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What’s an Appropriate Punishment for Sneaking Into a Different Cabin?

What’s an Appropriate Punishment for Sneaking Into a Different Cabin?
Jeff Edwards

Newspaper headlines about a passenger who sneakily upgraded her seat during a recent international flight has FlyerTalk choosing sides. Is changing cabins mid-flight the ultimate victimless crime or a huge step toward lawlessness? – or to paraphrase a great man, “A first-class cabin with no border is not a first-class cabin at all.”

The published confession of a British Airways passenger who daringly upgraded herself to a seat in the Club World cabin of a flight between London and Sydney has captured the imagination of the British flying public. Meanwhile, on FlyerTalk, this tale of bravery has sparked a debate about not only the feasibility of sneaking into an unoccupied business class seat but the ethics of doing so – even if it were possible.

The anonymous tale of poaching a business class seat was printed in the pages of the Telegraph. Although the identity of the author was held back in order to protect the guilty, the newspaper reports it was able to confirm details of the first-person account. To sell a rather compelling story short, it appears that the writer managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible feat by simply acting as if she belonged in her new and improved seat.

Although the FlyerTalk community near-unanimously pronounced the dubious victory a reward earned through misdeeds, there are wildly differing views on just how serious a breach of conduct the activity should be considered. While some consider the act a felonious deed akin to strong arm robbery, other members suggested a disapproving look and being sent back to the economy class is punishment enough.

“I think BA asset protection would indeed consider this a criminal offense – namely one of theft when obtaining services for which your ticket does not entitle you,” member 1Aturnleft wrote in an especially rousing law and order hot take. “And yes god forbid you sit in another empty seat in a cabin you haven’t paid for just because you like the look of that seat more than the one you paid for then I would hope in that scenario, there would be a police officer to escort you from the aircraft upon arrival if you chose to refuse to move when cabin crew asked you to do so.”

There was also more than one rather compelling slippery slope argument. After all, if we don’t know where to draw the line, then why have a curtain in the first place.

“Airline seats are PURCHASED,” awayigo offered. “When you take something without purchasing it, that is STEALING! So, is it acceptable to steal some things but not others. Who decides when the stealing becomes u acceptable?”

Other FlyerTalkers suggested, that perhaps, what is good for the goose is good for the gander – or in this case the speedbird.

“Let me make clear that I don’t condone anybody sneaking into a cabin they have not paid to sit in nor would I ever do it,” jp-mco wrote. “That said, this thing goes both ways; this forum contains accounts of people being downgraded by BA and then being denied appropriate compensation because they used their 2-4-1 voucher. It would seem incredibly hypocritical for BA to take issue with self-upgraders when they themselves do the reverse all the time without expecting to have to cough up…”

Meanwhile, at least one slightly more moderate position was taken.

“Somewhere between the position of ‘it’s OK, let everyone sit where they want, irrespective of the class of service they’ve paid for’ and ‘arrest every passenger who innocently sits in the wrong seat’ is probably the right approach,” ThatT1Felling suggested reasonably, before being reminded by another member, with a wink and a nod, that a common ground approach would not be likely appreciated in the forum.

“Whats this crazy talk?” fruitcage quickly replied, “This is FT. ;-)”

The discussion on the very origins of justice, along with a brief treatise on the Railways Act of 1921, is unguarded and free for the taking right now in the British Airways Executive Club forums.


[Featured Image: Flickr/Gary Bembridge]

View Comments (6)


  1. D3KingAmerican

    July 15, 2019 at 7:14 am

    If you sneak into business class or first class you deserve the death penalty.

  2. mvoight

    July 15, 2019 at 7:48 am

    It is theft and should be punished as such.

  3. nomad420

    July 15, 2019 at 9:13 am

    Seems like this is almost impossible to do these days. I have never poached a F seat but years back I have a friend that made an art out of it and got pinched only rarely. He no longer does it, says F seats are now often always full and the FA’s have detailed seat charts.

  4. sfoeuroflyer

    July 15, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    There is nothing ok about sneaking into a cabin for which you are not ticketed. Same as picking up food in a store and eating it without paying. That is theft and the person should be prosecuted. As simple as that.

  5. Gynob001

    July 16, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    It is theft and should be penalized. However, I have seen FAs sneaking their favorite passengers in illegal upgrades or even “selling” the seat to a bribing passenger. A few years back, my next seat person got himself upgrade by bribing the FA $50; he was a religious leader!!!

  6. kkua

    October 4, 2019 at 6:50 am

    I know of freq fliers who, pre-Sept11, will run to gate and have plane doors close behind them. These last passengers are often told “take any open seat”… in which case, they would take the comfortable seat over the sardine chair.

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