Thursday, July 11, 2013

Not A First Class Guy

Owing to my frequent travels with a certain airline, I have a certain 'status' that has some nice features that make travel possibly bearable. Every once in a while I have to travel with another airline for which I am a nobody, and I know how soul-sucking it is to deal with the long lines and little seats all crammed together at the back of a plane in which every overhead bin has been (over)stuffed by those allowed to board first.

Anyway, my sympathy for the non-frequent flyers does not extend to my wanting to join them in misery, so I take full advantage of shorter lines and simpler security procedures whenever posssible. However, to get to the Premium Elite Special Place at check-in/security, I have to get past a gate-keeper.

I understand the purpose of the gate-keeper. I see them turn away people who are not allowed in the hallowed grounds of the Premium Elite Special Place and who need to be directed elsewhere. The gate-keeper helps keep the Premium Elite Special Place uncrowded and efficient. I hope they would let someone in who really needed a short line in order to make their flight, but I admit that overall I am glad to be able to get through check-in and/or security in a reasonable amount of time for most flights.

Over the years, I have become resigned to having to show my special-status card and having it scrutinized to make sure that I really am allowed to enter that special zone. I have become resigned to traveling with colleagues who do not have to show their card or who just flash their card quickly to gate agents who then stop me so that I can prove my worthiness to entire the Premium Elite Special Place. This is a very minor inconvenience, and I can usually get over the fleeting feeling of micro-humiliation by reminding myself of the alternative.

And yet this bothered me on my travel this week: As usual, I had to show my card, it was examined closely to make sure that it was not an expired card etc., and I was allowed in. The man behind me saw what I had to do and started to get out his card. The gate-keeper said to him, loudly and with apparent unconcern that I was a meter away and would hear: "I don't need to see YOUR card, sir. You LOOK like a first-class guy."

Memo to Airlines: Consider adding to your training of these gate agents some instructions about not blatantly insulting middle-aged women who do not look like "first-class guys". 

Little did I know that this minor little irritation with a certain airline would be dwarfed by what happened during the rest of the trip, but that is another story.

25 comments:

nicoleandmaggie said...

Sounds like you should call up the airline and complain. Perhaps they will give you more miles as an apology.

Anonymous said...

Is this an issue that you weren't dressed/groomed like a "first class lady" or that despite being better dressed and wearing more expensive clothing and jewelery you were still discriminated for being a woman?

Anonymous said...

You must call the airline, mention date, place and time of the incident and demand a compensation from the airline itself. You are a frequent traveller and there is a reason why you have that card (either you payed it or you earned it through loyalty). It might sound like a lot of work but you can do most of it by email, and, given you are evidently an accomplished writer I'm sure you can do it with maximum benefit and minimum time expense. You can even mention you have no time in your schedule for a phone call and this should all be dealt with in writing.

It might seem daunting but I would have turned on the spot and told this guy that this was completely unacceptable and that you were deeply offended by his prejudice and expect an apology. I found most people either:

a) Don't realize they are being offensive.
b) Feel they can get away with it because no one tells them off.
c) They are just a$%$$%...

Hope you have better luck on future travels.

Renee said...

Oh... and it has a cliffhanger. Nice....

I completely understand your story, btw. I also always get scrutinized whenever I am doing something 'grown up' or first-classy. On the one hand it's sad. On the other hand, I can't really blame them. I know I don't look like George Clooney in Up in the Air when I am travelling. And I will never ever be 8 feet tall...

standrewslynx said...

On the flip-side perhaps, do you *want* to be categorised alongside affluent, privileged white guys?

Aisling said...

Anonymous@8:51 : you are missing the point. The airline should not treat customers differently based on how they look. Period. It's just blatant discrimination.

Anonymous said...

As an undergraduate I definitely did not look like a first class guy, so when I occasionally found a first class train cheaper than otherwise, I often got tutted and glared at on the carriage. The looks of disappointment when the conductor didn't kick me off were often hilarious :-)
And I'd agree that firing off a quick email could lead to some nice benefits, who knows maybe one day even to being treated fairly!

Anonymous said...

Aisling, I agree that regardless of the answer, what happened is bad. However, which type of discrimination is still important to know. Discriminating based off gender is much worse than on visible affluence -- especially when you consider that very wealthy people tend to more often fly first class (that wealthy people can generally better afford expensive tickets can't be denied). Saying that women or minorities look less affluent is very bad. But saying a person in the first class line that is wearing a five thousand dollar suite/dress and wearing a (gaudy) $50K watch/jewelry is affluent and probably does in fact have a first class ticket is nowhere near as bad and probably true most of the time.

My point is that there are various levels of wrong. One of these is illegal (sexual discrimination) and I believe the other isn't.

rxnh said...

