The Great July 4 Upgrade Giveaway
by Sean Mendis

Back in April, I entered into a bet with N866DA that I could not spend the rest of the year flying exclusively in coach class. On July 4, I made a mileage run to take advantage of a great $110 fare for ATL-MEM-MKE-DTW-PIT-DTW-BHM-MEM-ATL. This is the story of that trip and the great July 4 upgrade giveaway.
 


4 July 2001
NW 819
Douglas DC-9-30
Atlanta Hartsfield to Memphis Shelby
====================================

Arrived at the airport around 630am for the 7am flight and scurried over to the NWA desks which were deserted at this early hour. Interestingly enough, the same agent who had done my ticket the previous week, Carol, was working one of the desks and she waved me over, playfully chiding me that I was barely within the 20 minute window for check-in. She printed out my first four boarding passes, all for First Class, and asked if I was still going ahead with the upgrade giveaway plans. I answered in the affirmative and she told me that I was "sick".

Headed down to D13 where they were finishing up final boarding on N9432. I was the last person on board and prepared myself for the first upgrade giveaway. The flight attendant was standing at the boarding door and I explained what I was trying to do. She was extremely unfriendly and told me that "you will have to take your assigned seat for security reasons". Excuse me? I proceeded to explain that I had spoken to the Elite desk about it in advance and they had approved the entire scenario. She countered with "well, you can go sit in coach if you like" in an extremely sarcastic tone as if she didnt expect me to actually go through with it. "Watch me", said I, and proceeded to stroll all the way down to 21A, stopping only to throw my rollaboard into the overhead bin.

There were only about 30 passengers aboard this short flight and I dozed off as we taxied out. Flight time was a typically brisk 0:49 and we came in to gate B-24 at Memphis about 5 minutes early. There was minimal beverage service, which I passed on.


4 July 2001
NW 834
Douglas DC-9-30
Memphis Shelby to Milwaukee General Mitchell Field
===================================================

I had almost 80 mins to kill at MEM, so I headed out to the McDonalds in the main terminal. I've seen some dumb fast-food employees in my time, but the folks at this place take the cake. How can you mess up an order as simple as "I'll take a number three"? Anyway, after returning my Bacon biscuit and obtaining the correct Sausage-Egg McMuffin, I spent a while reading the newspaper before heading back through security.

The agent at B42 was very friendly and informed me that there were only 12 passengers booked on this flight, to be operated by N965N. I boarded last and once again accosted the First Class FA at the boarding door. This one, Cindy, was much more co-operative about my upgrade giveaway idea and told me that she had a perfect candidate. There was a young Marine aboard who was heading home to Milwaukee to meet up with his pregnant wife and Cindy went ahead and offered him my seat 3A.

I settled down in 16A for this 1:16 flight and spent most of the time asleep. I spoke to the coach FA briefly after landing and discovered that the same crew would be operating my next leg to DTW. I told them to keep an eye out for suitable candidates while boarding. She giggled and promised me that she would!

4 July 2001
NW 1570
Douglas DC-9-30
Milwaukee General Mitchell Field to Detroit Metro
===================================================

I wandered over the main atrium and spent about 20 minutes browsing through the used book store there. What an amazing place, but I never get a chance to spend enough time there. I headed back to the gate just as general boarding was completing and realized that this flight was gonna be a lot fuller than I had expected. Evidently, the MSP flight had cancelled, so most pax were being rerouted through DTW.

As I strolled down the jetway, I was accosted by Cindy who told me that she had an unaccompanied minor aboard and suggested that I pick her for the upgrade. I agreed and the girl (named Mallory) was escorted to her new seat 2C while I headed back to 19A for the quick hop to Detroit. Flight time was 41 minutes and I slept all the way till we arrived at the gate. I said goodbye to the crew and headed up the jetway for my PIT connection.

Just as I emerged, I was stopped by a passenger who had just come in from Milwaukee with me. He looked at me kinda strangely and asked "Do I know you from somewhere?". I was somewhat taken aback and replied, "It's possible". Suddenly, a look of realization dawned across his face and he said "Do you fly Air India much?". I replied in the affirmative. Evidently, I was seated next to him on an ORD-LHR flight last year. I didn't realize that I was THAT memorable! Additionally, his dad was an AI captain and knows my dad pretty well. I didn't recognize this guy from Adam, but he seemed to know enough about me and my family to be legit. We made polite conversation and then went our seperate ways at the moving walkways.


4 July 2001
NW 3686
Avro/British Aerospace RJ-85
Detroit Metro to Pittsburgh International
==========================================

Boarding had already begun on this flight by the time I arrived at the gate, so I waited till all 10 pax trooped aboard before strolling down to the waiting N503XJ. The First Class flight attendant named Kathy greeted me and collapsed laughing when I told her about my plans. There weren't too many pax to choose from, so I just strolled on down the aisle and picked the most attractive female aboard. Needless to say, she was pretty flattered.

