The Future Of Air Travel: On-Flight Upgrade Auctions

Sitting in economy class on an airplane, it’s hard not to pine for the spacious seating in business and first class. Pretty soon, however, your longing could become a reality – for a lot cheaper than you’d expect.

On-flight auctions that allow passengers to bid on available seat upgrades are currently being adopted by certain airlines in Canada and China. And, if everything goes according to plan, within the next two to three years all airlines will use the service.

How it would work is the auction would begin with an announcement being made over the loud speaker, letting all passengers know about its commencement. Flight attendants would then distribute hand-held devices for the bidding.

Other in-flight innovations currently in the works include broadcasting live sports and ordering meals and duty-free items on your smartphone.

What do you think of on-flight upgrade auctions?

[Image via mrkathika]

Galley Gossip: Giving Thanks To Military Men And Women This Memorial Day

Near the end of a flight from New York to Dallas, a little girl, 9 years old, handed me a piece of paper that read: “Everyone on this plane that works on this plane is very kind and welcoming, comforting and makes me feel safe, happy and comfy, so thank you to everyone. Love, Fallyn.” She made what would have been an ordinary day extra special. For that, I thank her.

Receiving thanks in the air travel industry is rare so when it happens it’s always appreciated. In fact, sometimes it’s so appreciated it feels kind of weird, like do I really deserve this? Did I really do something that deserves so much kindness? Usually, the answer is no. I’m just doing my job, what I’ve been hired to do – assist passengers and provide safety and comfort in flight. Then I’ll blush from the embarrassment of being acknowledged and either quickly refill an empty cup or ask if there’s anything else I can do to make the flight more enjoyable.

Those who do deserve a special thank you for just doing their job are our military men and women. Long ago, my grandpa confessed that not one person thanked him for fighting in WWII. My father experienced the same thing while he was in the navy. This is why I make it a point to say thank you to those who protect us. Once I offered my cellphone to a soldier I spotted putting money into a pay phone at an airport. A couple of times I offered to buy lunch for those I’ve seen in uniform waiting in line at food courts located at airport terminals. It’s the least I can do. They always decline with a blush and then they thank me for thinking of them.

One passenger who went out of his way to thank a serviceman on board an airplane is my friend Will. Here, in his words, is what happened on a recent flight from Dallas to Oklahoma City.

Last evening while standing by the gate and waiting for boarding to commence, I noticed a military serviceman in uniform approach the line, look at his boarding pass and walk to the back of the waiting area – nothing I haven’t seen before. As I sat there on the corner of the room speaking with my kids on the cellphone, pre-boarding was announced for all customers with disabilities or special needs as well as any military personnel in uniform. A few folks boarded but not the soldier.

As a perk for flying a “few thousand” miles a year with American Airlines, I’d been upgraded from coach to first with its wider seats, more legroom, free drinks and more. Sitting in 3E, thoughts about my wife and children ran through my head. As I remembered our recent phone call my heart tightened. It had been only four days since I’d seen my family but it seemed like a month. Just a few more hours… it didn’t seem like much longer.

Boarding continued for another twenty minutes when suddenly I observed the same serviceman from earlier. He was the last one on. Holding his backpack slightly crooked over his right shoulder and a boarding pass on the left hand he quickly went by me towards his seat in coach.

That’s when it clicked.

I stood up, took a couple of steps back towards the soldier, and gently tapped his left shoulder. As he turned around I simply requested his boarding pass. To my surprise he promptly handed it over. A simple gesture of appreciation: the palm of my left hand showing him the direction to my seat. Shocked, he cracked a smile and politely declined the offer by stating I would not enjoy his seat. It was “the worse seat in the plane” – he said.

After insisting a bit, he accepted my offer and took his new seat but not before his smile stretched across his face like a child on a Christmas morning. As I went towards seat 18F (a middle seat) the pride and satisfaction of being able to sincerely thank a man, whom along with thousands of other brave and dedicated soldiers choose to sacrifice their lives so that my children may sleep safely every night, was indescribable.

Sitting in that middle seat while the plane took off, I realized that it felt different: it seemed wider; there was more legroom; it was more comfortable. Was it? No… it was the same as always, but the circumstances were different.

