First Class For Employees

December 7, 2009

in Flying Hell Commentary

I have been flying as a passenger on airlines for more than 30 years and have had many years of 100 flights or more annually. My originating city is Chicago, so naturally I am a frequent United passenger. Airlines often make accommodations for their most frequent customers to provide them consideration to be moved to the First Class or Business Class Cabins.

When it is possible to move to the other class cabins, I naturally would take advantage of the opportunity. But, if it was not possible, I was just as happy to use my coach seat.

On numerous flights on United, I have been told that Business or First Class was full and I would need to use my coach seat, which as I said is no problem. However, I have found that on a great many of those flights, business and First Class were full of United Employees flying to Chicago.

I understand the need to move your personnel around the country and get them to the placed they need to be, but when a paying business traveler who is also a 100,000 mile flyer and has paid $700 for a ticket is asked to use the coach seat, while employees are placed in the First Class seats, something is wrong with that picture. If nothing else, it is a PR problem, as it really makes me mad when it happens.

A Very Frequent United Customer

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

tdf December 7, 2009 at 5:51 am

boo-hoo. Even if you're a top tier elite member, upgrades are always based on availability. If the cabin is full, you don't get your upgrade. Your perks are a privilege, their employee benefits are a right.


Jim December 7, 2009 at 7:20 am

Benefits are a right? What country do you live in? Most of us have learned in this poor economy, that benefits are indeed a privilege. And, many of us have lost major benefits. Many of us have even sacrificed benefits on behalf of our company, to help them stay in business.

Ever heard the phrase, "the customer comes first"? It is your type of attitude that is dooming the airline industry. Of course a frequent flier, who has contributed much money as a patron to the airline….should have precedence for upgraded seating over an employee. Remember if there are no customers, there would be no airlines.

To this argument, remember that non-rev passengers, such as employees….fly on a stand-by basis. Paying customers go first…..employees have flight benefits, but not at the cost of a paying customer. Get your priorities straight


Cam Tompkins December 7, 2009 at 2:18 pm

OOOOOh shut up you nipicking twit!


tdf December 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Employee benefits are a right in that they are generally written into employment contracts.

I'm refraining from stating any options about airline policies. I'm simply commenting that the OP is a whiner with an entitlement complex. If he's paying for coach, he should be happy when he does get his upgrade. If he really wants to be sure he's sitting in first, he can pay for the first/business ticket.


Jim December 8, 2009 at 6:02 am

You say employee benefits are a right because they are written in employment contracts? My company wrote into our contracts that they would match our 401K contribution. Guess what… to cut costs, they are no longer matching. Further, our contracts state that we will receive a certain salary. Again, salaries are cut. It is a sign of the times. Get used to it. We all are making sacrifices on behalf of our companies.

20 years ago I worked for an airline. We did have flight benefits. But, our contract made no mention of 1st class, etc…. It just stated we would fly on a stand-by basis. It was understood, our benefits were secondary to a paying customers.

The customer should have an entitlement complex. They paid for their ticket. The frequent flier should have an entitlement complex, because of their continued patronage the airline is still in business. They should of course be entitled to perks first and foremost over an employee. That is just common business practice in most industries.

One of the reasons the airlines are suffering is because of the lack of customer service among their employees. How many times do we face grumpy, unkempt airline employees….be it at the ticket counter or in the air by a flight attendant. Their attitude gives the flying public an attitude, and it becomes a vicious downward spiral for everyone involved….where everyone is rude to each other.

Bottom line though….the customer should always come first. The customer pays money to be on the plane….the employee is paid to be on the plane. The airline employee's job is to make the flight as enjoyable as possible, in addition to the "safety" skills, that are similar to those learned by a teenage lifeguard.


Thom February 28, 2012 at 7:54 am

You're incorrect. Employees benefit from free space-available travel on their airline and heavily discounted fares on others. This is sometimes in First or Business class (especially on international routes) but never over a paying customer or an elite's complimentary upgrade.


