Worst upgrade ever — how about a refund?

It’s a six-hour flight from Honolulu to Phoenix, so when a US Airways agent offered Blair Fell an upgrade to first class for just $350, he jumped at the opportunity.

“The agent convinced me by saying, ‘Wouldn’t you like to lie back and sleep?” he remembers.

But once he boarded the aircraft, he was surprised by what he found. “Not only was it a no-reclining seat,” he says, “but the first class was decidedly not present.”

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Fell asked for a refund, but US Airways said “no.” Then he turned to me, sending me his correspondence and a few photos of the conditions on the plane. Here’s a picture of his seat (above). Clearly not a lie-flat seat — but it is in the front of the plane.

Fell says the flight fell short of a first-class experience.

The amenities were laughable. They offered me a basket to choose whether I wanted vending machine packaged cookies or potato chips. And then there was the breakfast: a box of stale granola, a few pieces of cut fruit (the only prepared food I was offered), skim milk. Period. That was the food.

The blanket and pillow? Same as you get in coach. A thin tissue of a blanket, and the cabin was freezing.

Fell says the only way for him to rest was to lie down on the floor. I’ll let him explain how he did that in a minute.

The grievance process left something to be desired, too.

“When their customer service person called me finally today, she was beyond rude, and basically told me, ‘You sat in the seat so we owe you nothing,'” he told me. “And when I asked to speak to a manager she said ‘Managers don’t answer complaints.'”

No doubt, Fell had a disappointing experience on US Airways. But I thought I’d check with the airline for its perspective.

US Airways’ records show Fell was traveling on a Travelocity reservation and phoned the airline the night before his return trip to the mainland to request an upgrade.

This is a 757 and a night flight so there is no scheduled meal service and no Envoy Class service.

All of our seats recline in first class and he does not state the seat was broken, which if it only reclined as far as shown in the picture might indicate it wasn’t functioning properly. We did not get a report of a broken seat and he does not indicate that he reported it as such, so we have to assume it was fully functional but did not lie flat like an envoy seat would.

Not sure where he found the room to lie down on the floor, as there is only room to do that in the aisle and galley (or by the boarding door).

Our agents called him and did apologize for not meeting his expectations but there is really no compensation due as he flew in first class on the return leg.

We think his expectation was that he would have Envoy seating and an international meal service, but we do not have an envoy cabin on any of our Hawaii flights. He does not indicate that he was told, in error, that Envoy Class was available (it isn’t on this route) so I think he made some assumptions that proved incorrect.

Again, we apologized for not meeting his expectation.

I circled back with Fell and showed them US Airways’ response. Here’s what he had to say:

I did not “call” to upgrade to first class. First class was sold to me aggressively when I called to check on my flight.

I first refused since I really shouldn’t be paying $350, but when I thought about what the sales agent said — that I could “lie down and sleep” on the leg to Phoenix — I called back.

The seat in the photo is in full recline and I tried a second seat. Same thing.

Per lying down on the floor, I did that in the bulkhead of the seats in front of me. There were only three passengers in “first class” and I’m only 5’7″.

They act as if we’re supposed to know that one sort of first class is crapier than the other.

They sold it as a “lie down” experience and I was not able to lie down except on the floor. Period.

US Airways won’t return Fell’s $350, but his experience offers some valuable lessons for the rest of us. Airline employees are aggressively trying to “upsell” all kinds of products, from affinity cards to business class upgrades. You need to ask a few hard questions before saying “yes.”

The product might be worth the extra money — or not.

135 thoughts on “Worst upgrade ever — how about a refund?

  1. “I did not “call” to upgrade to first class.” … “I first refused” … “I called back.”
    Yes, you did call back to upgrade to first class completely voluntarily.
    If his seat truly was broken, he should have said something as soon as he noticed. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of expectations, and if you expect full international first class service, then you’re just naive.

  2. I think definitely it pays to do a little research into the different sevrice levels available. I was once caught out by agreeing to upgrade only to find out that particluar flight didn’t have flatbeds, just reclining seats although the airline at the time was hawking their lie flat beds on every tv channel.  If time allows, it is worth going to the different websites that dsuggest the best seats like Jonathan has mentioned.

    1. That is like Luftansa showing off their B & F class on the A380 on their website when you are NOT going to fly that metal but a A330 or A340 or 747 instead which has the older configuation and smaller seats

    2. I would think it would be pretty easy to log onto seatguru and check out the seat configuration before you upgraded. Hell, you should be able to just look at the seat configuration on USAirways site and see that these won’t be lie flat seats. 

      I can’t think of any 2 class planes I’ve been on that even have lay flat seats? I thought they were pretty much only on equipment with 3 cabins. Sounds like this person make a rookie mistake and paid for it. 

      1. Delta, US Airways, and United (only former CO aircraft) only have 2 classes on international flights, and some of those aircraft have lie-flat seats in their premium cabin. But they are only seen on some long-haul international flights.

  3. This is a hard one.  I think airlines are cheap and cheats.  However, I think he made some assumptions in regards to the level of service he was t receive. I travel frequently, and have never (this does not mean it doesn’t exist) seen lie flat seats on a domestic flight.  Heck…you don’t see completely flat beds on a lot of international flights (which I do frequently as well).  On domestic flights, you typically just get a wider seat with more leg room.  If he got that, then he got what he paid for.  And, there is hardly ever any service on a red eye flight.  So…in this case, I think he’s just S-O-L.  

    1. I happened to have lie flats seats from DFW to LAX one flight in 2008.  I want to say it was a 767, but I’m not positive- it was 4 years ago. I have only flown first class a handful of times and this was one of those time.   After the plane was loaded and they announced a mechanical delay.  We sat at the gate for an extra 2 hours.   The service was wonderful!  But I did feel bad for everyone else in coach.    Other than that I have never seen 180 recline seats on any other domestic flight.

