Subtitle: Flying While Female
Owing to my frequent travels, I have attained a lofty (but not stratospheric) position within my preferred airline's frequent flyer program, and am often upgraded on domestic flights and very occasionally on international flights. My fellow business/first class passengers are of course typically Business People.
On a recent flight, as I took my seat in row 1 of an airplane, the man sitting next to me said "Welcome to business class. Were you upgraded?". He informed me that he was not there because of an upgrade -- he always flew business class -- so it wasn't a "Let's bond over our upgrades" kind of conversation. Apparently, he likes to pick out the upgraded people, and I was an easy call. My seat-mate then promptly fell asleep and snored loudly for the rest of the flight, somewhat diminishing my business class experience.
In fact, this was not the first time a Business Man on an airplane has asked me if I had been upgraded. Maybe it's the giant U that airlines stamp on my forehead that gives my upgraded status away.
Actually, I will be the first to admit that I do not look like a Business Person. My casual attire, lack of professional-looking briefcase or suitcase (I prefer the more academic-type briefcase made of soft material, or even a backpack), and inability/unwillingness to attain a state of business-level personal grooming all mark me out as a likely Upgrade when I sit in business class.
Upgraded academics, particularly FSP's like me, must seem strange to Business People. We clearly must fly often, yet many of us don't have the appearance or accoutrements of >90% of the others sitting in business class. Given the possible explanations of (1) eccentric heiress, (2) disheveled but successful artiste, or (3) random upgraded person, answer #3 is typically seen as more likely.
Even so, Were you upgraded? is a strange question to ask someone. It's almost like asking me what my income is, a question considered rude by most Americans, even among friends. So, why are people willing to ask me this question? I cannot help but note that a statistically invalid, anecdotal survey of two male colleagues who do not look like businessmen and who are frequently upgraded on flights reveals that they have never been asked this question.
FSP's Guide to Academic Etiquette does not extend to the business world, but if it did, it would suggest that people not ask this question of strangers on planes. I am not offended by the question itself -- I don't really care whether anyone knows whether I was upgraded or paying full fare -- but it is rather uncool to ask the question anyway. Furthermore, selectively asking it of women is sexist. Therefore, not asking this question is yet one more little way to make the world a nicer place.
7 years ago