Should Economy Class passengers be upgraded to empty seats in Business Class?
It’s always envious to walk through an empty business class cabin to a full economy cabin, hoping that airlines will take the easy step of upgrading some passengers for free. So why don’t carriers do this? Is there a way to get a promotion?
Not just enough space
The biggest problem for airlines is the difference between total seats in business and economy. With working capacity usually between 10-20% of economy class, there would be no way for carriers to offer a seat for everyone. Airlines will then have to choose among passengers who “deserve” the seat, which sends them down another rabbit hole.
This is the reason why carriers prefer to leave the seat empty instead of offering it to economy class passengers for free. Instead, airlines usually offer frequent flyers the opportunity to use miles or cash for an upgrade, before the flight, on the ground, and even on the plane. This allows them to at least earn some revenue from a seat that was supposed to sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Business class seats on long-haul flights typically cost four to six times more than the back seat. Photo: Swiss
There are some exceptional circumstances where the airline may upgrade passengers, such as those who have a medical problem and need assistance. However, for the most part, the inability to choose between passengers and the cost by paying passengers means that the airline will not upgrade economy class passengers even if the seats are free.
How do you get a promotion?
However, it is not true that no one gets a free upgrade from economy class to business class. If there is a vacant seat, airlines will always look to upgrade most of their elite passengers to the front of the plane. This is because it is important to retain their clients, who typically spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on premium travel.
Unfortunately, this is only achieved by businessmen or those who spend extravagantly on flying. For most regular passengers, it’s best to ask for a paid upgrade or bid for a seat at check-in or at the gate. Remember that airlines want to maximize revenue without being seen as too liberal with promotions as well.
The best way to consider an upgrade is to just ask if there is room for an upgrade. Photo: Getty Images
In fact, airlines have established clear procedures for those wishing to obtain an upgrade to apply for it. Virgin Atlantic, for example, charges £650 ($820) to upgrade from premium economy to top class on long-haul routes if you choose to onboard. But if there are no recipients, airlines accept to allow paying passengers to enjoy empty cabins to lounge in.
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It is important to know that for airlines, there is a breakeven for each route. This means that even if a business class is empty one day, a full flight the next can easily let them achieve the targeted revenue from the route. For now, airlines will avoid creating a system of free upgrades and expectations from passengers.
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