    2. Despite what the OP “should” have known – and we can debate the amount of research the reasonable person is expected to conduct – he was promised the ability to “lie back and sleep”. He didn’t get that. It seems that a lot of the responses here lately have to do with folks’ opinion that these naive OPs should “just do their research”. As pointed out many times, the people who frequent this blog are, generally, not naive first-time travelers. They’ve learned lessons the hard way through many miles flown and/or otherwise traveled. I believe they are in the minority. Most folks aren’t that  hip to the travel industry. If a Travel Agent promises you the ability to “lie back and sleep” 95% of the folks out there wouldn’t know that domestic flights don’t offer lie-flat beds. And why would you question the TA? This is the “expert”, after all. It seems that the opinion here sometimes is, If you get sold a bill of goods, it”s obviously your fault because you didn’t do the research. How much research is needed? Just a bit more than you conducted, I guess.

      1. Sorry, didn’t mean Travel Agent. Ticketing Agent, I guess? And after reading further responses, it’s clear to me that the various “classes” are anything but clear, which just adds to the confusion. So, please explain, how it is the OP’s responsibility to research this plethora of misleading explanations when even the airlines can’t seem to agree on a definition? And what happens when you ask the rep directly, Can I lie down, in a fully reclining, horizontally supine position?”, get told Yes, and still find that they were lying? There’s no proof that you were lied to, no recording, and we’re certainly sorry that we didn’t meet your expectations. Here’s $200 of funny money.

        1. But USAirways DOES have a standard definition of their “First Class”. That definition may not be consistent with first class on Singapore Airlines, but they do describe their product clearly on their website. 

          Would you compare a McDonald’s hamburger with an In-N-Out Burger hamburger? What about a frozen burger heated at a convenience store…still a hamburger. But, if I go to In N Out, I do expect THEIR standard to apply, but I don’t expect McD’s to match it.

          He was told he could lie back and sleep. I did not take that as lie “down” and sleep until he mentioned it later. The seat DOES go back.

          You mention that others learned their lessons “the hard way”, do we all go back and claim compensation for the mistakes we made in life?

          While it may be nice to see some level of minimum standard across the board, wouldn’t that be unfair to those carriers that exceed it? Would airline that DO exceed now, then even further lower their standards to be on a level playing field with the others?

          1. I guess what we’re supposed to do is, upon getting the offer from the airline to upgrade to First Class in order to “lie back and sleep” is to 1) ask the phone agent to clarify a) “lie back” and b) “sleep” (just to be safe). I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that “and” is universal. 2) ask the agent to please hold while I navigate the airline’s website to determine which of the 37 definitions of First Class they subscribe to. 3) make sure that I’m recording the conversation (and subsequently download it to my iPhone so that when – not if – there is a problem on the plane, I can play the recording to the Flight Attendant in order to verify what was promised to me, and finally 4) have secondary travel plans in place after they throw me off the plane for “interfering with a flight crew”.

          2. Which is exactly what I described, albeit, tongue-in-cheek. The point is, you cavalierly state, “learn about what you are buying”, but from a practical standpoint, that’s not so easy to do, what with explicit, non-intuitive definitions of common phrases, multiple definitions of First Class, depending upon which airline you’re flying, and ticket agents who, apparently, are trying hard to up-sell their product because, obviously they’re not making enough millions with their baggage and change fees.

          3. You can “lie back” on just about any coach seat. If she’s trying to upsell on the basis of ability to recline a seat, the customer has a right to assume it’s something better than what he already has.

  4. $350 for what he claims he got sounds like he paid a lot for a whole lot of nothing. Interesting if they can locate the conversation with the agent, though. There is a difference between “lie back” and “lie down”. Sounds like he jumped at the “first class” nomenclature without actually finding out what perks were included. Expensive lesson but if he didn’t report the seat as broken and it did in fact recline (although not to his expectations), not sure what else he could want. Stay back in coach with the rest of us grunts. Spend your $350 on a nice massage once you get back home.

  5. Interesting how airlines do not maintain consistency in their premium product. Not only when comparing airline to airline, but route to route.

    For example, American Airlines operates a 757 from Montego Bay to Miami. They do not offer first class, but they do offer business class. If you were to connect to Orlando, you could be on a 757 with the same cabin configuration, but, now you do not have a business class cabin…only first class for a premium option. Same product, different names.

    So, in looking at USAirways website, they describe First Class as a different product than Envoy. (which is actually described Envoy/Business Class…presumably because Envoy is similar to other airlines international business class?) “First Class” is actually a less premium product than Envoy.

    So, the term “first class” can be misleading and certainly fail to meet some expectations, especially when the level of comfort and service is less than or comparable to business class on other routes.

    Presumably, since the OP stated he called back after being offered the upgrade, he probably had an opportunity to take a few minutes to investigate this on USAirways website. In fact, he would have seen a picture of the FA handing out packaged snacks!  http://shopping.usairways.com/en-US/traveltools/intheair/envoyfirst/firstclass.html 

    1. The names can get confusing, but I think I have figured it out after flying for many years.
      There is Domestic First, which is what the OP received.  Then there is International Business and International First.  International business is far superior to Domestic First, International first is superior to International Business.  This sound simple, then to make it more confusing, some airlines got rid of international first and made the international planes two cabins and came up with new names for international business.  US calls it Envoy, Continental called in Business/First, Virgin calls it Upper Class, Iceland Air calls it Saga Class, so it gets quite confusing.
      What annoys me is when they miss market them.  This is one of my grudges with Continental who now runs United.  A few years ago I bought a one way ticket from SJD to EWR which is about 7 hours.  I was offered an upgrade to International Business/First for the amount of miles it takes to upgrade an international flight.  The offer said it was on a 757 with lie flat seats which I confirmed do exist on SeatGuru.com.  As I had a bunch of continental miles sitting around I decided to use it.  It turned out to be standard domestic 757 with domestic first and an overhead video.  It was disappointing, but I wasn’t going to use those miles anyway as I moved away from NY, and it was still better than coach.  I noticed after the merger, United/CO now charges international upgrade rates for domestic flights to/from Hawaii ($500 co-pay and 30,000 miles), even though it’s on standard domestic planes.  Pre-merger United charged domestic upgrade rates ($50 co-pay and 15,000 miles).  My last DEN-HNL flight I happily flew in coach saving my miles and $500.
      My new general rule it to always assume its domestic first unless it’s to Asia or Europe.

