How can I get an upgrade on my flight?
March 1, 2005 8:06 PM   Subscribe

In April I'll be flying to New Zealand, this flight is 23+ hours long, and nonstop. I got a great rate from Qantas Air, but it's economy class, and I'm 6'2". 23 hours in a small seat will be tough and I want tips on getting an upgrade to business class, or even first class without spending a lot of money. Anybody have any tips for this?
posted by splatta to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total)
One thing to check is to see if they have a "coach plus" class - many airlines have a 4 class system now, and that little extra room might be enough. It might be called something like "economy plus" or something like that - it might be an easier sell than first or business. As to getting the upgrade itself - friends of mine have had success purchasing them at checkin, depending on how many seats they have it's worth a try if you don't have any luck before that.

One side note - I'd be very surprised if the flight was 23 hours nonstop. As far as I know all East Coast Quantas flights go through LA (guessing where you are by your profile.) They may not list it since there isn't a change of planes, but I'm betting that it stops in LA.
posted by true at 8:32 PM on March 1, 2005

It's out of LA, and it's around 23 hours from there. :(

Leaves LA at 9:40pm on a friday, arrives in Auckland at 5:10am on Sunday. I think qantas has a partnership with American Airlines where I have some miles (but not many). I might try that too.
posted by splatta at 8:48 PM on March 1, 2005

Exit row, exit row, exit row. Show up as early as possible in order to secure it.
posted by pmbuko at 9:20 PM on March 1, 2005

LA to Auckland should be about 14 hours non-stop based on my experience- I've flown LA-Sydney quite a few times and LA-Auckland once.

Qantas have never been great on upgrades, and unless something has changed very recently they only have three classes.

The best luck I have had with them was to ask for a seat at the front of a section next to an emergency exit- you get about eight feet of legroom that way.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 9:20 PM on March 1, 2005

Oh yeah, I think you want to ask for row 48, seats A,B,C,H, I or J.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 9:23 PM on March 1, 2005

The problem with requesting a bulkhead seat, which is advocated above, is that it is where the fold-down baby bassinets are. That means you may be surrounded by screaming infants - because their ears don't decompress properly - poor things.
posted by Dag Maggot at 9:28 PM on March 1, 2005

Remember that you'll be crossing the international date line and losing a day.

I've flown both Qantas and Air New Zealand in coach and the latter had much more legroom (with footrests!)--although this was nearly five years ago.
posted by brujita at 9:29 PM on March 1, 2005

You may also try to secure a seat in an emergency exit row. These have considerably more room.
posted by Goofyy at 9:44 PM on March 1, 2005

According to the map over at Seatguru, Qantas' planes have 12 economy with tons of legroom. Try to prebook these, or get there early, they have to go first. If nothing else, try to get an aisle seat, so getting up for a walk is easier.

17.5 inches wide for 23 hours? Ouch...
posted by Marky at 10:05 PM on March 1, 2005

Qantas will give you an upgrade when satan drives to work in a snowplow ;) Unless you are a member of the qantas club or sumsuch, such fortune is likely to evade you.

However, with airlines still stinging from the deep vein thrombosis phenomenon, you could try to say that given your size you do require more legroom than most as a health issue. You could get better seats just on their fear of litigation...
posted by Thoth at 10:20 PM on March 1, 2005

I'd not even bother asking at the ticket counter for upgrades. I've had much much better luck being extremely polite to the flight attendants and then asking if maybe, just maybe, you could move to a seat with more leg room or even a different class. A class upgrade is less likely, but a shift within economy is usually not a problem.

Also, depending on departure date, time, city, you might just end up with a row to yourself. It's happened a couple times to me on flights between Chicago and Hong Kong. Really nice to be able to stretch out, especially if you've got an ABC or HIJ to yourself, as you can then prop yourself up against the fuselage.

One more thing I don't recommend risking but *has* happened to me: United gave my seat away on a Hong Kong - Chicago flight as my connector got into Hong Kong about 30 minutes later than it should have. Economy was booked solid so they were nice enough to comp me an upgrade to business class. I say nice because the delay wasn't their fault and the terms of carriage state that you have to be at the gate a certain time before departure. I really think it was a combination of me being nice to the gate agent and my loyalty as a United customer (I've racked up close to 125,000 miles in the last 16 months).
posted by nathan_teske at 10:41 PM on March 1, 2005

Six hours is a long flight ... 23 hours is just fucking wrong -- Lewis Black
posted by nathan_teske at 10:42 PM on March 1, 2005

If you check in with plenty of time, you'll be able to sit almost anywhere you want in economy. Definitely use the leg room as a reason, although if it's early enough it doesn't matter why so much. Not all bulkheads have bassinets, I don't think, but you lose some space because the trays are tucked in beside your seat instead of in front. Qantas I think has the individual TV screens and game controllers, which is a nice diversion and you don't have to worry about staring at a movie you don't want to see.

