williams’ girlfriend was then downgraded to economy, made to sit at the very back of the plane, due to a “broken seat” Then, only a short few moments later, the apparently broken seat was occupied by a deadheading pilot.
For those not in the know, ‘deadheading’ is when an on-duty pilot has reached the required flying time to take a much-needed rest. Pilots in this situation have had upgrade priority over mere mortals for decades — no matter what condition the seat may be in — and a pilot in uniform at the gate also enjoys increased boarding priority.
As Gary Leff over at View From The Wing points out, we don’t have all the information here, but we can nevertheless have a closer look at what’s going on: American pilots gained this first-class deadheading perk in a newly negotiated contract, just as their colleagues at United did a few years back.
Why Do Pilots Get Upgraded?
The reasoning for this perk is obvious: a well-rested pilot is a happier, better, safer pilot. In short, they need the rest more than an average flyer does. Unsurprisingly, however, this union-bargained perk still manages to rub some people, such as Mr Williams, up the wrong way.
Here at DMARGE, we’re whole-hearted supporters of this policy. We understand that getting bumped out of your seat can be a hard pill to swallow and that, in an ideal world, airlines would avoid selling seats that are required for pilots (or, as in this case, upgrading passengers into those seats) in the first place.
It’s vaguely reminiscent of the time that Qantas booted a Vietnam vet out of his seat so a young pilot could rest. While it’s sad seeing people have a rare and heard-earned luxury snatched away from them, you have to put the safety of the whole plane first, and that means keeping your pilots well-rested.
We saw what happens when pilots who aren’t rested or in a good mental state take the controls last month when one who hadn’t slept for three days tried to shut down his engines mid-flight. Getting downgraded sucks, but crash landings suck harder…