      1. My head is swimming…  I rarely fly anything but AA, most of the time in 1st (compliments of my SO), but had I paid for a “1st” class upgrade on a 6 hr. flight, I would have expected way more that a wider seat.  Buyer beware!  But in answer to the question, no.  I would like to see the larger question of “1st class”, “Business”, etc. upgrades addressed.  Is the traveller expected to research each line to determine exactly what each class offers?  The airlines seem to be using formerly self-explanatory terms and reformulating them to their own use.

        1. Actually…yes, the traveler is expected to research and know since there is no real industry standard. Not saying it’s right or wrong, but just the way it is. A good travel agent would also be able to explain that to you as well, but if you do it yourself, you do it ALL yourself.

          Similar to coach/economy as well. With no industry standard, a standard coach seat on Jetblue is much better than a standard coach seat on Spirit. More legroom, free TV, one free bag allowance, free snacks and drinks…etc.

    2. Our First class is better then international economy class but a lower grade business class internationally.  I have been on LH, BA, business class and theirs is so much better then our first class here in the usa

      1. Except intra-European flights are no picnic, either. “Business Class” on LH within Europe just means a regular coach row of 3 across with the middle seat blocked off. You don’t even get any extra legroom. Honestly, it’s even more chintzy than domestic First here in the U.S.

  6. Looks and sounds like standard domestic first class.  It’s really not that much better than coach and in all honesty, 6 hours is a pretty short flight in the grand scheme of things.  The only real bonus is a few inches more legroom and your own arm rest. At least they have pillows; United did away with that as part of the merger.  I am not sure where he got the idea that domestic first on a red eye would be a lie flat seat with full meal service, if the agent said “Lie back and sleep” as the first quote indicates, well in coach they also tell you to “lay back and relax” and coach doesn’t have lie flat seats. US Air’s published discount rates are about $1,000 more for First than Coach on that route, so he did get a substantial discount.  There is a reason international business and first class costs several thousands of dollars more than coach and domestic first class.  I have to agree with the airline here, he flew in the class of service he upgraded to, and should not get a refund.  

    1. But if they say “lie back and sleep” for “first” class and they say “lie back and relax” for coach, what was the agent trying to sell him for an extra $350? The implication clearly was that he can do something in first class that would be harder to do in coach. You are undoubtedly familiar with flying in premium cabins and have a good grasp of distinctions and expectations associated with them. The passenger here took an agent at her word that for $350 he would be able to “lie back and sleep”, and I think it’s logical to assume there would be a qualitative difference between that and the corresponding experience in coach.

      1. I still think “Lie back and sleep” is different than “Lie down in our flatbed seat”. And actually, I have been on read eyes where they have said “Lie back and sleep” in coach too. For his $350 he got 6 extra inches of leg room, a 3 inch wider seat, his own arm rests, free drinks, snacks, and breakfast. That is a qualitative difference. I am familiar with premium cabins, not from flying in them, but from looking at airline seating charts on seatguru.com whenever I book and walking past them on my way to coach. I do occasionally get an upgrade based on my frequent flyer status on domestic flights, and one day hope to fly somewhere in International First, but I would never pay for that, nor expect it in Domestic first. The OP flew to Hawaii, did he see lie flat seats there? US Airways doesn’t have them on flight to Hawaii, so I would assume he didn’t. And if he didn’t why would he assume they would have them on his return trip. If that is what he wanted, he should have asked if that was what he was being offered rather than assume. What he got was still better than coach, and for substantially less than the price had he paid for First Class.

  7. Sorry but it sounds like the OP made a lot of assumptions on what he was getting and never asked. He got what amounts to domestic first class on most airlines which is what he paid for. It isn’t the same as their international product (last time I check HI isn’t an international destination). He may have also gotten a benefit with free checked bags etc. He also ended up with a larger seat and no seatmates.

    Sorry, US Air is a poor airline but it isn’t their fault that he assumed things that just weren’t true. When you combine that with his story being inconsistent, I have to side with US Air on this one as much as it pains me.

  8. Apparently this guy hasn’t flown domestic first class in awhile. It’s pretty much coach plus these days. I’m up there quite a bit and rarely do I get a hot meal. Still, the larger seat is more comfy than those in coach, even if it doesn’t “lie flat.”

    I can buy the rudeness. US Airways is notorious for being lousy like that. Must be taking cues from Jeffy lately…

  9. She had said lie BACK, not lie DOWN – HE assumed these were lie-flat beds, which are usulayy reserved for international flights.  A bad misconnect, but had he questioned her more thoroughly, he would have known what he was getting – sometimes making assumptions gets you nothing, as in this case.  lesson learned.

    1. What it sounds like you’re justifying is that the airlines have deliberately made the distinction between ‘lie back” and “lie down”, perhaps assuming that most folks won’t make that distinction. And you’re OK with that? I shudder to think of all the other abuses of definition that could be propagated by businesses should they so decide to take the airline industries approach. Not to say that many businesses don’t live by equally nefarious means, but it’s sad to see that the public not only accepts these underhanded practices, but chastises the consumer for being naive enough to fall for them.

  10. Reading these stories and posts make me realize one of the most important things I really need to do before I travel anywhere: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, and more RESEARCH!

  11. No refund.  Sounds like normal domestic First Class to me.  What’d he expect, dancing girls and a 5-course meal?  

    1. You can get the dancing girls at Cebu Pacific.
      Another “more fun” reason to visit the Philippines 🙂
      PS. the beaches are wonderful over there. You can lie flat on white powdery sand. Beats first class seats (maybe since I have not been on one of those, too expensive).

  12. The simple fact is that just like the government the airline industry treats you as a target to be hit for money. Neither care a damn about product or anything else other than taking from you the money you earn the hard way. Frankly, I really won’t fly anymore unless there is something approaching an actual first class on the airline. Domestically that is hard to find so sometimes I drive hours and hours and spend more money on gasoline that I would on an airline ticket just so I don’t reinforce to the airlines that they can treat me like a commodity to used up and thrown away. Unfortunately the government has the fascist police force known as the IRS to make me comply with their rules (and by the way thousands and thousands of new IRS agents are being hired to enforce the new ‘Affordable Care Act’ – wait til you and your doctor get a close of view of this monstrosity).