Emergency row is probably the way to go. It's worth even asking the person at the check-in desk what they recommend; we've (hubby and I) had some relatively decent seats that way where we've been seated in a quiet part of the plane or at the very least had an extra seat blocked out for us to stretch out in.

But yeah, upgrades are hard to come by. If you really want to try for one, dress business-casual. They won't upgrade you unless you look respectable enough to hang with the upper crust.

And yes, should only be around 13 hours. Time for three movies and some sitcoms, roughly. When you get to Auckland, if you're switching to domestic be prepared for a hike between terminals, or find a bus. They're about a kilometre apart.
posted by tracicle at 11:58 PM on March 1, 2005

From the OneWorld Timetable:
15 APR 05 Fly LAX to AKL
QF 26 Dep LAX 9:40 PM Arr AKL 5:10 AM Dur:12h:30m
DepTerm:B Equip:743 ArrTerm:I
12h 30m is not 23h. I don't even think a 747-300 wouldn't even be able to stay in the air that long!

An operational upgrade (i.e. a free one) is unlikely. QF will have a list of people that they want to give upgrades to sorted by how much money people spend with it or other OneWorld airlines, and you are going to be at the bottom of that list, my friend. Anyway, I'm 6'1" and have done this very flight before. I was fine, if a little cramped at the end. So relax, it won't be the end of the world.

See if SeatGuru's map for a QF 744 matches up with the seatmap on your flight and try to plan around that. The key thing is NOT to sit behind one of those little entertainment boxes.

I'd ask for further suggestions in the Qantas forum on Flyertalk, but don't expect a lot.
posted by grouse at 2:18 AM on March 2, 2005

Also, if it's an emptyish flight and you can get four seats to yourself in the back, that's definitely the way to go. You won't know until you get there though.
posted by grouse at 2:19 AM on March 2, 2005

Tracicle is right. Wear a suit. There's no way you'll get an upgrade if you wear something comfortable like jeans and t-shirt.
posted by ninthart at 2:57 AM on March 2, 2005

Be helpful to the fight attendants. I was ask to move out of my sweet coach seat on an AA 777 to help put a family together. Turns out the seat I was asked to move to was filled by another flight attendant, who was doing the same thing in the front half of the coach cabin.

End result? Business. Moral: Be nice, do what they ask, and you just might get lucky. And, as mentioned above, dress nice.

Otherwise, Qantas is infamously stingy about upgrades. The only way to play is to pay. You could earn 90,000 OneWorld miles before then, and get the seat that way -- but that's a bunch of flying in-and-of-itself.
posted by eriko at 5:25 AM on March 2, 2005

There are credit cards that offer upgrade passes as a perk. Not that I advocate messing with your credit for something like this, but it is a possibility to look into. Find out if there is a OneWorld points earning card, it may well come with a couple of "free" upgrade passes a year (free in the sense that they won't charge you for the passes, but will charge you for the card).
posted by jacquilynne at 6:02 AM on March 2, 2005

If all else fails, you may want to consider Knee Defender.
posted by mookieproof at 6:09 AM on March 2, 2005

Dude, you're totally missing the dateline there... it's not 23 hours.

Move around heaps, and drink lots of water. Valium/drinking loads also helps pass the time.
posted by bruceyeah at 6:30 AM on March 2, 2005

Yea, I think it was a product of bad web programming that was responsible for the flight time, I guess the programmer didn't take the dateline into consideration.

Anyway, as I'm going to visit my brother and bum around for a few weeks it's unlikely that I'll end up looking very business. As for being nice, I'm always nice :)
posted by splatta at 7:37 AM on March 2, 2005

nathan_tesk I hate to break it like this, but I got upgrades EVERY SINGLE TIME on United flights out of Hong Kong (destination: Bangkok) by showing up slightly late, in a suit and being all winks and smiles from the check-in counter all the way to the plane. This happened like 9 times in a row. And then I didn't get an upgrade. And then I complained. And then when we were already seated and about to depart one of them truly awesome United stewardesses came by and asked if I would mind switching my middle-of-the-middle-economy-section seat to one in business. And I sure didn't mind. True story.