Cheran December 7, 2009 at 6:58 am

Sorry, but I don't agree. People reach elite levels due to their airline loyalty. Elites should have first crack at upgrading to FC over an airline employee. Customers come first.


Craig March 14, 2015 at 10:22 am

Customers should always come first. However some of the airline upgrades very well may be crew members deadheading to another city or domicile to then work an outbound flight. Having worked for an airline many years ago, space available upgrade opportunities were first offered to frequent flyers. In today's World some airlines are also upgrading Military personnel who are in uniform as well.


Lon December 7, 2009 at 9:56 am

Customer definitely comes first. Tdf's attitude is part of the problem with the industry today. I understand you've had to face salary and benefits cuts, but perks at the expense of customers is suicide to the company.


Paula December 7, 2009 at 11:17 am

Agree "tdf" 's attitude is the major problem airlines have these days , a right to entitlement "boo hoo" grow up


david December 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm

i dont see how this is a flight from hell? wow you werent upgraded and the seats were being used by united employees, first of, how do you know that they didnt pay for those seats? you dont you assume that, second whats the big deal? you didnt pay for those seats either

and they cant be put on standby if they have to get to chicago for a flight they are scheduled to fly leaves before the next flight to chicago

they have as much a right to sit there as anyone else, and they most likely do alot more flying than you, so give them a break, they help you when they are your fa's and are there for safety, nothin worse than a grumpy tired FA

this isnt a flight from hell, dont "expect" to be upgraded, its a privoledge not a right


Laura December 10, 2009 at 11:51 am

Lol you honestly think that there is a CHANCE they paid for upgrades???


david December 10, 2009 at 12:34 pm

haha funny coz i know a few FA's have paid for their upgrades, or have used points/miles…… meet a few FA's when you travel alot


Laura December 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Yeah so if you travel a lot and you've only met a 'few' FAs (that have paid for their upgrades) then you know the likelihood of these employees having paid for those upgrades are slim!


david December 10, 2009 at 1:02 pm

slim but not zero, so it still means that these FA's could have paid,


Demotage December 7, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Employees should fly on available seat – the best customers should fly business-first. I know that I continue my patronage with one particular airline (AA) because of the perks I get throught my FF. There are many other airlines with similar service. So if the airline wants to stay in business, they should take care of their customers first – their standby employees just need to get there. They can fly coach. As for the idea that employees are entitled because they have given something up – your first priority is to please your customers – otherwise you go out of business.

I recently flew Virgin America – the service was WAY BETTER than I'd had on United or American in the last 10 years. If I didn't get upgrades on American, I'd change in a second. They have TV's on every seat. Never seen that on an non-international American flight.


Aimee June 20, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Continental and United now have that on most planes…. Clearly you people don't fly enough to know anything. I am the Daughter of an employee, and you have to be pre-reserved on an upgrade list, You don't just ask. and even then, they clear all first class stand-bys first, then if seats are still available, give them to upgradeable ticket holders. It is an orderly system, and just because an upgrade is requested does not mean that you get it. Stop whining and get over it.


Hugh December 8, 2009 at 12:26 am

I have to agree with the poster…sure, the employees need to be moved from airport to airport, but First Class priority should be given to the FF, they ar ethe bread and butter of the industry. When I was in high school, I worked at a supermarket…we were informed that we needed topark in spaces away from the building, that the premium spots were for suctomers, not employees. Also, the poster wasn't whining, he stated he has no problem flying coach, but feels that when FC seats are available, they should go to FF over employees…agreed 100%.


Josh December 8, 2009 at 4:07 am

I agree as well. The "benefit" that airline employees get is the free flight. The upgrade should be given to repeat customers who actually generate revenue for the airline. Giving first class seats to employees is really, really bad business.


ps December 8, 2009 at 6:32 am

In the business world the customer comes first. The poster was not being whiney or anything, just giving an observation as a frequent flyer and it makes sense. It also says alot about UA customer service. I did the EWR-SFO weekly cattle car for appx 3 years on Contl. I never saw an FA or pilot in first class seats, they were always in coach and never even in an exit row.