  13. This is typical of US Air. They have a morning flight from DFW to LAS and offer first class “upgrade” for $50. What you get is seating in the first four rows, period. No meal or snacks and drinks off the cart just like coach and you pay for alcohol. They don’t tell you any of this at the time they sell you the “upgrade”.

    1. Yep.  I have some sympathy for the OP since we fell for the same upsell from USAIR on the same route.  When they’re in front of you saying “first class” if you’ve NEVER flown first class in your life, it sounds kinda cool and glamorous and you don’t think to start questionging the gate attendants… especially when you’re in a line of people.  But if I’d had the time to review the offer online I’d have done some research… definitely a lesson learned! On the plus side, all our baggage was free and that alone saved us about $150 so we got some of our money “back” that way 🙂

  14. $350 seems about right for a last-minute upgrade on a six-hour domestic flight.  Was it what he was thinking of when an inexperienced traveler thinks “First Class”?  No.  But that pricing is pretty standard for the length of flight and service provided.  I, personally, don’t think it’s a particularly great value, but somebody else might think it was ok, especially somebody traveling on expense account.

  15. I’m curious… where are the comments from all the people (64%?!) who say he should get a refund?  I agree with pretty much everyone else here… he got domestic first which is very different than international first. As for the aggressive upsell… well, he could have said “no”…

    1. Yea, and the only thing he seems to have is the “aggressive” part, which is nothing but hearsay.  No words that he used in the conversation indicate anything ‘agressive’ and personally I do not believe for an instant that it was.  Despite all that, all he has to say is, “No.”


    2. So basically, then, he’s an idiot for believing the word of airline personnel? Okay, I’ll keep that in mind for my next flight.

      1. Right, but he also had plenty of time to do independent research and see that the flight in fact did not have lie flat seats. So yes, if you believe everything every employee tells you, then you are indeed an idiot. I also personally don’t believe this agent said “lie flat” perhaps lay back but that’s it. I think Mr Fell assumed that first class meant international first class service and what’s pretty standard for domestic first class service. 

      2. I was at a large homestore chain. An elderly couple was looking for an 8000 BTU air conditioner, but they were sold out. He told them that a 12,000 BTU (which they had in stock) would do the job and conceded that it was “a few dollars more”, but at least it was in stock. I was also looking for an AC unit and had done my homework. I told them that if you buy too big, the condenser works too quickly to cool the room and shuts off before the humidity is removed, leaving the room feeling “clammy”. They didn’t know who to believe and said they would “do more research” at home and come back.

        Were they idiots because if they took the word of the salesperson? Were they idiots because they didn’t believe me? No, they were smart because they chose not to make a decision on what either of us said and do their own research to confirm their needs.

        Just because you do something that’s not smart, does not automatically make you an idiot.

        1. And your elderly couple had the luxury of leaving the store and coming back later. I’m all for smart consumership. And I believe that there is – and has always been – an element of “buyer beware” when dealing with any salesman. But it seems to me that, within the past 20-25 years, there has arisen an atmosphere within both the government and the retail society, an unprecedented level of “screw the consumer” mentality. You can argue that earlier periods in our history were much worse (the early robber barons, for instance), but I don’t think it was as widespread as it is today. Every company, every local municipality is actively looking for ways to grab your cash. As consumers, we have the ability and the weapons to fight this (the vote, boycotts, etc), but, unfortunately, this rise in anti-consumerism is accompanied by an unbelievable amount of apathy and ignorance.

    3. Does he buy a car every time he goes to a car lot?  Now those people are aggressive!  He got exactly what is marketed as domestic first.  I would have figured out what I was buying, or at least asked if it was a lie-flat seat before shelling out $350, though I am too cheap to buy it on that short of a flight even if it was lie-flat.
      No one can make me do something I doesn’t want to do (Except TSA).
      I am also curious about all the people who think he should get a refund.  He bought a published service, used it, got exactly what the service was supposed to be, and now wants his money back?!?!?!  Baffles the mind.

    4. I think all the negative posts toward the passenger are from people who are used to flying in premium cabins and think everyone should have a careful knowledge of all the different types on all the airlines on all the flights. I think the agent misled him, and he made the assumptions that a typical coach passenger would make based on what she told him.

      1.  i have flown in 1st/Business only twice in my life, and yet i still don’t think he should get his money back. they asked if he wanted to upgrade, he said no, thought about it, and then CALLED THEM BACK to take it.  he had plenty of opportunity to figure out if it was worth it to him.

        again, HE CALLED THEM.

  16. Regardless of the other benefits of First or Business class it’s the “lie back and sleep” benefit that most appeals to me. I have been on some flights where the only difference between First and Coach was the seat location. Whether deliberate or through ignorance a customer is due satisfaction if the company is made aware in a timely manner, in this case it would have been as soon as the seat was seen.

  17. Did he get more legroom? That’s why I would fly first class, on a domestic flight anyway.  I’ve flown it a few times on Delta and USAirways and it isn’t all that special but being a tall person I appreciate the extra legroom. International I’d expect to get a bit more, but I don’t expect I’ll be enjoying that privilege anytime soon.

  18. He deserves a refund; the agent clearly lied to him.  First class is supposed to have beds, a lounge, that picture is clearly a crappy coach seat. He was robbed.  Screw the airlines, make them pay.

  19. If the OP is being truthful, then the US Airways employee was being dishonest and knowingly falsely advertising their “1st Class” services.

    Whether it’s “lie back” or “lie down”, he was unable to do either.

    Definitely a refund situation.

  20. The OP had the opportunity between when he was first offered the choice to upgrade and when he called back to take the upgrade to find out exactly what he was buying. No sympathy here for not doing the minimum amount of research before making a large purchase. He did not even have to check a third party site such as Seat Guru, the information he needed is right there on US Airways. http://www.usairways.com/en-US/traveltools/intheair/envoyfirst/firstclass.html#tab2
    Reading this he would have found when meals are served, what they consist of, and what the first class option actually offers. All of which, btw, he was able to utilize.  