Once the doors closed, we began to push back but suddenly stopped halfway out of the box. The captain came over the PA system and informed us that the pushback tug had stalled and they couldn't get it started again. We waited another 10 minutes till a new tug came around and completed the pushback. In the meanwhile, both Kathy and the coach flight attendant named Debi came around and chatted with me.

As usual, our taxi at DTW was interminable and we were well behind schedule by the time we were airborne. The flight to PIT was barely 35 minutes long and I slept through it once again. The girl I had upgraded thanked me while I was exiting, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ok, maybe not, but you gotta get your amusement somehow.


4 July 2001
NW 3504
Avro/British Aerospace RJ-85
Pittsburgh International to Detroit Metro
==========================================

Since we were already running behind schedule on this flight, I went straight to the counter and checked-in for my 4 return segments. By the time the boarding passes were printed, they had already loaded up the aircraft, so I trooped right back on board. Total time spent in Pittsburgh was less than 5 minutes.

Kathy was waiting for me before I even got to the door and excitedly told me that they had a sweet little old lady on board in 7B. I took one look at the lady in question and realized that she was perfect for my plan. I accordingly approached her and offered her the seat. She delightedly agreed, much to the amusement of all the passengers seated nearby.

We pushed back and taxied out quickly enough, but the captain came over the PA system and announced that we were being put on a 30 minute ground hold due to weather at Detroit. No sweat - I had a long connection before my flight to BHM. 30 minutes turned into 45 minutes turned into 60 minutes and we were finally airborne just after 415pm. The flight time was a brisk 38 minutes and when we parked at the terminal, I had only 22 minutes for my next connection.

4 July 2001
NW 1141
Douglas DC-9-30
Detroit Metro to Birmingham
=============================

After a brisk sprint across the airport, I stumbled aboard N8944E right before the doors were due to close. This flight was staffed with three flight attendants because it used to be a meal flight before NW embarked on its latest round of cost cutting measures. I spoke to the First Class attendant named Philippa and she told me to head to the rear and ask either Ashley or Mackenzie back there for advice about who to upgrade. I accosted Ashley halfway down the aisle and she suggested an unaccompanied minor in 18F. He was promptly dispatched to First Class with a HUGE grin on his face.

Once again this flight was empty and I chatted with Ashley as I stowed my luggage in the overheads. She was fascinated by the whole upgrade giveaway idea and invited me to come "keep me company" in the rear of the aircraft. So I settled down into 21D while she took the rear jumpseat. We spent about 30 minutes chatting till we reached cruise altitude and they then started the beverage service, which went pretty quick since there were barely 25 pax aboard. Flight time was 1:31 and we arrived into a perfect Alabama evening. The same crew were scheduled to operate my next leg as well.

While exiting the aircraft, the captain stopped me and told me that I was a "very sick person". Evidently, he had been briefed on my antics and found them highly amusing. He also told me that they would be switching aircraft for the next leg to Memphis.

4 July 2001
NW 977
Douglas DC-9-30
Birmingham to Memphis Shelby
=============================

Birmingham airport was deserted and I had to hunt around for a store that was open so I could buy some batteries for the recorder. I finally found one and shelled out the requisite $3.50 for a pair of AAs. Can you say highway robbery?

I headed back to the gate just as boarding was beginning on N8957E which had come in from Memphis a few minutes before us. I strolled aboard at the tail end of the process and spotted a somewhat large man trying to settle himself into 10B, with uncomfortable results. I accordingly approached him and offered him 3C, which he gratefully accepted, albeit with much surprise.

I settled myself down into the exit row and began leafing through World Traveler magazine as we taxied out. Ashley came around and asked me the exit row questions rather pointedly, which surprised me until she whispered that they had an FAA inspector riding jumpseat on this flight. The flight time was a very brief 28 minutes, punctuated by a quick drink service.

4 July 2001
NW 826
Douglas DC-9-30
Memphis Shelby to Atlanta Hartsfield
=====================================

I had been jumping from aircraft to aircraft since about 11am and hadn't gotten a chance to grab any lunch yet. Accordingly, I headed over to Interstate BBQ at B17 and got one of their amazing Pork BBQ sandwiches. I've eaten more than my fair share of BBQ in my time, but this place has positively the best, and I make it a point to stop by there everytime I am in MEM.

After wiping the drippings of BBQ sauce off my chin, I proceeded to call N866DA and check if he had managed to get off work early, since he was supposed to be on the redeye to Atlanta the next morning. He confirmed that he would be there, and also requested me to pick up some BBQ for his breakfast! By the time they finished packing it, it was time to board my eighth and final leg of the evening.

I headed down the jetway clutching my box of BBQ Pork for dear life,
stopping only to talk to the First Class flight attendant. I then headed to the coach cabin and picked the young woman in 13A out of the masses and offered her my first class seat, to the utter amazement of everyone around.

We taxied out right on time and took off about 20 minutes past the hour, just in time to see the tail end of the various firework displays as we climbed out. Flight time was 1:13 and we arrived in Atlanta with very poor visibility. I grabbed MARTA and headed home, reflecting on the very unorthodox July 4 that I had spent.


 

 

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