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Last week I earned airline elite status for the first time ever (via Marriott Platinum, gained via a challenge – SEE: Fast track status: how to sign up for a Marriott Platinum challenge). And last week I declined my first shot ever at an upgrade. Why? Because I am traveling with two of my children, and although it might sound nice to let someone else watch them at the back of the plane, United will only upgrade one companion. I’m also fuzzy as to whether that applies to award tickets or not.

The first leg ended up leaving with 3 of 12 seats filled in the pointy end of the plane. I’d considered asking if they’d upgrade all of us, but I ended up splitting the difference and asked if all of us could be moved to Economy Plus. The gate agent was more than willing to change our seats.

A nearly empty plane means upgrades all around?

After arriving at SFO 29 minutes early on our flight from Arcata (something completely unheard of), we spent an hour planespotting before making our way to our next gate. I was a bit confused when we arrived, as there were barely any people sitting there. Had we missed a gate change announcement?

I’d been watching the flight in the app and knew there was literally no one on the upgrade list. At this point I also took a look at the seat map and made a quick count. Ten. Were there really only ten people on this flight?

I went up and asked the gate agent, bolder this time as we were easily accommodated on the last flight. I was going to ask if she could stick us in first class. Before I even finished my explanation, she quickly replied, “there are literally ten people on this flight. I don’t care where you sit.”

Well then. Now…it is one thing to ask for a new boarding pass. It is another thing entirely to walk onto the aircraft and simply plop down where you please. Unless it’s Southwest…then that is totally normal.

I thought about trying what the gate agent asked, but then I didn’t want to end up on the wrong side of things with a FA who is nearing the end of their shift. Humorous thoughts of all 10 passengers banding together and just sitting up front passed through my mind, but then maybe we would have an operational issue in terms of weight and balance. Then again, an ERJ-175 isn’t nearly as bad as when we flew a Pilatus P-12 where I had to estimate our weights and the weight of our baggage (SEE: Boutique Air Flight Review: the closest I’ll ever come to flying private).

Really, for a 90-minute flight on an ERJ-175, this was a non-issue anyway. Had it been a cross-country flight with a crazy light load, I may have asked the gate agent if I could actually take her up on what she said and have her change our boarding passes. Instead, we each got our own window and had the back seven rows of the aircraft completely to ourselves. And stroopwafels at 9:00 p.m. made everything worth it.

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