My kingdom for a seat

I’m flying a lot these days for work. I actually love to travel – and even love the “airport experience”. So it’s not the huge inconvenience that others find it to be. When I started traveling more, I purposefully chose Delta to be my air carrier of choice. I wanted to rack up frequent flyer miles and eventually achieve “status” – that little thing that helps get you upgrades and other perks for being seen as a truly “frequent” flyer.

Sho’ nuff, it only took a few months before I’d reached Gold Medallion status. This is the second of four tiers in the Delta Medallion program. I’ve got nothing on the folks who have Platinum or Diamond status, but getting a first-class upgrade every now and again is pretty nice. But it doesn’t always happen, and it surely doesn’t happen on planes where there is no first class, such as my flight the other day returning from St. Louis.
The plane was a CRJ-50. If you’ve ever been on one, you’d know. People over 6′ tall have to stoop to walk the aisle. People more than 2′ wide have to virtually walk sideways. The seats are all leather, which I suppose is alright… but they’re not exactly made for large individuals, either. It was with extreme fear that I saw a large gentleman moving towards my row and a confirmation of that fear as he pointed to the window seat next to me.
These days, that’s the indicator that you (the person in the aisle seat) has to move to make way. No “hey, I’m sitting there, can you please move?” or “Hi – looks like I have the seat next to you.” Rather – it’s just a point and a grunt. But ok. Whatever. I can understand traveler sign language (TSL).
As I stood up, I dropped the armrest between the seats. This is also TSL – it means: you stay on your side of the row and I’ll stay on mine. Or, in other words: DON’T TOUCH ME. I knew we were going to have a problem as he lifted it out of the way as he moved into his seat.
Actually, he didn’t have a choice. He was now using 100% of his seat… and 25% of mine. Ugh. This was going to suck. 2.25 hours from St. Louis to Raleigh. I wanted to move – and I thought about going up to the flight attendant and suggesting that I should get 100% of my seat for the price I paid for it. But remember those small aisles? Well, between the other passengers boarding and my desire to get home quickly, I simply didn’t want to make a stink. God knows that the person who complains is more likely to find themselves a guest of the TSA for a little while.
So I kept my seat – leaning into the aisle the whole trip home. I was getting more and more pissed off at each passing moment. Upon arrival at RDU, I found the gate agent and asked for the Station Manager. This is the person who has ultimate control of all things airline-related at your particular terminal. The gate agent informed me that the Station Manager wasn’t present (it was, after all, 9:30pm), but that they were a red-vest and could handle whatever issue I threw at them.
I said “ok” fine – I wanted compensation for the trip as a result of not getting the full seat that I’d paid for. I was forceful, but calm. Direct but not demanding. I simply indicated that I didn’t believe that I should have to pay for a full seat when I didn’t get one.
RedVest’s first response was that I should’ve let someone know before leaving STL.
“Wait. It’s MY responsibility to tell you when I clearly don’t have my seat to myself?”, I asked.
Well, he said… sorta’. He explained that I should’ve asked the flight attendant to reseat me and that had they been unable to do so, that they would’ve asked the other passenger to get off the plane or buy a second seat.
I was nonplussed. I again suggested compensation. RedVest offered a $50 travel voucher. I demurred and suggested that there was a) more that he could do for me; and, b) that I wasn’t going to leave until he was able to do something more – as I knew that while he suggested I call Delta Customer Service when I got home, that leaving the airport was giving up leverage. So I stayed put and started talking with him in a more collegial tone. Commiserating about the crowds, stupid travelers, “real” problems, etcetera.
Finally, he asked to look up my account to see what he could offer. I was a little shocked (though I shouldn’t have been) at the amount of data he had access to about me. He asked if I was going to be taking any more flights in the near future and I said I was, but I hadn’t booked them yet. So he pondered his navel for a little while and then suggested that he could offer me some frequent flyer miles.
In the Delta system, there are two types of miles. Miles you can use to redeem for future stuff… and miles that count towards your Medallion status level. I, as you can imagine, am not really interested in redeeming miles for more time on airplanes. So I asked him in a good natured way whether they were Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM’s) – their official term for the “good” miles. He gently laughed in commiseration with my assessment of the situation as he indicated that they weren’t. Bummer.
Again, he went back to contemplating the nature of the universe and suggested that well, perhaps he could do miles plus something else. “Like what?”, I asked. He then told me that he could do a one-way class upgrade that I could redeem for any future flight – guarantying a first-class seat when my normal status didn’t/can’t get it for me (such as on virtually any flight from Atlanta). OK, now we’re getting somewhere.
So I said, ok… let’s do a package. Make it work for me. And he proceeded to print out the materials granting me the one-way upgrade.
Then we turned back to the miles. He offered 5,000. I said come on… how many miles does it take, at minimum, to get somewhere? 25,000. Right… so 5,000 gets me what? Nothing. He responded, ok… how about 7,500. I paused and said, point blank “We need to hit 5 digits. You can do 10,000.”
It was his turn to pause. “OK… 10,000. But I can’t do anymore.” He printed out the card granting me the 10,000 miles (which I think we’re going to use to go to London… but that’s a story for another day).
Right as he handed it to me, I said, “OK… now we can do that $50 travel voucher.”
He was taken aback. “What? I can’t do that.”
“Sure you can… we were talking about a package. I just spent 2.25 hours leaning into the aisle, getting hit by the flight attendant EVERY SINGLE TIME SHE WALKED BY. You can do the voucher. Give me the package.”, I said, almost invoking the Jerry Maguire “Show me the money.” tone.
And as it was printing, RedVest lamented that he was going to get a call about it in the morning. As I walked away, thanking him for his help, I just told him to tell his boss that he was dealing with a professional negotiator.
What I think I really need is a tagline I can say after I’ve gotten my way. “You’ve been negotiated…” just sounds too cheesy.

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