  21. The 757- version has 38″ pitch compared to the coach of 32″, where as on an Envoy class 757 has a 60″ pitch.  He was sold a LEMON by US Airways. What he really got was United’s version of Economy Plus and he paid $350 bucks for it. You do need to know what version of planes you are fying on before you take a F or J class seat

    1.  Good Point!
      As @emanon256:disqus said UA has those 752s (of Continental) with lie-flat seats . But not all UA 752s have them. Those with lie-flat seats are primarily used for EWR and IAD international flights. But I looked at my GDS and found some of them used in Domestic Routes. Here are a few:

      UA1202 F0 A0 Z0 P0  IAHSFO- 735A 939A   8 752 0E
      UA1546 F2 A2 Z1 P1  IAHEWR- 342P 835P   7 752 0E
      UA1643 F3 A3 Z2 P1  DENEWR-1235P 634P   7 752 0E
      UA1186 F9 A9 Z9 P9  EWRMIA-1245P 343P   7 752 0E

       SEAT MAP     1202  4JUL IAH SFO
      J   A B     E F   J          J    0 Y    14
       01 . .   N . . 01
       02 . .   N . . 02
       03 . .   N . . 03
       04 . .   N . . 04

      — ECON CLASS —  
       SEAT MAP     1202  4JUL IAH SFO
      Y   A B C     D E F   Y      J    0 Y    14
       07 . . . E N       07
       08 V . .   N . . . 08
       09 . . .   N . . . 09
       10 . . .   N . . . 10
       11 V . .   N . . . 11
       12 . P . W N . . . 12
       20 T T . E N . T T 20#

      The dead giveaway are 4 rows in Business First -AND- no row 14, between rows 12 and 20, in economy class.

  22. that sounds like first class to me.

    my worst first class experience- flying from Chicago to Denver. this flight sometimes had a stop in Kansas city (in past years), but on the site it said that this was one long flight. cool. this is worth upgrading (i would not upgrade a 1 hour flight- not worth it.)

    I got on the plane and guess what!- their destination was Kansas city. I was told that my seat would reamain the same for both flights, so i was ok.

    THEN when we landed in Kansas city we were told to deplane and go to a smaller plane. this plane had no first class. (All seats were the same size, no snacks, no tv.)

    that was on midwest airlines.
    now i try to only fly Virgin- where all planes have a first class section (and all seats have a tv.) 🙂

  23. This is the first time that I’ve heard about there being “no service” on red eye flights. I also would not have thought to check what kind of seat it was either. But, that’s why I read Chris’ newsletters – so that I become a more knowledgable traveler when I do get to go!

    1. What’s funny to me is the OP described the standard snack and breakfast I have seen on red eye flights.  But it’s US Airways who says there is “no service” on a red eye.  Honestly, what the OP got is standard domestic first class anywhere in the US.  I for one would never shell out $350 for that, but you would be surprised how many people do.  I was in OGG recently waiting for my OGG-LAX red-eye and they were announcing upgrade to first class for $380 at the gate and so many people took the bait.  One entire family upgraded.  I happily stayed in my economy exit row knowing I would have more leg room than F.  The United domestic 767s only have 2 more inches of leg room and 1 inch wider seats in First class.  It’s really a joke.  For the $380 you get free booze and a snack basket, then a fruit cup and cereal before landing.  Not worth it in my mind.  Also, the exit rows are bulkhead, so they have unlimited legroom.  You can tell I use SeatGuru a lot 🙂

      1. United uses some of the former Continental 767 planes going to HNL and OGG now.  Those have the Business-First seating which is 55 inches of legroom and only 5 seats wide up front.  A much superior product to the old United layout. But you have to look closely or you get stuck on the old United planes with very crowded 1st class seating.

        1. That’s good to know.  I wonder if that why they excluded Hawaii from free elite upgrades and raised the miles and co pay to the same as international flights, at least out of DEN and ORD.  The rates are lower from LAX and SFO, but still higher than they used to be.

          1. On CO, Hawaii never was on the free upgrade list. For UA pre meger it was.  I hoped that the UA option would win out on this but was not even a little surprised when the upgrade fees to Hawaii went up and the availability of mileage redemptin flights went way down. That’s why I fly Hawaiian airlines now into Hawaii whenever I can.

          2.  Hey we just got JFK-HNL nonstop on Hawaiian Air – HA51 10AM-3PM on an A332. Anyone has an idea if that is a good flight?

          3. Nice!
            Business Class has 32 flatbed seats with 74” pitch and 21” with.  Economy class has 186 seats with 32″ pitch and 19″ with.  Their economy seats are just as wide as the First Class seats in the bad United 767 Domestic.
            In my opinion (6’1” Male), an economy seat needs to have 32” pitch and 18” with to be comfortable.  Sadly a lot of US carriers have 31” pitch and 17” with seats.  I can handle the 17”, but some of the 737s and 16.3” and that is horrible.  And at 31” and my knees hit the un reclined seat in front of me.

          4. Not Hawaiian.  They have domestic first on their 332 – 42 pitch and 18.5 wide.  Not bad, but not the CO measurements you gave.

          5. Oops, how embarrassing.  I clicked on Hainan Airlines on seta guru.  Please disregard my earlier post.

          6. It’s a new flight for HA.  They do feed you well on their flights, the seats on that plane are more comfortable than most. But it is a really long flight.

          7. Hawaiian is the last carrier to Hawaii that I would sell.  However, from the east getting nonstop service vs connecting is nice, so I hope HA has improved since the last transpacific flight I took back in the 80’s.  Their interisland flights are ok, but Iike Aloha’s so much better.

          8. Wow, my experiences are the exact opposite. 
            I flew Aloha a couple years before they quit flying and the planes were old, worn and not very fun.  

            I have flow HA many times both inter-island and from LAX to HNL.  Planes are new with some of the most comfortable coach seats anywhere, they feed you for no extra cost, the flight attendants are happy, and they have a great selection of Hawaiian beers.  And they cost less than most other airlines from the west coast.

      2.  wait, you have seen entire families upgrading for $380 a pop, and i get people who yell at me and balk over paying $50 for an overweight bag?? i need to change airlines!

    2. There is a different type of service of redeyes due to the hour and the sleep.

      The OP assumed something and wasn’t mislead.  Flat beds in first don’t exist on domestic configured planes.  Every once in awhile you can get a plane that needs to be moved or is substituted and it is internationally configured.  UA has done this on two of my flights, one from HNL to SFO the other from SFO to ORD. 