After takeoff I succumbed to my usual ritual of lowering the tray table and hunching over for a quick nap. I was tired… it had been a long day. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my left shoulder. To my surprise, it was the soldier. Extending his right hand as if a handshake was imminent. I responded with the same gesture.

“Thank You” – he said – while leaving in the palm of my hands a coin, which read: PRESENTED BY THE CADET COMMAND – COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR – FOR EXCELLENCE.

As I nodded in acceptance my eyes suddenly drowned in tears of appreciation and pride. He went back to his seat, leaving me speechless and transformed.

It’s unconditional commitment, bravery and immeasurable sacrifices shown by all of our service men and women that makes it possible for each one of us to sleep by our children and loved ones at night.

Most people do not have a first class seat to offer up as a special thank you to those who serve our country, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to simply showing thanks, letting others know you care and that you notice what they do and appreciate their hard work. A thank you costs nothing but time. By just thinking about how grateful we are for what someone has done for us only benefits us. This kind of satisfaction doesn’t last long and does nothing to change the world. By giving thanks we give others a momentary respite from their daily lives and their own journey through life becomes relevant to the lives today. Don’t wait until people are gone to honor and thank them for being a part of our lives when we can tell them personally how we feel. Thank a soldier today.

Do airlines care how you’re dressed?

The lists are almost comical. All over the travel web, you’ll find articles about how to scam score an upgrade from an airline, and invariably, one of the items involves attire. If you dress well, the thinking goes, you’ll be treated better, ostensibly because airline employees judge books by their covers. But, does it really work?

There are a lot of variables that are much more important than attire, such as whether you have elite status. So, it’s a bit much, it feels, to over-value clothing. Further, procedural constraints deemphasize the role of how you’re dressed in your general treatment by airline employees.

I’ve been fed the “well-dressed” story since I started flying frequently on business more than a decade ago. I never really bought it, though, as treatment was almost always obscured either by my temper or my status.

But, that’s all different now.

I no longer have the coveted “platinum” tag, and I’m starting to fly fairly frequently again. In the past month, I’ve been on four international flights, and I’ve learned … just what you’d expect. Treatment may be a hair better if you’re sartorially splendid, but all things rarely are equal enough to make a real call on this.

Here’s what I wore (and what I saw):1. Jeans and a respectable button-down shirt: This is what I wear to work every day, and it’s good enough for my employer. So, if it works for the people who pay me, it should be good enough for the airlines I pay, right?

Ummmmm … yes, actually.

I was treated about as well as can be by an airline (without elite status or a first-class ticket). I get neither more nor less than I had coming to me. Truth be told, the flight attendants were friendly and accommodating. Though I wasn’t dressed like an executive, I held myself like one, and that seemed to get the job done.

2. Jeans and a Gadling shirt: Nobody gave a damn that I write for one of the largest travel blogs on the web (which was perfectly fine with me, frankly). So, for all of you who think we get special treatment when we’re recognized … we’re not recognized (at least I’m not). And, the fact that I was dressed down made no noticeable difference.

3. The full uniform: As I write this, I’m wearing a suit, tie and horribly uncomfortable shiny shoes. I arrived at the airport from the Toronto Stock Exchange, where I rang the opening bell with IR magazine. I was all business – and looked it and felt it. According to the conventional wisdom, the airline should have upgraded me to first class and kicked everyone else out, right?

So, what happened?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

I was treated as I was when clad in my Gadling shirt and my button-down and jeans. The fact that the jacket matched the pants added nothing to the equation.

[photo courtesy of Inside Investor Relations]

Hotel room upgrades on the cheap with “Nor1” online service

During one of my summer Mattress Runs, the hotel booking process offered something any frequent guest loves to see – the option to request a paid upgrade. Since I had never seen this offered at this particular chain, I decided to dig a little deeper into the feature. As it turns out, there is a third party company behind the service called Nor1.