Then there was this other time when I was holding a Japan Airlines business class (heavily discounted) ticket, missed the flight on purpose, flew back on economy the next day (business was full) and JAL paid back the full amount of one-way business class ticket as "compensation" for not having a business class seat the day *I* happened to be in the mood to fly back.

If you have to fly, do it in Asia if you can.

posted by magullo at 7:42 AM on March 2, 2005

Magullo - then maybe I'll have to be 'late' through those transfer areas a little more often. Actually I think you're right... the staff at Hong Kong, regardless of airline, seems to be far more accommodating than I've experienced elsewhere. (Maybe it's because the airport is larger than some countries...)

Philippine Airlines gate staff has bumped me to Hong Kong, and even had my checked luggage pulled from the hold and retagged as cabin baggage, just so I'd have a better chance of making my domestic connection from Manila.

On United's flight attendants: Is it just me or do all of their senior flight attendants encourage binge drinking? Every time I fly United's Pacific routes, I get at least 4x the tiny little bottles of vodka they're supposed to hand out.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:04 AM on March 2, 2005

I've made the LA-Auckland flight so many times my body has almost grown used to the contortions, and I'm only 5'6" ... one time, one very wonderful time, Qantas put me in first class because my seat was double-booked, but I was flying with a friend and we didn't want to sit in separate areas. I was 16, I think, so they might have been particularly accommodating because of my age.

Anyway, yes, the flight is unmercifully long, but it's not 23 hours. It's "only" 12.5 hours. The flight back is about an hour longer, if I remember correctly. Even with the a flight of only 12.5 hours, though, I'd spend a lot of time up walking around if you don't get your upgrade.

On a side note, is there a Sydney-to-London nonstop that's 20 hours? I remember seeing a Qantas route map a while back that had what appeared to be an excessively long route on it.
posted by socratic at 8:21 AM on March 2, 2005

(there is, in fact, a Sydney-to-London nonstop that is 21.5 hours... how awful. Sydney-to-New York is 20 hours.) info here.
posted by socratic at 8:23 AM on March 2, 2005

As far as I know, most airlines encourage a bit more drinking than usual on long-haul flights. Dinner + lotsa red wine = 1 happily asleep passenger.

socratic, check again, the Sidney-London Qantas flight has 1 stop (the site says it once you choose that route). I've been told repeatedly that the longest commercial non-stop route is Chicago-Hong Kong, which is ~15? hours and can only be done under the right wind conditions. Otherwise, the fuel runs out and the 747 is forced to make a pit stop in Hawaii? / Alaska?.
posted by magullo at 8:33 AM on March 2, 2005

United's Chicago - Hong Kong flight (UA895, distance of 7787 miles) is scheduled just shy of 16 hours... currently it departs at 12:15 PM CST and arrives in Hong Kong at 4:05 AM CST the next day. Return flight, UA896, runs a quite bit shorter because of the boost from the jet stream, usually coming in right around 14 hours.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:29 AM on March 2, 2005

I just wanted to mention that whatever you can do to upgrade or to book the flight in Business Class is absolutely worth it. I used to fly to Aukland via United's Business Class and it really has nothing to do with upper crust as I was a teenager, but it is absolutely worth every penny. You don't even notice the time going by.

And the longest commercial flight is Singapore to NYC.
posted by scazza at 10:23 AM on March 2, 2005

Oh and here's an article about the new Singapore to NYC route. Also the Ask the Pilot about it and long flights in general.
posted by scazza at 10:32 AM on March 2, 2005

If your options are a single seat with a neighbour on one side or a set of three or four seats at the back of a 747, take the single seat. Because of the fulcrum effect of the wings, turbulence is most noticeable at the back of the plane. You do not want 14 hours of most-noticeable turbulence. I've been there and I want to prevent further such misery from happening among humankind.

If, however, you're stuck between two people (worse, two fat people), or in the middle of a four-across, you are then presented with a Solomonic choice.
posted by joeclark at 4:53 PM on March 2, 2005

Gee ... If only you knew of someone in the game ....
posted by johnny7 at 12:42 AM on March 9, 2005

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