I recently saw some pretty unexpected upgrade practices going on on my airline of choice, Virgin Atlantic, which as a strong brand advocate, shocked me a little.
I fly Virgin probably 12 return a year, mostly in Economy and Premium Economy with the occasional treat to Upper Class. I rack up lot of tier points and miles. Enough that I have Gold status with them, and am about to renew that status less than 6 months into my membership year. This status entitles me to a whole bunch of great benefits like lounges, extra miles, discounts and so on. What it doesn’t entitle me to is upgrades. However it’s widely accepted that the higher your status with an airline, the higher up on the pecking list of potential upgradees you fall. Nonetheless, the golden rule of having status with airlines is never expect to be upgraded.
Generally upgrades are handled very discretely to minimise the jealousy factor experienced by passengers who have missed out, so it’s often at check in, or at the gate. Very infrequently is it on the plane, unless the ground staff have well and truly messed up - and that was the circumstance that the VS17 flight crew found themselves facing on 29th June. Airport upgrades and late check-ins had caused a situation where the Premium Economy cabin was overbooked by 5 seats.
The senior member of cabin crew went into a flap trying to arrange things, running around the cabin moving people around so that she could upgrade the people she wanted to upgrade and not simply those who arrived to find someone in their seats, which on the surface seems fairly reasonable.
As she picked her targets she was very focused on looking around the cabin, which seemed odd since airlines all have lists of passengers and their status for exactly this reason, but when I started to see the upgradees I understood what was going on. The 5 lucky passengers were all older white guys in suits. All 5 of them. Now it may well be that they all had higher status than me, but it seems unlikely, and added to the way she picked them it seems implausible.
So here my message to Virgin - stop your socio-economic profiling, not all frequent flyers are older white guys in suits. Some of us are women, or young, or dress for personal style. It doesn’t mean we are any less valuable to your airline. In fact, as a 26 year old frequent flyer I’m worth significantly more that someone who is 40 years older than me. You can do the math on that one. I’ll let this one slide, but know this, if I start seeing profiling like that happening in selection for upgrades in future, my preference for Virgin will very quickly dwindle, and I’ll be minded to find an airline who values all of it’s customers, not just those who the profile.