Are you a valued, elite, premiere airline customer or low-fare trash? Yeah, me too! And proud of it.
I ask because I’ve noticed an uptick lately in the contempt level for us folks in the back of the plane. Sometimes it’s subtle, as when United Airlines refers to its “most-valued guests,” raising the inescapable notion that the rest of us are “least-valued.” Sometimes it’s more obvious, as when an analyst mentions “low-fare trash” or cabin crew call their passengers “chavs.”
I suppose it’s easier to justify treating people badly if you convince yourself, a little bit, that they’re bad people. And name-calling can do that.
Which reminds me of cockroaches.
Back before the 2001 terror attacks, when the airlines were already in financial trouble, some airline executives decided to confront the problem of passengers who achieved elite status by flying often but at the lowest possible fares. These people were entitled to upgrades and other perks but they weren’t, in the airlines’ view, paying enough for them.
These passengers became known as “cockroaches.”
I was a cockroach myself. I achieved this status about 10 years ago, mainly by flying repeatedly to the West coast, never paying more than $225 for the round trip. After I had amassed 25,000 miles flown within a single year, I was awarded silver medallion status on Delta, much to my surprise. I even reached gold medallion status for a year.
It was nice. Priority boarding, first dibs at exit rows and bulkheads, even upgrades to first class. And I got there without a single business trip. It was all leisure travel, and I paid for it myself.
Alas, the airlines noticed that cockroaches didn’t belong in first class. They began to award status in a way that favors the amount of money spent over the number of miles flown. End of perks. But, hey, whatever. It was fun while it lasted and I didn’t cry about it (at least not much) afterward.
As the cockroaches moved to the back of the plane, though, things got worse for low-fare passengers. Airlines fought over the lucrative first-class and business passengers with lie-flat beds and fancy entertainment systems while economy class customers saw services cut and fees raised.
Oh, how the mighty cockroach had fallen. Yet I continued to be a proud, low-fare passenger, no matter where I had to sit.
Because a cockroach – or a trashy low-fare chav – has to have some chutzpah. He or she has to find cheap flights, fly on routes that nobody else wants and grab bumps wherever possible. It takes brains and hard work.
All it takes to be an elite flier is a good expense account.