      The picture shows me nothing unusual and that blanket is what you get.  What did he expect, a down comforter…which I did get in FC with my flat seat from SFO to ORD.  Now that was fabulous!

  24. I had to laugh when I read the first sentence. This could have been me.  On our trip from Hawaii to Phoenix in October, same scenario. We were offered first class at check in but for $250 each. My husband and I decided to go for it.  We got the exact same “amenities” that the OP got, and a glass of white or red wine or a beer.  We also had the bulkhead seats. We were definitely more comfortable than in the cattle car, but it was not at all a “first class” experience.  Worth an upgrade chage, yes, worth two or three hundred dollars more, no.  USAir also convinced us to “upgrade” my son’s seat to an exit row since we were going to be in first class so we agreed (he is 23, 6’1).  He had a miserable experience, since the USAir Exit row window seat is right against the exit door which is the old style that bulges inward. He couldn’t stretch out his legs or get at all comfortable (plus the woman next to him was in a word HUGE). The attendant was sympathetic and offered him a pillow to put between the door and his knee because it was starting to bruise and said she didn’t understand why they could keep selling that seat as a premium, but the plane was completely full and nowhere for him to move.  All in all that USAir flight was a pretty miserable experience for my son and an expensively mediocre experience for my husband and me!  I came “this close” to writing you about it Chris, but decided “eh we got home from a very happy vacation” and let it go.

  25. What baffles me more than anything is the fact that he called the airline to check on his flight.  Aren’t those usually automated recordings?  I honestly haven’t even called an airline to check a flight since the 90s.  Every hotel seems to have a computer where you can check your flight now.  And what baffles me even more is that he got a real person when calling to check his flight.  Then called back, got another real person and bought the upgrade without asking if it was lei flat if that was what he was concerned about.  Did he not see the regular domestic F seats on his trip to Hawaii?  I bet if he had called back and been told that first class was now sold out, we would have had another one of these stories: http://www.elliott.org/blog/they-offered-us-an-upgrade-and-then-they-downgraded-us/

    1.  Apparently he did more than check on his flights (since you can easily do that online). From USAir’s record, he called to request an upgrade. Well, beware what you wish for since you might actually get it (for $350 more) 🙂

  26. Misunderstanding or not, would the $350 refund really hurt the airline as much as this complaint in Chris’s column?

      1. The comments so far seem to be running about 55/45 against the OP. I wouldn’t say that he’s looking stupid,

        1. Yea, he is looking stupid to a good many.

          He got a seat in first class and he needs to move on.  He misunderstood and that is his fault.

  27. There is a reason that JD Power and Consumer Reports rank U.S. Airways last in customer satisfaction.  While this is an anecdote, it is a common event at this legacy airline.  It is one of the reasons it would be laughable for U.S. Airways management take over American Airlines.  AA has been ranked better than U.S. Airways consistently by these verifiable and statistically relevant surveys, not like the airline popularity contests on the web.

    1. News Flash!  In a non-scientific poll (admittedly not a valid survey) of 450 readers of Frequent Business Traveler Magazine and Frequent Flyer website released last week, U.S. Airways ranked second to last in satisfaction with redemption of loyalty program awards.  Delta was the worst with 73% dissatisfied, followed by U.S. Airways among domestic airlines at 50% dissatisfied.  Best was Alaska with only 15% dissatisfied (80% satisfied or very satisfied) and second to best was AA with 24% dissatisfied, and 76% in satisfied range.

      Readers of the poll’s sponsors are typically elite members with preference in getting award redemptions over ordinary members.  To rank low is a double indictment.  All airlines are not equal with regard to award availability and ease of redemption.

  28. Looks here like the agent specifically told him he could lie back and get some sleep in a seat that really wouldn’t meet anyone’s expectations for that description. It isn’t necessarily the passenger’s responsibility to understanding distinctions between kinds of products the airline has. It is the airline’s responsibility to describe them in accurate terms if trying to sell them to him. I vote with the passenger this time.

  29. I think ALL the airlines are sleazes trying to extract every $. Fly 1st class domestically & it’s a far cry from 1st for international flight (worse here in Canada, less competition). Generally speaking they have no idea of customer service! Everyone treated like so much cattle!
    Having said that, try flying Russian airlines! Flew St.Petersburg to Amsterdam in a tin can run by tyrant “hostesses” packed like sardines.
    Can be described in 1 word – brutal. Leaving Russia was also a charming very forgettable experience & going through Amstrdam airport is as bad as anything the TAS hands out in the U.S. Trying to navigate the airport with EVERYONE including airline staff- very rude.
    The best flight ever for us? First class return Cathay Pacific from Vancouver, Canada to Hong Kong

  30. He deserves a refund of the $350, DEFINITELY.  I fly up front all the time for the reason of physical comfort.  My legs are as long as my little brother’s and he’s 6’5″,  A six-hour flight with the opportunity to sleep comfortably?  $350 seems like a bargain.  It is not the passenger’s responsibility to research exactly what he was buying … he was buying a seat to “recline and sleep”.  If the agent does not know what she’s selling, the airline should refund his money.  The rest of it about the food, etc, is just fluff … once you are that angry at being taken advantage of, it’s human nature to nit-pick everything else.

    I really wish that airlines would educate their agents, fly them around different routes on different planes in all classes of service.  Unless you’re a 12-year-old on her first flight when all is exciting and wonderful, it’s the little details that make a good flying experience.  US Air should be ashamed.

    1. It is not the passenger’s responsibility to research exactly what he was buying

      This my friends, is the problem with America today.

      1. In what time or place have consumers done more research on their purchases than in America in 2012?

        Barely 10 years ago, it wasn’t even practical for a traveller to research this stuff independently. 

        Now we can look down our noses at and ridicule people who perhaps don’t have the awareness to check seatguru.

        1. All he had to do was ask the question, “Does the plane have lie-flat seats?”  That’s all he had to do.  How hard is that?

          1. I don’t see where the OP uses the word “flat.”  I don’t think he necessarily expected a lie-flat seat, just a seat that clearly reclined further than an economy seat.