You should tell us the airline and we can write scathing letters.

Female Science Professor said...

The rest of my trip was so horrific that I wrote to the airline about those other aspects and got tens of thousands of frequent flyer miles added to my account for that. I did not mention the little incident with the gate agent, as it would have been lost in the maelstrom of other complaints.

Alex said...

Given how bad some of my recent flights have been in the past couple weeks, I'd be less than shocked if we were on the same flight.

After getting home a day late, I mentioned it to a friend, and his response was "Only a day late? You must be in their Premium Flyer Program!"

Anonymous said...

Hi FSP: I think you are looking WAY to much into this. I have been flying business class for 20+ years for work, mostly overseas. Perhaps the gate attendant saw that the this person had a ticket in their hand with a special indication of business class, or a special tag on their bag that doesn't expire every year. Maybe this gate attendant just wanted to make a cheeky joke because they have a boring job. Either way, who cares??? Airports suck, we all know that, it will never change...let it go.

And, Anon at 10:38 - I am happy I do not know you, you sound like a horrible/unfriendly person that is always trying to get something for nothing.

Comradde PhysioProffe said...

I think you are looking WAY to much into this.

B - I - N - G - O!

B - I - N - G - O!

B - I - N - G - O!

And BINGO was his name-O!

Anonymous said...

Bingo, like clockwork.

Anonymous said...

"my sympathy for the non-frequent flyers does not extend to my wanting to join them in misery"

So you're okay with class-based privilege, but not gender-based privilege? Got it.

Anonymous said...

FYI Anonymous who 'got it', people who have a lot of frequent flyer miles because of their jobs aren't part of some class warfare or whatever you are implying. Probably they are at least middle class because of the types of jobs that go with frequent travel but so what? If you spend a lot of time in airports because of work-travel, who is helped by joining the non-frequent travelers in their long lines?

Anonymous said...

FSP, Quick comment; You must see the hypocrisy - when you do not like how the airline treated you, or handled your issue, you called, complained and received tens of thousands of airline miles. When a student of yours comes to your office to complain that they were not treated (or graded) how they feel is appropriate, you do not give them extra credit.

Also, I agree with anon at 10:25 pm.

Female Science Professor said...

If a student complained to me about getting a low grade because of my incompetence (for example, if I added their score incorrectly), I would give them the points back. The airline gave me ff miles because of their major incompetence during the flight portions of my trip (I did not complain about the 'first-class guy' comment, I complained about other things). In that way the comparison is apt, but beyond that, I don't see it.

EliRabett said...

Airline horror stories from James Fallows - follow links

Anonymous said...

I am sorry your flight was bad. I was recently waiting to board first class due to that super-coveted free upgrade. I stepped back because military in uniform stood up to board. It is not very hard to identify military in uniform. Two business dudes, assuming I did not know I was first class or what that is, stepped in front of me (and him). So I said, "Excuse me, I stepped back for the gentleman in active service." They were abashed, and stepped back. While I have not protested US wars as much as I should have, given the stakes, the assumption by these guys that I was just confused was almost as annoying as them actively cutting in front of someone who was receiving an explicit honor for national service. Yeah, people can suck. And we suck most when we travel. Occasionally I try to remember that flight is a miracle at all, we are at the peak of human achievement walking on that tube. But mostly I get annoyed.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment that compares a student complaining to a professor with a passenger complaining to a big airline, I think the comparison between a professor and an airline is not realistic! Maybe you can compare the university with a big airline, so if something egregious happened to a student, the university would step in and provide some remediation. This comparison falls apart if you take it to an individual student and professor level.

Anonymous said...

I *wonder* if that man had shown his card 10 minutes before, and the airport bouncer made that comment out of jest. (Doesn't need to see the ID because he saw it 10 minutes ago.) I'd like to think most people aren't huge jerks, but who knows!?

David S said...

Personally I wouldn't worry too much about complaining 'about the airline' - I'd just want to make sure that the gate attendant was personally disciplined. There's only so much that the airline can do to train people not to be a$$holes.

So the first thing I'd do is turn around and get his name.

(white male)

Anonymous said...

Amusing. The gate attendant that deserves to be personally disciplined is likely far less privileged than people who comment here, and probably a minority to boot. People here are overly sensitive and need to learn to relax.

Titanium Raven said...

Regarding the last comment: the personal background or status of the gate attendant is irrelevant.

The gate attendant made a rude, unnecessary comment about one airline customer to another customer in public. Behavior like that is considered unprofessional for ANY position that works directly with the public, and is normally subject to disciplinary action by the employer. (Any employer who wants to keep their customers, anyway.)

It is not overly sensitive to expect professional, courteous behavior, regardless of the job or the personal attributes of either the customer or the employee.