This request for an upgrade failed in the worst way

Kicked off your flight just for asking for an upgrade?

Could asking for an upgrade to business class end with you getting kicked off your flight — and banned for life?


“Social Influencer” Jacqueline Ng insists that’s exactly what happened to her when she recently asked for an upgrade. Cathay Pacific agents turned down her request in no time and then kicked her off the flight. Worse, the airline accused her of fraud and banned her from all future flights.

Ng says this is all a misunderstanding. Now she wants the Elliott Advocacy team to investigate and ask the airline to reverse the banishment.

This case provides a warning to all passengers looking for creative ways to score an airline upgrade. If you’re not careful, these requests can backfire — spectacularly — and you could even wind up being removed from your flight, too.

Asking for an upgrade on a very long flight

Ng says that her shocking dilemma began in May during a round-trip journey from Taiwan to New York. She purchased a premium economy ticket and then decided to ask for an upgrade to business class.

Before boarding the initial Taiwan to JFK flight, I filled out an online form. I emailed Cathay Pacific to try and upgrade to business class on both my outbound and return. I received an email confirming that I was eligible for a business class seat. The email from Cathay Pacific clearly stated the upgrade was only possible, if available.

When Ng arrived at the check-in counter for the flight to JFK, she asked about the upgrade. She gave the agent a copy of the Cathay Pacific email indicating her eligibility for a move into business class. Unfortunately, the agent explained, the airline would be unable to upgrade her on the long flight. Ng flew to New York in her premium economy seat without incident.

But the wheels had already been set into motion for the awful eventuality.

Surprise! You’re kicked off the flight

Ng checked in for her return flight the night before its scheduled departure. She printed out her premium economy boarding pass with no problem. But when she arrived at the airport, she once again asked for an upgrade to business class. Ng showed the agent the email from Cathay Pacific customer service claiming she was eligible for the upgrade.

This time, the agent took a look at the letter and called for his supervisor. This representative walked away from the counter for some time before returning with a startling announcement.

“[The supervisor] proceeded to give me a ‘refusal of carriage letter’ 30 minutes later,” Ng recalled. “He stated that security said that Cathay Pacific did not send that email and that I had committed fraud.”

Standing at the counter in disbelief, Ng says she couldn’t believe the absurdity of the accusations. She had only asked for an upgrade, but now she was being kicked off the flight — with no way home. She tried to reason with the supervisor; however, she quickly realized the decision wasn’t negotiable.

Dumbfounded and embarrassed, Ng made arrangements on another airline and headed home. On the long flight, she had plenty of time to mull over the shocking turn of events.

Accused of presenting fraudulent documents to ask for an upgrade

Initially, Ng believed that she would easily be able to clear up this “misunderstanding.”

Following much of the helpful advice that Christopher Elliott offers in his self-advocacy guide, Ng composed a short, polite email. She sent a request to both Cathay Pacific and its parent company, Swire. She wanted the airline to refund the flight it forced her to buy when the agents denied her boarding in New York.

Several weeks later, a Cathay Pacific executive sent an official response to Ng. In that letter, the executive explains that the airline’s security department determined that the email Ng had presented to ask for the upgrade was fraudulent. It had not originated from Cathay Pacific. However, if Ng could provide the embedded information from the email to show from where it came, the airline’s team would be happy to review this evidence.

Dear Ms Ng

In the case that you are certain of the authenticity of your emails, please facilitate our further investigation by sending us:

 1. A copy of the email you sent to us prior to boarding of your flight on 07 June 2019 as mentioned in your email to Swire on 27 June 2019;

2. *The “.eml” document of the two upgrade emails you received from us. You may follow the steps as detailed in the attached document;

3.  Any other supporting information. (Cathay Pacific)

*The “eml” version of the email would provide the electronic metadata of the document — the details of exactly where the email originated.