            Maybe the OP should have asked more questions; maybe US Airways should use a more accurate sales pitch and demonstrate an interest in having satisfied customers.

            If either one of these is “the problem with America today” then we must not have any truly serious problems…

          2. I disagree. Early in the post, the term “lie back and sleep” is used describing what was offered. Later in the post he is quoted as saying it wasn’t a “lie down and sleep” seat. 

            I think it is pretty obvious he expected a lie flat seat. No distinction is made in this story between lie back and lie flat, yet many posters picked up on that difference right away. 

            Sounds like he had a misunderstanding of the different premium products that USAirways offers.

          3. There’s a huge number of people who cannot “lie back and sleep” at a 105 degree recline angle but who can easily do so at, say, 135 degrees.

        2. Right. So, how hard is it to research before shelling out $350? Forget seatguru, what about the carriers own website? It actually has a description of the service he received and makes it apparent these are not lie “down” or “flat” seats. 


          Another click and you can see the service he really wanted…


          But of course, this page opens with the term “International Business Class” in the first sentence, so that should have been a red flag that perhaps it was not what he was going to get.

          This wasn’t one of those “you must act now” type of offers, he actually hung up and then called back to get it.

          1. It’s a 2-way street.  It’s fair to criticize a buyer if they don’t do any due dilligence and it’s also fair to criticize a salesman/saleswoman if they give a misleading sales pitch (with no regard to customer satisfaction).

            Some people seem to think that all the info now available online makes the latter immune to any criticism and makes the former “the problem with America today.”

          2. What is misleading? The seat is wider, has more legroom and certainly easier to try to sleep in vs. a coach seat.
            Yes, you can “lie back” in that seat. No you cannot “lie down”. Since the terms are intermingled in the story, I would believe the OP (incorrectly) does not see the distinction in them.

          3. Yes, he misunderstood and is making a mountain out of a mole hill.  He had an assumption and isn’t the airline’s fault, just his.  Grow up and move on. 

          4. It sounds like the seat he got didn’t lie back any more than (possibly less than) a coach seat.

            There’s no mention of a claim about more legroom, but such a claim would have been slightly dubious too given that some of the  rows in economy have *more* legroom.

            And BTW even the USAirways website link you cite doesn’t say how much leg room or how much wider seats to expect (and notice it *doesn’t* even claim “more” legroom at all).

            And it says to expect full meals on flights over 3.5 hours between 5am and 8pm.  Given that this would have been a scheduled 5 hr 54 min flight with a 3 hour time loss, it seems to me that he should have been offered a hot breakfast, unless the flight took off exactly between 8:01 and 8:05pm (and I’m not seeing when such a departure time ever existed).

      2. In principal, I couldn’t agree more with your statement, Today’s society is full of people who think they are entitled to “do-overs” and premium treatment at bargain basement prices. However, I think there’s a difference between being held responsible for “reasonable man” common sense and expecting folks to become experts in a given field in order to conduct normal, everyday business. As I stated earlier, this blog is full of travel experts. I believe this skews the opinions somewhat. Earlier, one of the posters presented an example of an elderly couple being sold a bill of goods about an air conditioner unit. If there was a Handyman’s Blog, I’m sure the posters there would deride that couple for not “doing their research” about the BTU level of the A/C and its impact. Even though the “expert” (the hardware store salesman) presented the option as a good one. I’m not saying that the consumer should sue – and win – every time they get ripped off by a salesman – believe me, my opinion of the lawyering profession in this country couldn’t be much lower – but I would love to see some way of holding these companies to account for the underhanded crap they do. In the end, it’s up to us to do this, I believe.

        1. I could not agree with you more, very well said.  When companies do underhanded crap, they should be held accountable.  Sadly, that’s hard to do.  I may be hard on the OP, but I do believe that if the agent in this case had offered lie-flat seats and full meal service, I would be in favor of a refund and I would not expect the consumer to have recorded the conversation.  But in this case the agent simply said lie back and sleep, and the OP said no.  Then called back and said yes.  If I was the OP, I would bite myself for not asking the right question, and chalk it up to buyer-beware.  I would never even dream of asking for a refund.  I have been taken for a ride my sales people many times, sadly it happens. In the majority of cases it was my own fault for not doing the research, and I hold myself responsible.  I can always walk away from a sale.

          1. Hmmm…am I entitled to a refund from paying to see “Dinner for Schmucks”? It was promoted by the movie company as being funny.

          2. Funny is subjective and based on personal opinion. Lie-Flat seats versus regular seats with recline are materially different. However, I used to work at a theater and was told that if someone asks for a refund and the film had not ended, they can get a refund. If it had ended. No refunds.

  31. If there were only 3 people in First, change seats! Upgrade at the airport, not ahead of time. Did you find that on Travelocity? Heck no. Use a travel agent and they would have told you about the flight and seating arrangments.

  32.  Another over dramatic complaint-  Someone please explain to him what “aggressive” sales tactics really are.     Did he forget that he hung up and then called back. 

  33. An airplane seat is a commodity – you know what else is a commodity?

    Fruit.  Phone service.  gasoline. 

    How do you pick those out?  You pick up smell and look at the fruit to see if its what you want.   You select a phone provider based on service and price and you generally pick gasoline based on need or price. 

    When was the last time you paid $350 for a pig in a poke?  Would you pay a cell phone provider for $350 for a phone and had no idea what it did, what service is provides or how much time or data you can pull down with it? 

     He got a seat that reclined.  He was not sold a recline FLAT seat.  The devil is in the details.  Listen carefully and you’ll know what questions to ask. 

    Plus 0 you NEVER get a meal service on a red eye unless its going to Europe and its before 10pm.  It’s a stupid tax. He learned. Now he knows what to ask in the future.

    1. CO always served a real meal in 1st on its flights from HNL to IAH or EWR that departed around 10 pm Hawaiian time.  Were still doing it last Thanksgiving.  Most travel magazines raved about this and gave CO high marks for having the best mainland to Hawaii 1st service.  Haven’t flown that route since UA took over, so not sure anymore.  That was one of the main reasons I always chose them for that flight.

