Would you prefer an upgrade for being nice... or suffering a long delay? / Monarch

Instead of upgrading nice passengers, loud or sweary travellers should be downgraded, says Simon Calder

Considering Monarch was on the financial ropes six months ago, the airline deserves congratulations for all the the positive coverage it has garnered for its promise to upgrade well-mannered passengers.

Yet before you start minding your Ps and Qs on ZB flights (Monarch’s code), allow me to precis the small print for you.

First, a little more about the benefits you can expect. Don’t expect a lie-flat bed, champagne on tap, an inflight massage and a limousine to meet you when you touch down. What Monarch has in mind is a few extra inches of legroom, which would normally cost you £20 or £30, or priority check-in – a perk that is available to us ill-mannered folk for just £3.

Next, think of a good reason to call the airline (on 0333 777 4756) rather than transacting online. The only people with the power of benevolence are the “dedicated and friendly Call Centre staff”. They will assess your telephone manner and decide if you are a deserving case.

You’ll have to be supremely nice, though, in order to be one of the three or four customers a day (out of an average of 17,000 passengers) who will be awarded either of the “upgrade” options. And on the basis that the customer care team probably keep an eye on social media, careful what you say on Twitter. Kim Oliver, for example, commented: “Having flown with both @Monarch and @easyJet the biggest difference for me was the cabin crew. EJ happy + helpful, Monarch grumpy and rude!” She may meet Charlie Booker in the cheap seats, who grumbled: “@Monarch Cannot believe I am being charged €8.50 to choose a seat on online checkin! If I had known this I would have chosen Easyjet.” (He was politely reminded that seats are assigned free of charge from 24 hours before departure.)

At the risk of appearing impolite, I think Monarch has got it wrong. Certainly it’s a good plan to try to create some passenger engagement and loyalty by using otherwise perishable assets: empty extra-legroom seats and places in the priority line. But bear in mind that passengers on the same flight who actually paid for these perks may be cheesed off when they learn that some of their fellow passengers have received the rewards in return for charm, not cash. 

An alternative idea — and one which the airline should be able easily to implement, if only for its Vantage Club frequent flyers  – is to offer benefits to passengers whose past flights have not been problem-free. My last Monarch flight, from Rome to Luton, was an hour late for reasons that were not entirely clear, generating plenty of stress when I was uncertain if I would make the last train (I did, but only just). How refreshing it would be for passengers on that flight to be offered a little extra such as priority next time in recognition of the modest inconvenience.

Extra legroom could be saved for much more deserving cases, such as the 193 passengers whose flight from Faro to Birmingham was delayed by 30 hours last August.

And how about applying the converse of Monarch’s plan: objectionable passengers could be downgraded. A loud, sweary or plain rude person should be moved to the middle seat in the back row by the loo  – though I recognise that they are likely to be loud and sweary due to excessive drinking, and may not respond well to relegation.

Meanwhile, everyone – including me – wants to know how to get a proper, economy-to-business upgrade. Easily the most successful strategy is being married to someone in the flight crew. But if getting hitched to a pilot or member of cabin crew just for comfier flights is too extreme, try these three tips.

1 Sign up with the airline’s frequent-flyer scheme  – that way, if an airline has to move people from overbooked economy to under-occupied business class, you might be in with a shout.

2 Dress to blend in with businessmen and women.

3 Travel on your own, and certainly not with any annoying children in tow.