Former BA steward reveals his top tips for getting a flight upgrade

Former British Airways steward reveals his top tips for getting a flight upgrade (and yes, dressing smartly DOES help) – and why bumping up passengers is ultimately beneficial to the airline

  • Simon J Marton is a former chief steward on BA 777s and 747s out of Heathrow
  • The married father-of-four is the author of Journey Of A Reluctant Air Steward
  • Here he reveals an entire range of strategies for securing an upgrade 

Business and first class on planes are a world apart from economy – and so there is almost no greater thrill for a passenger than being upgraded from the back to the front.

Want to know how to snare that golden seat with a cattle class ticket? Then heed the counsel of an expert in these matters – former British Airways chief steward Simon J Marton, author of Journey Of A Reluctant Air Steward.

Simon, who led cabin teams on 747s and 777s out of Heathrow, stresses first of all that dressing smartly isn’t a myth, it really does give you a better chance of a lie-flat seat.

former British Airways chief steward Simon J Marton, author of Journey Of A Reluctant Air Steward

Simon led cabin teams on 747s and 777s out of Heathrow

He told MailOnline Travel: ‘Yes, dress smartly – it does no harm. If you look like you could be dressed appropriately for an upgrade, then you stand a better chance in that regard than someone in casual attire.

Do your research

The 49-year-old said that booking yourself onto a scheduled flight that is notoriously busy and checking in a little later than you usually dare is one option – because you may be given an empty seat in business to help deal with the ‘overflow’.

He said: ‘I’m not saying this will definitely work, but it’s an angle.’

Loyalty can pay dividends

And who’s more likely to be bumped up in the event of an over-subscribed economy class?

Anyone with SFU (suitable for upgrade) next to their name on the manifest, said married father-of-four Simon – and those are generally loyal customers.

He said: ‘In my experience, when economy is full for whatever reason, it’s a bit like a tank overflowing into the next one. The airline staff will offer upgrades to those sitting in economy in preferential order – Golds, Silvers or equivalent tiers from the partner airlines. In other words, the loyalty program cardholders get first dibs on the offer of upgrades to the next cabin up. It’s all quite rapid as airliner turnarounds are quick so decisions are equally quick.’

Fly with a business class companion

If you’re flying with someone who’s in business class, continued Simon, ask the check-in staff or the Senior on board if, space allowing, you might be able to sit near your colleague as you have ‘business to discuss’.

He said: ‘It is worth a try. I’ve upgraded a few people with this request.’

Split decision

Another opportunity is presented when travelling as a family that’s been split up, Simon revealed.


Simon said: ‘It is ground staff who do the upgrading, primarily at check-in or the gate, but senior crew members can make similar decisions on the hoof. They all work together.’ 

He said: ‘If you are a family that’s been split up, then ask to be seated together. It is harder to achieve in economy cabins, but it can be done by splitting the family apart, which I have seen many times, by putting a more able family member such as a teenager or two in economy, whilst putting a parent or two with more dependent children in business class.’

Be flexible

A willingness to be bumped off busy flights is another ace passengers can whip out.

Simon, who now works for Wiltshire Council as an asset strategy officer, said: ‘If you are in no particular hurry to get somewhere and the airline is asking passengers to bump themselves off, then this could be a bargaining tool for an upgrade.’

He added: ‘Identify key personnel such as the gate supervisor or dispatcher/turn-around manager and listen into conversations regarding departures. You could show flexibility and offer to take a later flight if it helps with a high passenger load [you’ve heard about].’

Simon pictured here in one of his favourite animal masks, which he used to entertain children

Brand benefit

In his book, Simon writes that he would consider upgrades on a ‘case-by-case basis’: ‘It made sense to do so for example if business people or families were split apart. Sometimes it might be executive club passengers who had endured a lengthy journey with problems along the way, especially if they were nice and reasonable about the request.

‘To me, upgrading was a tool to help remedy a problem. But in the longer-term, the positive impact might be felt for years afterwards. You give away a comfy seat… and the benefit for the airline is that he or she will be ten times more likely to recommend that airline to others and remain fiercely loyal to the brand.’ 

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