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Schmoozing United Airlines Gate Agents for Upgrades Is a Complete Waste of Time Now | Frommer's United

Schmoozing United Airlines Gate Agents for Upgrades Is a Complete Waste of Time Now

Remember when travel articles weren't all about airborne pathogens and instead were full of advice like "dress nicely if you want to be upgraded to first class" or "bring a small gift to get the gate agents on your side"?


Those were the days! But flattery and bribery are not coming back, at least on United Airlines.

An internal memo leaked to the blog Live And Let's Fly informed United employees that the assignment of upgrades and standby seats will no longer be the responsibility of gate agents.

Instead, artificial intelligence will now automatically make assignments based on loyalty status and other factors. Sorry, but no amount of Godiva chocolates will help you snag upgrades now. Might as well save those goodies and eat them on the flight—there's not much meal service anymore anyway.

The automated system is programmed to seat traveling companions together, if possible, and to screen for age when assigning exit row seats. But there could be snags, because the AI may not always be able to give passengers the type of seat (aisle/window/middle) that they would have preferred. 

The move should free up gate agents for all the other good and bad tasks they have to do. It might mean they will spend more time policing oversized bags masquerading as carry-ons or selling more sets of headphones before boarding.

United gave the new AI upgrades a soft launch at Chicago O'Hare and Newark. The system is expected to be working everywhere else the airline serves by the end of this month.