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Upgrade Your Attitude

Upgrade Your Attitude

We were waiting in the United Airlines Red Carpet Club for our flight to Hawaii from San Francisco. A woman in ragged jeans and unkempt hair took a seat across from us.

Promptly, she fished her cell phone out of her bag and began a conversation with some unknown sponge, because she never stopped talking and complaining, indicating to me that the other person never spoke, but just absorbed. Her harangue was about her failure to be upgraded to first class.

She bemoaned the fact that there were no first class seats available for upgrade. She told the voiceless person on the other end that she alternatively believed that she was lied to, there weren’t enough seats allocated for upgrades, others of lesser status were getting upgrades (Y2K, one-world, seven star, diamond, elite, alliance partners—or something), and that the system was totally unfair.

It turned out that first class was, indeed full (“completely checked in,” as they say on the gate monitor), and, once seated, we saw her trudge by us on her way to the back, apparently eyeing the up-front crowd to try to determine which of her inferiors usurped her spot on the five-hour flight. I tried desperately to establish eye contact, but she had gone on to glower at a flight attendant.

If you want to be assured of a first class seat, buy a first class ticket.

Periodically, Business Week or the Wall Street Journal will run a fluff piece about someone who “plays the system,” gathering points from hotel stays, oil changes, and pay-per-view, as well as “chatting up” gate attendants, flight attendants, and rest room attendants, in order to secure upgrades with amazing rates of success.

It always occurred to me that if they had put the same amount of drive, energy, and talent into their own work, they probably would be successful enough to actually afford first class seats. But they’d rather play the system, to the extent they resent it if people paying full fare monopolize their monopoly game.

You and I have seen myriad people who seek recognition without merit; who want promotion without talent; who seek money without providing value; who want to be respected without expertise. They are usually of the mind of the woman on my flight, and sing a victim’s lament when they wind up in the rear, as well.

None of use deserves what we don’t earn. Oh yes, I know that frequenting an airline, flying a lot of miles, gathering points—all of that—makes one a good customer. But if someone is willing to pay more for a first class seat, then they deserve it. (I once watched a late arrival with a first class ticket find an upgrade in his assigned place, who had sweet-talked the gate agent to give him the seat, refusing to budge. What’s next, first one to the bank gets all the money, and it doesn’t matter who deposited it?)

If you’re in business, you reap what you sow, no free rides, no free lunches. You can’t get away with telling the customers to keep coming merely because you’ve been there a long time. Nor can you expect people to choose you over the competition because you open 20 minutes earlier or provide free bottles of water. You have to provide real value to beat the competition.

If you want to be assured of business, then provide more value than the competitors, don’t whine about unfairness in the “system.”

I can also remember when airline clubs were by invitation only, you had to dress properly, and the amenities were superb. But someone filed a lawsuit because he felt that he “deserved” access just as much as those people whom the airline considered its best passengers, and now you’re entertained in these clubs by people in shorts cutting their toenails with their feet on the tables, and the places are jammed. But don’t get me started on that.

If you want to ensure your success, focus on and work at providing more value than anyone else in your field. If you want to ensure your place in first class, then invest in a first class ticket. Otherwise, there’s no logical reason for you to be in front.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 3

  • Jeffrey Summers

    January 17, 2010

    The “A-M-E-N-B-R-O-T-H-E-R-!” keys on my keyboard are getting worn out from reading columns like this from you.

  • Tim Wilson

    January 17, 2010


    I thought you would have switched from commercial flights to something like NetJets which would allow you to bypass a lot of the hassles at airports these days.

  • Alan Weiss

    January 17, 2010

    That’s a good idea, BUT, there are separate hassles with timing and sharing, and it’s not as comfortable on long trips.

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