Edward Calderon December 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Probably you are blind because I see pilots, FAs and other employees of CO in first class if available. This is NOT wrong at all, and it is a right employees have. If you want to fly first, BUY first. I hate people with that stupid sense of entitlement!


ps December 9, 2009 at 2:52 am

I think my vision is pretty good and that's my experience. You must work for an airline. And my sense of entitlement was getting an exit row once in a while.


Demotage December 9, 2009 at 10:29 am


You seem to have a selective disdain for self-entitlement. It's ok with you if employees feel entitled.

I have no problem with employees sit in FC if available. I just think that "if available" should be after the airline takes care of it's best customers. Maybe that is part of the reason that CO went bankrupt a few years back. 'screw our best customers! I'm entitled to that FC seat" is not the way to keep your best customers


Cheran December 9, 2009 at 10:39 am

My guess is that Edward is not now, nor ever has been, an elite member of an airline frequent flyer program. If he was, he'd understand that FC upgrades are, in fact, a benefit and an entitlement.


Laz December 9, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I have seen this all the time. To rub it in, the employee in the "full" business class is almost always in uniform.

Employees should travel only economy, and FFs upgraded automatically. For all the "boo hooers" you should try spending half your life travelling on a plane.


ps December 10, 2009 at 5:06 am

Listen, if first class seats are available, they should go the FF's, who frequently (or always) pay full freight. There are some FF's that think it a birthright for an upgrade (FF's from Hell) but most road warriors in the air (including myself)just want a seat, not be crushed by an oversized passenger, and to have the plane take off and land on time (or reasonably close). The airlines bread and butter are FF's. Having flight crews lounging in first does not convey a customer first attitude. But, if FF's have an issue, they should switch carriers. As for me, I don't. I've been flying Contl for years (post bankruptcy) and have no issues. If I did, I'd switch.


david December 10, 2009 at 4:45 am

laz i am a frequent flier and i dont see the problem, the person shouldnt be upgraded just because they feel that they should be, its a privoledge

so i think i would understand, you get what you pay for


Cheran December 10, 2009 at 4:53 am

Right…If you're a "base" member of a frequent flyer program, you should never expect to be upgraded. However, if you've reached elite status on an airline (UA in this case), then one of the perks outlined in the membership guidelines is that you will automatically receive an upgrade. The upgrade is based on your elite level, class of seat you originally purchased in coach, and availability. If a seat is available in FC, it should always go to an elite level member before an airline employee.


david December 10, 2009 at 7:22 am

yes i know, i am a platinum PPS card member on singapore airlines (that is above the krisflyer frequent flyer program which has several leverls) and i know about many frequent flyer programs as i am members of others, and that still means that your not always upgraded, it just means that if there is going to be upgrades than you have the priority, and alot of times people are upgraded, but they dont have to and you shouldnt expect it


Cheran December 10, 2009 at 7:31 am

I agree, but you should always be upgraded before an airline employee who is just flying in the capacity of their employment. And there should never be an open seat in FC if there is an elite level flyer in coach that could be upgraded.


ps December 23, 2009 at 5:28 pm

david… you forgot to mention Singapore's economy service puts most US carriers business and first class cabins to shame. I agree with your points, just wanted to point out that SA is nirvana.


david December 10, 2009 at 7:38 am

i dont know if you will see this the way i am…….last year the continental express flight that crashed in buffalo ny, one of the crew/pilots were traveling to get to their next flight and apparenly was overtired and couldn't focus………so my thinking is, if they have a little more room and quiete than they can get that extra amount of rest so that the FA's could do their job which is primarily safety, god forbid there is an accident id rather have an awake and aware FA than one that is grouchy from sleep depression

