After a great weekend at FTU, I headed off to DCA for my flight back to JFK. Last week I scored a very cheap round-trip flight by opting to fly in/out of JFK instead of LGA. My return flight was on Delta (operated by Pinnacle) on a CRJ900. I was number 9 on the upgrade list with 2 seats remaining in first. It’s an extremely short flight and I didn’t care much about the upgrade, which in the case of this flight would offer a slightly more comfortable seat and some drinks and snacks (no drink service in coach on Delta’s DCA/JFK flights). Anyway, as I was trying to maximize my time at FTU, I didn’t leave much time for getting to the airport and clearing security. The lines were huge, as they always are at DCA late in the afternoon on a Sunday, and I cleared security with only about 20 minutes left prior to the departure time. I quickly ran over to the Delta Shuttle gate for the LGA flight which was leaving 15 minutes earlier than my JFK flight. I pleaded with the gate agent to let me on (LGA is much easier for me to get back to my apartment in the city). I knew that I was not technically allowed to switch to a LGA flight (no co-terminal switches for some time now), but I decided to put forth my best negotiation tactics, and of course I led with a smile. Everyone had already boarded and it was clear there were still empty seats on the flight. The gate agent instructed me on the policy and reiterated that JFK/LGA switches were only allowed in special circumstances. I mentioned that the JFK flight was oversold and that they were looking for volunteers (a true statement). If I could get on the LGA flight, they would have an extra seat. She smiled at me and got typing. Yes, I felt confident that I was getting a boarding pass! Unfortunately, just a few seconds later the gate phone started ringing and she eventually picked up and was forced to run to another gate for an emergency. Before she left, she informed me that the JFK flight actually had two empty seats and that I would be fine. Damn! OK, so it was back over to the JFK flight gate where the final passenger had just finished boarding. I handed my boarding pass to the agent and he looked at it, typed away, and then handed me back a new first class boarding pass! What? The fellow agent scanned it, smiled, and said “lucky for you, we were just processing the upgrades and this saves us some time”. Wow, had I just stolen an upgrade? I looked up at the upgrade board and I had only moved up to number 5 with one seat remaining.
Now, this was the second such situation in only two weeks. Two weeks ago in ATL, I met up with two Point Me to the Plane readers for cocktails in the Sky Club. I was flying from ATL to SAN on a 757 and there were two seats remaining in first. I was number 13 on the upgrade list and knew I had no shot. The Sky Club staff had already informed me that of the 12 people in front of me, 9 were Delta Diamond members. Long story short, I lost track of time and ended up running to the gate. Boarding had all but completed and there was only 1 seat remaining in first. I looked around and found it surprising that nobody stayed back at the gate to see if their upgrade cleared. Again, I handed my boarding pass to the agent and they looked at their list. After a little typing, she handed me back a new pass and said enjoy! WOW, a completely unexpected upgrade!
Yes, both of these examples are outside of Delta’s upgrade policies, but they prove that this sort of thing happens quite often (though, in my experience most gate agents follow the normal upgrade procedures). Moral of both of these stories, if you are on the list and think you have a decent shot at an upgrade, WAIT IN THE GATE AREA as long as possible until they close that door! Don’t let your earned upgrade be given away!