All further communication must go through my legal counsel

In response to this email, Ng made a crucial mistake in her self-advocacy mission. Not only did she not provide the requested information, she told the executive that she failed to see “the relevance of this request.” Then she announced that all further communication should go through her own legal counsel.

Cathay Pacific appeared more than happy to comply with Ng’s instructions. The executive team sent another, more to the point accusation.

On 30 May 2019 and 07 June 2019 when you checked in at our Taipei and New York airport counters respectively. You presented two different emails with the same reference number, asking for upgrades on flights CX495 and CX890 on 30 May 2019 and flight CX865 on 07 June 2019. The offers were made to you by R**** L*** according to the emails you showed our check-in staff.

We verified with R**** and understand that he did not send any such emails to you. We also cross-checked our email systems and confirmed no emails were delivered to you on the date and time as indicated in your emails.

To the best of our knowledge with the information on hand, we concluded that the emails you presented for upgrades were not issued by Cathay Pacific Airways. The decision was made to refuse the carriage of you given your repeated attempts to present a fraudulent document for upgrading on our flights.

The email string ended with the Cathay Pacific team saying it would await any further communication from Ng’s “legal counsel.”

We can understand and respect your decision that you [don’t want] to further communicate with us unless it’s through your legal counsel. Please have your legal counsel write to us through this email address with the same subject line. I will turn over your case to our legal team for a direct follow up with your legal counsel. (Cathay Pacific)

Unfortunately, Ng didn’t have any legal counsel — it was an empty threat, and the airline had called her bluff.

Asking the Elliott Advocacy team for help

When I read through Ng’s request for help, I was highly doubtful that Cathay Pacific would respond to my inquiries. We know that once a consumer threatens legal action, most companies send the case to their own legal departments. The regular channels that companies offer us for mediation typically close at that point.

But I went through all of the other documentation that Ng provided. She was still under the impression that if only the airline took a look at her upstanding character, their team would realize she is no security threat. In fact, she pointed out that she had initially moved to Asia to work for Swire (the parent company of Cathay Pacific).

I moved to Hong Kong to work for Swire Resources as a Brand Manager in June 2018. I resigned from the role in November 2018 on my own self-accord. You can see that both my employee profile and reviews were extremely stellar and I received strong recommendations from my Director/HR. You can Google my background to also see that back in Canada; I won the Top 20 Under 20 National Award, given to young Canadians who have shown innovation, leadership, and achievement in society. The above speaks to my character.

But despite this glowing review, it was clear from the paper trail that Cathay Pacific had determined that the document Ng produced on two occasions to ask for an upgrade was fraudulent.

Did a social influencer present a fraudulent document to ask for an upgrade?

I asked Ng to send me a copy of the upgrade eligibility document. And that’s where things got a little weird.

Ask for an upgrade and get kicked off your flight?
“Because of your social network, we would like to extend a Business Class upgrade to you…”

What is a “social influencer” anyway?

Nowhere in any of Ng’s correspondence with the airline or with me until that point did she mention anything about being a social media influencer. But in the email that Cathay Pacific says is a fraud, it’s clear she’s presented herself as an influencer to request an upgrade.

In case you’ve never heard the term, a social media influencer is someone who has a strong social media following — usually on YouTube or Instagram. In exchange for mentioning a product or company on their social media feed, businesses will offer freebies to the “influencer.”

I asked Ng if she had portrayed herself as a social media influencer to ask for the upgrade. She didn’t answer that question but continued to reiterate that Cathay Pacific had wrongly kicked her off the flight. When I pointed out that her case is in the legal department and so had escalated beyond where a consumer advocacy team can help, she expressed surprise.

How is [my case] escalated to the Cathay legal department when this is my first time ever having any flight issues of any kind with Cathay. And to top it all off, [I didn’t gain anything] in the situation? [Cathay Pacific never issued an upgrade].

Unfortunately, the executive team had already explained to her that it didn’t matter if she had ultimately benefited from the questionable email. Their decision remained the same.

