United Airlines 777 Take Off. Flight Global

Two self upgrade on United flight to London

Sometimes you hear stories of chancers trying their luck. These tales often circulate as distant accounts leading one to believe such occurrences are very rare.

One might also assume with diligent security protocols in this day and age, surely such endeavours are bound to fail? Thus any rational person must refrain from even trying? I was wrong.

I guess I fly frequently enough for even the slim odds of such events materializing. And so it did…

Setting the Scene

This unfolded a couple of months back on my return trip from New Orleans.

United proved the best option for this trip from London given my requirements. Business fares however were north of £4000 pounds. Yikes!

Even though I had plenty of Star Alliance miles to use up, I could not find any award availability, so I settled for booking Premium ( I figured I could always upgrade last minute, when it does pop up)

With a few days I checked on United’s app for the return flight, there were cash upgrade offers but they were still very dear.

To upgrade with the miles I wanted to use did not represent very good value either (compared to just booking Polaris outright for 55k with Aegean) so I just left it and frankly wasn’t that bothered by the prospect of not having a flat bed.

Truth be told, I’m was more than comfortable flying Premium Economy occasionally, and especially on westbound day flights. If anything I find those flights more relaxed, as there is nothing to get over-excited or over-indulged with, which is always a risk in Business /First. Yes yes, poor me :S

Flight load

My short flight from New Orleans into Houston was full but uneventful. I had a couple of hours in one of the lounge in IAH before the long leg back into London.

Like many, my curiosity led me to check the flight loads while I was in the lounge 30 minutes prior to boarding (at this point, all passengers would have been checked in/prior upgrades made, unless they still make some at the gate etc)

United app is very good way to track this so you don’t even need Expertflyer at this point.

There was only 1 free seat Polaris Business. Premium Cabin was about half empty.
with the entire back row of Premium was empty, other than myself.

For what it’s worth, Economy cabin was far from being full either. It looked less than 2/3 full.

The only difference that any of this would make to me at this point was that that the seat next to me was free so I did not have to worry about getting in and out of my window seat without bothering anyone else.

The flight to London

Our flight started boarding on time and at pace. Economy boarding was still in flow (going past the Premium cabin) as everyone in this small cabin were settling in.

Two Self Upgrade On United Flight To London
Two Self Upgrade On United Flight To London. United Premium Plus Cabin

At the tail end of boarding, I specifically noticed 2 gentleman boarding, going right past me through into economy, they seemed to be carrying multiple bags each.

I guess they were placed somewhere near the front of the economy cabin and had found their overhead bins full, so instead of trying to find space further behind, they proceeded to come store bags in the overhead lockers of the premium cabin, which were wide open and empty. They then swiftly moved back to their seats in economy.

Minutes later, they re-entered the Premium cabin, one scrutinizing their bags whilst the other decided to sit in one of the empty seats. Intrigued, I became especially more observant of their behaviour.

They looked like they were just checking out the seat differences etc They are a big step up from standard economy, for reference these are the seats:

United Premium Economy Seats
United Premium Economy Seats

They also kept looking around to the cabin. The doors were still open at this point but boarding was definitely complete. Something looked and smelled shifty.

The other thing is, at no point did it look like they were actually settling into the seats till then, almost like they were waiting to be reprimand by the crew.

About a couple minutes later the doors were shut and the crew were getting us ready for departure. A flight attendant actually walked past the premium cabin at this point in time non the wiser.

Soon enough the safety video was played while everyone were asked to put their seat belts on. At one point it looked like one of the guys was looking around about to go back to economy, but then stopped.

Eventually take off procedures were all complete with no crew in sight in Premium cabin, the two guys finally decided to buckle up into “their” new seats.

Post departure as the service began, I noticed a change in their composure.

United Premium Plus Post Take Off Beverage
United Premium Plus Post Take Off Beverage

I was half expecting a funny twist, anticipating possibly a shortage of meals for it all to unravel.
But that wasn’t the case. I guess most airlines always load a few more extra meals right?

Did the gambit pays off?

I was a little puzzled but in all honesty these guys changed nothing about my experience whatsoever. I might have even admired them a little in a strange way.

As a matter of fact after the dinner service, I walked around the entire back of the 777 and it confirmed more or less what the app had shown prior to departure. The plane was half empty in economy and many passengers were able to stretch out with 3 or 4 seats to themselves.

So in hindsight all of us in Premium would have probably had a better ( rest? ) experience in economy, besides the somewhat elevated meal and beverage service.


So two self upgrade on United flight and actually get away with it!

There was little doubt in my mind what happened.  But at the same time, I know sometime airlines do upgrade passengers at the gate or even in the aircraft ( usually when Economy is full!), so thought there was a small chance this was all above board.

But then, if they were in fact upgraded onboard. Why were they initially so hesitant and shifty before settling into the seats? Upon landing, over hearing their conversation all but confirmed any remaining doubt.

I have to admit, I would take issue to this more if this happened in Business and might have even alerted staff to this, if this was not taken care off before departure.

But still you have to wonder, how often does this kind of thing happen? I am generally a very observant person, and aware of my surroundings, but many people may not be? As clearly the crew themselves proved?

Recently there was even a story about a Lufthansa crew completely forgetting to do a flight safety demo, which is a rather critical element of crew’s job, so it’s not like there is no precedence for lax crew.

From what I remember, my Premium ticket cost £550 more than the economy ticket, so if in affect if you can just sneak into the Premium cabin and thus snag yourself a free upgrade, why would anyone pay the extra for Premium?

Off course this kind of thing can easily backfire. Of the stories where I heard about similar attempts to do this in Business, they always failed. Perhaps because the separation between Business and Economy cabins are more strictly enforced both physically but with the cabin and the crew themselves.

I would be curious to know how many others have experienced something like this?What would you have done in this situation? Would you have informed the crew?

Finally, should I review Premium flights too?

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