Air France offered us an upgrade — then it didn’t

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By Christopher Elliott

Brian Lee and Alisha Singh were looking forward to their Air France flight the same way all of us used to anticipate flying, and a few of us still do.

They were traveling from New York to Paris on an Air France Airbus A380, the famous double-decker superjumbo, and in premium economy class. “We were very excited,” he says.

But their excitement was taken to the next level when out of the blue, an Air France representative phoned his companion with an offer. Would she be interested in buying an upgrade to business class?

She has not traveled internationally before and thought they were trying to up-sell to the full business class fare. Upon informing me of the proposal from Air France, I explained that when premium cabins are empty sometimes they offer paid upgrades but it’s generally a considerable bargain.

Not knowing the exact offer, Lee decided to call back. After all, who wouldn’t want take that long trans-Atlantic flight in the best seats?

Up in the air

So Lee contacted Air France by phone and by email to get the details. But no details were forthcoming.

“We received several form letter responses refusing to honor our upgrade and other seemingly irrelevant responses such as, ‘It appears that two seats together are no longer available,” and so forth,” he says.

For example:

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.

We apologize for the inconvenience. Currently, there are no other seats together available on the [flight].

You may request your seats to be changed and/or upgrades only during the checkin process.
Thank you for using the Air France E-Services.

That seemed odd. Either Air France had business class seats for these passengers, or it didn’t. But why call them with an offer if they weren’t prepared to follow through? (Here’s our guide to booking an airline ticket.)

I asked Lee to forward all of his correspondence from Air France. I could see that it responded to each of his queries with form letters, some of them suggesting it hadn’t even bothered to read his email. (Related: Where’s the refund for my Air France ticket?)

For that lapse in service alone, he probably deserves an upgrade to first class.

He adds,

Pretty appalling customer service in my opinion which has cast a very dark shadow over their brand.

This is our first time flying Air France. With our flight coming up so soon, I’m sure that I’m out of options, especially since no one at Air France can be bothered to respond appropriately.

I’ll just have to be content to remain in Premium Economy but would love an explanation as to why they offered an upgrade — whetting our appetite — and then just as quickly, pulled the rug out from under us.

The upgrade hoax

My advocacy team and I asked Air France if it could get him a better answer than a form letter. A representative called him to explain the airlines previous non-answers. (Related: How can I make Air France send my refund now?)

“I was contacted by Air France customer service in Montréal,” he told me. “They have no explanation for to this situation or why Ms. Singh was contacted, and refused to be of further assistance.”

That’s too bad. It makes me wonder if the call Singh received really was from Air France.

Either way, when someone phones you with an upgrade offer, which is highly unusual, you should ask them to send the details in writing. Had Singh done that, she might have been able to figure out if the upgrade was legit or not.

I can understand Lee’s disappointment. But things could be worse. He could be sitting in economy class.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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