FF should be upgraded when possible, and they are, but they shouldnt feel entitled, and when they are not upgraded than they shouldnt take it as a crime against them, and be angry about it, they didnt pay for that seat so they are not entitled to sit there

if you really want that seat then either pay for it or use points/miles


Demotage December 10, 2009 at 10:01 am

The main problem with pilot rest is not whether or not they get a first class seat, but rather is the rest policy of the FAA. The pilot may be granted, say, a 10 hour rest between flights, but that time includes post-flight paperwork, and transit to and from the hotel. The pilot is lucky if they can carve out 6 hours of sleep in that 10 hour break. The FAA needs to amend the policy so that the pilots can get enough sleep.


david December 10, 2009 at 10:48 am

i also forgot to say…….how do we know that these FA's weren't just sitting down as people boarded? i have witnessed this several times on US based airlines, the professionalism isnt nearly on the level as other airlines


FF December 11, 2009 at 12:37 am

I have the feeling looking at all the comments that 2 things are mixed:

– the employee that as a perk gets to fly for free (on their time of) with as far as I know some rules


*any available seat, and no FC if there are others that are intitled to an upgrade

*not in uniform (might be different for different airlines, but I think not as the airline does not want to be held acountable if you misbehave on your time of)

– the employee that has to be moved from one airport to another

* NOT standby (you do want your crew to be on time right?)

* the seats as put down in their contract (and honestly I would prefer my pilots rested/alert and my FA rested/cheerful and not sore/tired from flying economy)

* in uniform, after all they are working

For the frequent travelers here that feel that they have more rights to the upgrade than the crew going to their next flight because they spend half their life traveling: The crew probably spends more time on a plane than you do, the pilots responsible for your safety and the FA on their feet, dealing with all the poeple that we can read about here.

I apologize for any misspelings, I am not a native speaker


Kad December 16, 2009 at 2:28 am

My fiance flies standby, and even when there are other vacant seats, somewhere suspiciously close to the lavatory wall. And for her right to fly, she still has to follow the Continental Dress Code.

Not every airline employee enjoys 1st Class rights. It seems like United may have a culture of scratching each other's backs and arbitrarily awarding 1st class. Who is going to say NO, when anyone who is an employee can basically call you abusive or (insert favorite disruption) and have you forcibly deplaned, possibly spending a night in jail.

MOST airline employees I have met are professional, but in the face of the few who take rights that don't belong to them (even though, with training for safety, the function of most FA's is still to sell booze and duty-free trinkets) they will demure and say nothing. A $20,000 a year job is still a job.

If this is really a problem at United (on whose planes I have never flown) then contact them. And keep it up. Call around. There are still other airlines out there. Connections might be a pain, but they do exist.


Aimee June 20, 2012 at 11:36 pm

For those wondering, This is based on seniority, That is how we get these priveleges.


Dina December 23, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I don't buy this for a second. I've flown standby with my partner's parents (both former United employees) and yeah, fare-paying customers get priority over employees, even with my mother-in-law's crazy seniority.


Kirsten June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am

You paid for an economy seat, and you got an economy seat. I can't see a problem.


Mrswife July 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm

I see this frequently flying. I always pay for my 1st class seat. I give my miles to family.

I'm trying to book a 1st class seat on Hawaiian that says "sold out" even though only 1seat is actually paid for( by my hubby). Even the reservation dept couldn't figure out why. Flight 315 days out! I prev used flew this route, and no joke 3/4 of 1st class were asked to deplane per cargo weight… My flight attend friend said that's because they were flying free. She suspected against company policy booked it.

Needless to say, some freq fliers moved to 1st class.

And truly, haven't most airlines been bailed out over and over by taxpayers?


Dennis May 9, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Paying customers, who have been promised upgrades, shouldn’t be subsidizing employee benefits by sitting in economy while the employee enjoys 1st class seat!


James May 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

Well, it depends. Thinking as a business man, I need to consider the costs and benefits of this decision: Upgrade elite vs upgrade employee. If I have retention problems, I might consider the employee more valuable than a single elite flier: If that employee's work brings in significant revenue, and if it is more than the elite flier's ticket revenue, the employee wins. If I have too many employees and am losing market share, the elite wins.

I can't speak for United, but I can see situations where the employee gets the perk, and where the elite gets the perk. It isn't quite so cut and dry.


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