       UA has started the “buy an upgrade to 1st” in place of giving its top tier flyers upgrades.  Just this weekend, they offered me a upgrade for $475 until 4 hours before the flight, then they raised it to $759.  Since even the lower cost was more than I paid for the whole coach round trip, I didn’t accept — but 3 people did.  And this was for a two hour flight, after meal service hours, on an A320.

      I will go out of my way to not fly US Air.   I have never heard anyone say anything good about them.

      1. I too hate this new UA practice of selling upgrades instead of giving it to elites as they publish as a benefit.  But I guess it makes money for them, so no stopping them.  Sadly, the offers seem skewed.  On a few recent flights with Mrs. Emanon, she was offered an upgrade for $60-100 range while I was offered an upgrade for $300-500 range.  In each case of this, we were on separate PNRs, same flight, 4-5 hour flight during dinner time. She is a general member and I am 1K.  It’s no wonder I never get upgrades anymore.  The only time I get them is when I use a certificate, and under the new rules of Mileage Plus, I get half as many.
        UA seemed to get rid of the meals on the red-eyes in late 2011 after the merger, but before the systems integration.  My last Hawaii – Mainland red eye on UA was in January 2012 and that one still did have full meal service in F, but it  was pre systems integration.  Sadly since the systems integration my DEN-East Coast dinner flights no longer serve a real meal, it’s either a hot-pocket or a salad.  Very disappointing. 

        1. Yep, last “meal” I had on a UA flight was a microwave burrito served on the new UA china.

          At least the cookie was nice and hot.

  34. I have seen a change in first class service on United since United merged with Continental. i recently was upgraded to first class. It was a 7:24pm flight. Documentation online said they serve dinner during dinner hours, but didn’t say what those hours were. You guessed it. No dinner. But the biggest shocker was all we received was ONE small bag of pretzels. Sure, we got drinks, but only if you went and asked since the two flight attendants spent most of the flight chatting on in the galley. So, is the price of first class now just for a roomier seat? Seems all the other benefits are disappearing.

  35. Very very very long time ago,I flew once US Airways First Class Miami to Washington DC once and I must admit it isn’t First Class at all, not even near Business Class. Originally ticketed on Air Canada, and it was a rerouting because of bad weather. I complaint to Air Canada and AC give me 2 Upgrade Certificates on Air Canada. Like the OP said no meal and nothing but a slightly bigger seat but not much difference from Economy.
    See what’s the difference on UNITED Menu on the similar route.

    1. I love the menu!  So that was UA on a short flight back in the day.  Here is my UA menu from 1984 or 1985, DEN-LGA, about a 3.5 to 4 hour flight.  I was on an oversold flight and volunteered and got bumped to First Class.  I was not old enough to drink at that time and never even heard of caviar (I’ve still never tired it). But I remember thinking the Duck Ala Orange was the coolest thing I have ever heard of.  That flight was magical.  My first time in first class, and I didn’t return until the mid 2000s when I started flying for work and getting the occasional upgrade. Sadly the First Class meals now are like the old Coach meals were back then.

      1. I save all the Airlines Menu:  First, Business and Economy. It help my memories like a Timeline of my travel life. The Business Menu today not even match the Economy menus of Air France/UTA or SWISSAIR on Asia routes in the 70’s.

  36. For us older folks, who used to experience consistently good service in all areas, it takes more time to become consistently distrustful of all who serve. We have to be bitten many times in order to “get it” and become always shy. I still don’t watch my back every time I take a flight, but I don’t expect the world either. 

    On my latest red-eye from SFO to BWI, I was delighted to be upgraded on my United flight, for status, not pay. I was quite pleasantly surprised, not only for the free upgrade on that route since the completion of the merger, but also because I was served a nice snack and was given a blanket. I do  see the occasional domestic flights that show lie-flat seats in their diagrams. These flights are usually continuing to or coming from a foreign country.

  37. I voted yes, since the agent pushed this upgrade.  At the very least, the agent didn’t know what he was talking about.  Worse case scenario is that he was lying thru his teeth to sell an upgrade.  I’d be shocked if the number of upgrades sold didn’t figure prominently into an agent’s annual review.

    1.  considering the OP called THEM, who would that upgrade be credited to, in your scenario? the agent who originally asked if he wanted it? or the one who processed the upgrade after he called back?

  38. The tone of the airline’s response to the OP simply infuriates me.  I hope that I never have to fly this airline.  I know they are not holding their breaths waiting for my business which is just as well.

  39. The only time I’ve flown HA was a couple of inter-island hops from HNL to Kona and back on their 717s. Nice service for maybe a 50 minute flight – friendly FAs and a drink/snack service.

    I have heard, however, that HA has some timekeeping issues on their services to the mainland, and my sis and her family had a horrible experience several years ago, where HA delayed their flight in HNL and basically left them stranded in LAX to fend for themselves. I’ve made it a point to avoid their long-haul service since then – but this was years ago, so perhaps your experience will be better now.

  40. What he got is a standard First Class seat on a domestic flight (Yes, Hawaii is a DOMESTIC destination).  I see no reason for a refund of the upcharge.

    He states he was fed (twice) even though the flight operated outside of published US meal service times and got a pillow and blanket.  I think this is a lot more than coach got on that flight.  I have flown many airlines in recent years and none have pillows or blankets for any passenger regardless of which cabin they sit in. And meals are extra cost on nearly every flight on nearly every airline if you are not in 1st or business class.

    He also states he was able to lie down by the bulkhead in the row in front of him.  If so, that row was empty, so why didn’t he move into one of those seats instead of staying in the seat which has restricted recline?  I doubt the flight attendants would have cared. 

    I always am surprised about what people seem to think 1st class really is these days.  Filet mignon and champagne is what it was in the 70’s — but that was a whole different era.  All the American based airlines are in a race to duplicate each other, so whenever any one of them does something that appears will save them or make them money all the others immediately jump on it.  So we have the “1st class” that is not so first class anymore.

    First class still is something better on international flights.  But that is only because the US based airlines have to give something more or no one would fly them on those routes since the foreign airlines do provide superior service — at a superior price too.

  41.  I save all the Airlines Menu:  First, Business and Economy. It help my memories like a Timeline of my travel life. The Business Menu today not even match the Economy menus of Air France/UTA or SWISSAIR on Asia routes in the 70’s.

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