Three days ago a Bollywood actor and her friend had a flaming row with Air India counter staff after the latter allegedly denied the friend an upgrade. Getting upgrades on airlines is an art, though with Air India, it could be argued that its a science as well. I've been lucky on a couple of ocassions on international carriers, where profile and the right VIP associations are not necessary preconditions for upgrades.
What I mean is its been plain luck. Mostly, its been a surprise at the boarding gate, where my stub has been taken, a new seat number written on and handed back. But I've always wondered whether its an easy thing to ask for, leave alone fight for. Am not saying the young ladies in question demanded they be upgraded or else..aviation minister Praful Patel would be summoned to set things right, as some newspapers reported.
Air India's own reasoning for offering the upgrade was apparently that the actor had commercial importance and hence was upgraded. For a change, I can't argue with that one. Though Air India could fly all the Bollywood actors it wants and it couldn't save themselves from plunging into losses this year. Or for that matter the next, if it remains the way it is.
The Art Of Getting Upgrades
The fact is that many passengers have mastered the art of getting upgrades. Many plan it long before the actual flight takes place. To that extent the Bollywood actor in question hasn't figured life out completely. Most passengers, having secured an upgrade for free or at an remarkably lower cost, boast about the feat endlessly. I recall doing it a few times myself. After all, why woudn't you talk about the equivalent of hitting a mid-air jackpot ?
A young lady recently gave me a long lecture on how airline miles should be accumulated for free tickets and upgrades. She said it was utter foolishness not to take advantage of such facilities. I've been a little more careful since then. But as it happens, after that lecture, I have not flown that much.
Ive seen people asking for upgrades at counters. And mostly nicely. Not saying I will call so and so and get you fixed if you don't give it to me. These are the most decent chaps. They want the luxury of business class travel, can't afford it but don't mind asking. The not so decent ones are those who've obviously fixed it before arriving at the airport. And I don't mean by sending a requisition form to the airline concerned.
Till Death Do Us Apart
Being a Government-owned entity in India is not an easy thing. Which is why Air India typically faces the worst of it. Not to say that the airline itself is not at fault. I've stood in business class lines (paid for) where most of the people before and after me were employees or relatives of employees travelling on free tickets. And wanting further upgrades and adjustments.
Once I noticed an oldish couple showing American passports and collecting boarding cards. This followed a long, painful and totally pointless discussion with the counter staff where they bargained like they were buying fish at the Bandra (in Mumbai) fish market. They were either employees or relatives. But it amazed me that you could actually be a citizen of another country and still claim benefits from a state-owned airline !
I would love to write more on Air India, an airline I vowed not to fly even if I die - translated, even my coffin (were I to cop it on international soil) would not be brought back on this airline. But that's for another day.