Asking Cathay Pacific to weigh in about this upgrade request

I decided to send Ng’s case over to the executives at Cathay Pacific. I hoped to provide some closure for Ng. Based on the lengthy paper trail from the airline, it seemed clear that their team had conducted an extensive investigation.

Surprisingly, I soon heard back from the corporate communications department of Cathay Pacific.

Dear Michelle,

Thanks for reaching out. We reviewed the case in question thoroughly. We certainly do not take any decisions we make with regards to our customers lightly; however, we do not comment on individual cases. (Cathay Pacific Corporate Communications)

Cathay Pacific does not intend to reverse its decision

And so, I broke the bad news to Ng that the airline doesn’t intend to reverse its decision. I suggested that if she could provide the metadata of the upgrade eligibility email, she may be able to prove it came from Cathay Pacific. So far she’s not been able to gather that information and she remains banned from the airline – just like Marko Kasic earlier this summer. He also got kicked off a flight and then banished from an airline forever:

Travelers should be aware that airlines seem more willing than ever to put their (former) passengers on the blacklist.

In Ng’s case, Cathay Pacific refunded the unused segment for the flight she was kicked off of. But it has declined her $1,400 request for reimbursement for the new flight. This is in accordance with the terms and conditions of Cathay Pacific.

We will not be liable for any consequential loss or damage alleged due to any such refusal to carry or removal en route. (Cathay Pacific contract of carriage — sec. 8.2)

Ng says she intends to hire that legal counsel she referenced earlier in her plight. She’s hopeful that an attorney can prove that she isn’t guilty of creating fake documents to score an upgrade — and that the airline kicked her off the flight in error.

How to ask for an upgrade in the correct way (and not get kicked off the flight)

The fact is, no matter what you read, free or spontaneous airline upgrades are almost impossible to snag. The airlines typically dole those upgrades out to upper tiered frequent flyers in an automated fashion. There is a trickle-down effect to the lower-tiered frequent flyers if the business class seats remain unoccupied closer to the flight. The airlines make almost no upgrades available to infrequent travelers or passengers not willing to pay for the upgrade.

But here’s how you might end up in an upgraded seat on your next flight:

  • Put yourself on the waitlist for an upgrade: As I mentioned a bit earlier, most airline upgrades are automatically granted by computer algorithms today. You’ll need to put yourself on the waitlist for your flight if you hope for an upgrade. Then you’ll receive an alert when and if the upgrade clears. *Make sure to confirm the cost of the upgrade before you put yourself on the waitlist. The airline will automatically charge your credit card when it approves you for the upgrade.
  • Sign up for the airline’s frequent flyer program: To be able to go on a waitlist for a possible upgrade, you must belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program. These programs are free to join, and you can earn miles toward free flights and the miles you earn can also pay for those upgrades.
  • Bid on an upgrade: Increasingly, airlines are turning to online upgrade auctions to sell their available business class seats. This is especially true in the international market. But the bidding process can be tricky for non-computer savvy travelers. It’s imperative to make sure you understand the bidding system before you dive in. Our team has received quite a few pleas for help from bewildered passengers who ended up mistakenly bidding much more for their upgrade than they expected to pay. Proceed with caution if you want to try to win a low-cost upgrade.
  • Pay for the upgrade: The dynamic pricing of airline tickets also applies to upgrades. As it gets closer to the date of departure, if that algorithm has determined that the airline should lower the cost of the upgrade, it will do so. Many airlines offer the option to purchase the upgrade through your online account.
  • Don’t purchase basic economy tickets: These tickets aren’t upgradable. So don’t bother asking for an upgrade if you’ve purchased the lowest fare class — it’s not going to happen.
  • Ask for an upgrade at check-in: Extremely rarely, depending on the market, there might be unsold seats available at check-in. If you’re polite, friendly, dressed nicely and well-groomed, you might be able to charm your way into an upgrade. You’ll have the best chance of this scheme working if you’re flying solo. Good luck — you’re going to need it. :)


Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend