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How an Influencer Scammed His Way into Flying Business Class for Free

How an Influencer Scammed His Way into Flying Business Class for Free
Jeff Edwards

The premise of Australian Instagram influencer Jamie Zhu’s Instagram story, “How to Fly Business Class for Free” was designed to create interest among his millions of followers.

The now-viral post certainly got attention, but for all the wrong reasons. His idea of a free upgrade was to trade on a crew member’s sense of basic human decency to move up to a premium cabin seat after booking an economy class ticket on Cathay Pacific.

How to Fake an Injury on the Spot

The video posted on Facebook earlier this month follows 26-year-old Zhu as he arrives at the airport, then purchases an ankle brace from a drug store in the terminal. Zhu later arrives at his economy class seat wearing the bulky brace.

Then, he’s on the plane where he tells a flight attendant, “It’s not fitting,” while he pantomimes attempting to place his foot in the space in front of his assigned seat.“The boot doesn’t fit in here. Can I get another seat or something? I can’t fit here at all because of the boot. I’ve got a broken ankle.”

The Upgrade

The two-minute-long video picks back up with an image of Zhu enjoying business class perks, including an amenity kit, a lie-flat seat and a complimentary cocktail. In the later portions of the video, the sympathy-inducing ankle brace has since been removed.

Who Was In on It?

Now that this upgrade story has gone viral, the internet has questioned the authenticity of the stunt. The Daily Mail, for example, wondered whether the highly-produced video could have been shot without a cameraman to capture the footage (which might have clued flight attendants into the fact that they might be the victims of a low-rent prank show). The smirking social media luminary also dropped a number of suspicious and cringe-inducing one-liners in the footage.

Is This Just Upsetting? Or Is It Criminal?

If the heavily-edited footage accurately portrays an actual con job, as it purports, then the scam isn’t nearly as clever as it is fraudulent, exploitative and possibly criminal. Even if the offending viral video is a bit of harmless make-believe, it will very likely inspire copycats and lead to passengers with actual medical issues being treated with suspicion.

After all, those who follow in Zhu’s footsteps aren’t as likely to fare as well as this particular social media darling. Take, for example, the case of the American Airlines passenger whose plan to fake a medical emergency in order to get a better seat ended with her arrest after the captain called her bluff and made an emergency landing.

View Comments (14)


  1. J S

    February 3, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    I really don’t think the airline should bill him for the difference.

    They should simply make his wish for a broken ankle come true.

  2. Gynob001

    February 3, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    Criminal. Make him pay. He is 26; ban him from any flight for life. 10 year jail with intend to defraud an airline, malicious mischief, premeditated crime, ..his accomplice also should be similarly punished. His Facebook account should be cancelled. All those who cheered him, should be fined for supporting a criminal offense.

  3. Dr.Ells

    February 4, 2020 at 11:52 pm

    Totally in agreement with both comments. Pity that such lazy individuals who are not capable of contributing to society feel the need to lie and cheat. Sit in coach where you belong, or acquire and keep a job where you can earn a salary, save it (like many people have!), and THEN treat yourself to FC.

  4. weero


    February 6, 2020 at 4:14 am

    Why do people act, as if “influencer” videos are some form of “proof” or court evidence?

    He pranked his silly followers and the like to be jealous of their creepy idol. Nothing happened here. There is no reasonable way that Cathay would not be well versed with medical entitlement.

    “lead to passengers with actual medical issues being treated with suspicion”
    As they should. A medical issue isn’t an upgrade certificate. Postpone travel, if you don’t like what you purchased.

  5. DeltaFlyer123

    February 6, 2020 at 4:18 am

    Hehe, the questions shouldn’t be “is it upsetting” or “is it criminal”, but rather is it true, or just a prank video?

  6. JamesLoughney

    February 6, 2020 at 4:33 am

    There is an offence in English law – arcane language – “gaining pecuniary advantage by deception” – in other words, a thief.
    Once again, a deceitful person’s actions will most likely result in rule changes and tighter enforcement, limiting FA’s discretion with deserving cases.

  7. LHR/MEL/Europe FF

    February 6, 2020 at 5:27 am

    You do realise this was two different planes? (clearly seen by the livery on the doors on the way on and off the aircraft). How about celebrating the creativity of a really clever piece of footage?

  8. jwhop777

    February 6, 2020 at 6:25 am

    He is just a thief and a liar.

  9. eagle215

    February 6, 2020 at 6:26 am

    These idiot “influencers” should go influence themselves.

  10. Jackie_414

    February 6, 2020 at 8:18 am

    Scum grows in every corner across the world.

  11. drphun

    February 6, 2020 at 10:40 am

    When did people start believing everything they see on the internet?

  12. Gizzabreak

    February 7, 2020 at 11:11 am

    On the day I learn from FlyerTalk of ‘Instagram influencer’ Jamie Zhu’s attempt to influence ‘millions’ of his ‘followers’ with his successful fraudulent actions in obtaining from Cathay a compassionate upgrade to a more comfortable class of cabin (Business) due to a non existent medical condition, I also read, in the UK/US international press, of the following:

    ‘Instagram star’ Potok Philippe, real name James Potok, “… is escorted off a plane in a mask and gloves for allegedly yelling he had coronavirus as part of a prank to go viral …”. Potok, from Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, was on a WestJet flight from Toronto to Jamaica. Crew were alerted to his actions and the flight was forced to turn back.  A second flight was also cancelled as a result of the incident.

    And, United Airlines passenger Seksan Kumtong, is accused of attacking a flight attendant by hitting them in the face, grabbing them by the tie and throwing them to the ground while yelling ‘I will kill you.’ The incident caused Flight 32 to divert to Anchorage during it’s trip from Los Angeles, California, to Narita, Japan, according to court documents. Kumtong was apparently upset that the flight crew refused to serve him further alcohol.

    A bad day for travel for the 700 to 800 passengers who were directly affected/alarmed/endangered … but probably only the tip of that, or any, day’s ‘bad behaviour in the air’ iceberg.

    What do these incidents have in common? Instagram ‘look at me, look at me’ narcism, in two of the incidents, is an obvious starting point, but of more concern is that historically, the airlines involved will quietly sweep these incidents under the carpet in the hope that they will be noticed by few and remembered, in a day or three, by virtually no one.

    And the airlines will be well rewarded for adopting this approach. They will not reap widespread public disapproval and ridicule for their ‘quietly quietly, softly softly’ acceptance of these kinds of incidents. They will continue to allow themselves to be the victims of fraud and bad behaviour, and of more concern, they will continue to allow their passengers to be disrupted and endangered by the malignant few. There will be no widespread boycotts of travel on these ‘soft touch’ airlines by their loyal trouble free customers … it’s just the ‘luck of the draw’.

    Which, of course, it certainly isn’t. All the world’s airlines should have a common database of troublesome passengers. ‘No fly, anywhere, ever again’ passengers. Not just the ‘processed and guilty through the law courts’ troublemakers and fraudsters but also the ‘supported by a reasonable standard of witness and documented record, “we don’t really want you as our customers ever again” aspiring traveling drunkards, fraudsters, pranksters and various other types of public nuisances’.

    Instead of the moderate and well behaved traveling public passively accepting the inconveniences and costs of tolerating the behaviour of the moronic few, let the ‘few’ suffer the inconvenience of exclusion from one of today’s most convenient and speedy modes of travel, and let the few absorb the costs of ‘legal remedy’ should they consider they have been unfairly penalised. Remove these misfits noses from the small trough that is my hard-earned travel dollar.

  13. gavron

    February 7, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    Gizzabreak just said it all. Mic drop.

    Tucson AZ US

  14. pulokk1

    February 7, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    Whether it is fake or a real prank, he is a self-centered pri*k. Watch the video. Total di*khead.

    Not that he scammed the airline, which I don’t care about.

    It’s that he’ll inspire copycat a-holes.

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