Nor1 lets hotels generate extra revenue by upselling unused rooms to existing guest reservations – the process is extremely simple and takes place during the reservation. For a fee starting under $10, hotels can “upsell” guests a larger room, suite, balcony or other upgrade. In my case, I was offered an upgrade from a standard room to an executive king room for just $9 – well within the amount I’d be willing to pay.

Since the hotel assigns upgrades themselves, you don’t know whether you actually get the upgrade until you arrive, but you also won’t be charged unless you are actually upgraded.

Sadly, as with many technologies, this service looked better online than it did in reality. Upon arrival at my Hyatt, nobody had any idea what I was talking about, and claimed they had never heard of the service. I’ll put it down to “growing pains”, and hope that Nor1 starts offering these paid upgrade options at more hotel chains (along with some training for the front desk staff).

According to their site, Nor1 currently offers upgrades with Kimpton, Country Inns and Suites, Hilton and several other hotel chains. Their technology isn’t even limited to hotels – the system is able to do upsells on rental cars, airlines and cruise lines.

Galley Gossip: A letter from a flight attendant to Jerry Seinfeld concerning Lady Gaga, bad behavior & free upgrades

Dear Mr. Seinfeld,

May I call you Jerry? After Lady Gaga removed her shirt and held up her middle finger at a Mets game, she was escorted to your private box seats. Later on you complained about the singer’s behavior by stating, “I can’t believe they put her in my box that I paid for! You give people the finger and you get upgraded? Is that the world we’re living in now?”

Hate to break it to you but the answer is yes, Jerry, this is the world we’re living in now. Sad, isn’t it? All one has to do is act up and they’re instantly rewarded for bad behavior. Never mind the nice people. Let’s just reward the jerk who yells the loudest. I see this happening all the time – on the airplane. I’m a flight attendant.

“Excuse me, Miss, my reading light doesn’t work,” said a woman seated in an aisle seat at the front of the cabin. An elderly gentleman rested his head upon her shoulder.

“Feel free to move to any open seat in coach,” I told her.

“Do you have two seats together?”

I looked around. “No…sorry. But there’s another aisle seat available three rows back.”

She sighed. “What about first class?”What about first class, I wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead I smiled. “We don’t upgrade for things like broken reading lights.” She made a face. and rolled her eyes. She may as well have flipped me the bird because that’s the kind of face we’re talking about here. I suggested, “Why don’t you open your window shade? It’s still light outside.”

She pointed to the man beside her. “Can’t you see he’s sleeping! This is ridiculous! I’d like to speak to someone in charge!”

Here we go, I thought, make a scene until you get your way.

Last week my commuter flight from New York to Los Angeles was delayed for three hours due to a mechanical. I wasn’t dressed in uniform so no one knew I worked for the airline. Like most savvy travelers, I decided to jump ship and walk to the gate where the next flight bound for Los Angeles was already in the process of boarding. Patiently I waited my turn to speak to an agent. Finally I stepped up to the counter. I just wanted to quickly let her know I’d take the jump seat before another coworker beat me to it. That’s it.

This is when an inconsiderate passenger walked past the long line of people standing behind me, practically pushing me out of his way, and yelled out his name, adding, “I’m on the standby list for first class!”

I understand he’s a paying passenger and comes before me. Rightly so. But what about the passengers patiently waiting behind me? Don’t they count? They could be on the first class standby list as well.

The frazzled agent continued to ignore me, typing away frantically at her keyboard, and then handed the loud mouth a boarding pass. Soon others were barging up to the counter and calling out their names, ignoring the long line behind me. The agent handed out one, two, three, boarding passes before I became so annoyed, I gave up and walked back to the broken airplane. I’m not sure what the other passengers did, ya know, the ones with manners who were ignored because they were nice.

I always say if you want to see what society is like, really like, today, get on an airplane and take a good look around. It’s an A.D.D, me- me-me first kind of world on board, Jerry, and everyone is quick to react, expecting immediate results and upgrades for free. Lady Ga-Ga is a performer. Bad behavior, fishnet hose and platform heels are all part of the act. You should understand that. But what’s the excuse for everyone else?


The Flight Attendant

P.S. If I flip you the bird can I have your box seats?

Photo courtesy of Ama_lia