David J. Danto


Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion




eMail: ddanto@IMCCA.org      Follow Industry News: @NJDavidD


Be Careful What You Wish For – August 2022

 The old saying goes “be careful what you wish for”just in case you get it.  I doubt that Aesop was referring to air travel, but it is certainly applicable there.   As I covered last week, the number of high-tier elite frequent flyers traveling nowadays has significantly dropped, and that means that lower level elites like me are getting first-class upgrades at unheard-of levels.  My wife and I received the coveted and nearly impossible dual upgrade again this past week, and both of us felt it was “meh.”  (Fair Warning – this will be another one of my blogs in the “United Sucks” series.)   

We were traveling LAS-EWR after a wonderful weekend getaway in Vegas.  We purposely selected the Monday 3pm ish departure so we’d have plenty of time to sleep, have breakfast and head to the airport without having to get up at the crack of dawn.  For the entire week before the flight, the seat-map showed only nine out of forty-eight Economy Plus seats taken, and only six out of sixteen first class seats taken.  My wife and I were number five and six on the upgrade list.  Knowing United like I do, I’m sure their check-in process was going offer the famous “tens of dollars” upgrade buy-ups to people as they check-in, but as the day before the flight progressed, only one additional first class seat was taken.  That left nine open first class seats.  By the time we went to sleep that day before we had both been upgraded to first.  (Hurray … I think….)  The only two seats available together were 4A and 4B on a 737-800 – so we grabbed those.

When we got on line to board, we knew that the “pre-boarding” would go rapidly.  If there had been a lot of Global Services, 1K and Platinum elite passengers on the plane, we wouldn’t have been upgraded as lowly Golds.  My wife and I were the first and second people to board.  We put our roll-aboard bags overhead and got comfortably seated.  This aircraft was one of the older ones with Direct-TV IFE systems, which were nice but dated, as the rear-seat embedded screens were even smaller than our iPads.  Everything seemed to be going fine.  Then the person seated in front of me boarded.

The first thing he did was hit the recline button and slam-back all the way.  We’re on the ground, getting settled, and this jerk decided he was going to use-up every millimeter of space he could.  His seat was clearly broken, as his headrest was just about in my lap, with his recline making it nearly impossible to see my screen.  This was the combination of an obviously broken seat and a person who is just being obnoxious.  We had to tolerate the impossible squeeze/climb in and out of the seat for the entire flight.

Before we took-off we were offered water or champagne.  After we took off the FAs came around to get our meal orders.  Amazingly, the meals being offered on this route haven’t changed in the six weeks since my wife and I flew it in the past.  One of the meals is an incredibly spicy Indian chicken dish over orzo, and the other was overly-spicy “impossible” meatballs (meaning plant based - not real meat.)  If you incorrectly assume that the impossible meatballs are being offered as a Vegan choice, be aware that they are served with a roll using butter, and a milk-chocolate filled mini muffin/pastry for dessert.  Both meals are so spicy as to be inedible for many people (including us.  What ever happened to the “Congress of Chefs,” and how could anyone pick these two awful choices.)  We asked them to bring us one of the coach meals for sale (bistro burger) but the FA said “the coach meals were not boarded on this flight.”  We both asked for only the set-up tray items (fruit, roll, pastry.)  The FA said that next time we could “pre-order” our first class meal, but we reminded him we don’t have that option on a last minute upgrade, and even if we did pre-order, we learned the last time that the order information and requested meal frequently don’t make it to the plane.  We had purchased a couple of sandwiches in the airport (anticipating the choices to be the disaster that they were) and we wound-up eating those. 

The trip was uncomfortable to say the least.  Between the poor meal service, the head of the passenger in front practically in my lap for five hours, and the fact that the WiFi worked on the flight for about fifteen minutes before dying and being irrevocably dead for the entire rest of the flight – it was ridiculous.  We even experienced the standard United airline temperature mix – meat-locker freezing for the first half hour, sweat-inducing heat for the last two hours.  I pondered what someone who paid for these seats would think of their investment. 

We were lucky that after landing we quickly taxied to the gate and we were assigned C101 – which is a gate about as close to the airport exit as one can get.  We also did not check bags on this flight, so our departure from EWR was thankfully rapid.  I’m sure anyone who had checked a bag still had about an hour and a half of torture to endure.

The bottom line then was that for years we looked at our names somewhere between 17 and 26 on an upgrade list that never cleared.  After all that time, now that the people that United shortsightedly misidentified as their ‘best customers’ have abandoned them, and all that’s left are a handful of leisure travelers and the lifetime loyal passengers that were being ignored for years, we find out that the first class service has been so drastically reduced that it’s no longer worth it even for free, much less for the “tens of dollars” buy-ups offered.                 








I have so many great memories of United (and Continental and Northwest) upgrades years ago.  I remember the first time I experienced the legroom of a PS seat in the exit row.  I remember the hand-made ice-cream sundaes and/or fresh-baked cookies.  I remember the hot towels – often the most wonderful and refreshing part of the flight.  I remember the FAs sometimes making me hot tea then pouring it over ice to make fresh-brewed iced tea.  I remember feeling “special” and “valued” by the airlines I flew and the crews that staffed them.  Now, pretty much, I feel nothing but abandonment and disdain from an airline I achieved million-miler status upon.  Their service is terrible, the experience is terrible, and the experience improvements that one used to feel in first-class are gone.  Welcome to what makes up the “friendly skies” in the post-pandemic world.  In retrospect, wishing for that upgrade was apparently the best part.  As Mr. Spock said, “…after time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”




This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.

All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.

Copyright 2022 David Danto


As always, feel free to write and comment, question or disagree.  Hearing from the traveling community is always a highlight for me.  Thanks!