Things You Should Never Ask an Airline Gate Agent
Whether you fly all the time or only a few times a year, the airport can be a stressful place. TSA agents, airport employees, flight attendants, and gate agents alike all see more than their fair share of grumpy passengers. But let’s say that you want to score an upgrade to first class. Or maybe you just want to ensure that you get on an overbooked flight. Then you’ll want to get on the good side of your airline’s gate agent.
That means that you shouldn’t ask them any of these rude questions. No matter how much you wish the terminal weren’t so crowded or that the wait for that delayed flight weren’t so long, the gate agent is right there with you.
1. Is this the gate for [city]?
Every gate at every airport has screens and signs that clearly say which flights are arriving and departing. But as an Airfare Watchdog writer discovered when working as a gate agent for a day, people always approach the podium to ask if it’s the gate for another city. “I was shocked when people approached my clearly marked gate to ask if this was the gate for some other city,” Airfare Watchdog explains. Most gates have several screens that clearly say the flight number and the destination city. It’s always a good idea to see if you can locate one of those screens before interrupting a busy gate agent.
Next: Try not to ask a gate agent for this information.
2. What gate am I supposed to go to?
Similarly, Airfare Watchdog noted that travelers routinely ask the gate agent to tell them which gate they need to go to. Instead, they could easily look up that information up themselves. Almost everybody has a smartphone. And your airline’s app probably offers an easy way to find that information. But even people who find themselves without a phone can easily figure out their gate by looking at one of the many screens in the terminal.
Next: The gate agent probably can’t help you with this request.
3. Can I have a free upgrade?
Almost everybody would rather fly in first class than in economy. But typically, the gate agent can’t just give you a free upgrade. Business Insider reports that one gate agent explains, “Different airlines have different rules, but a change or upgrade can get you fired these days. And it’s not worth our jobs. The airline computer system tracks everything, and big brother can be watching us.” Another gate agent tells The Huffington Post that the process of upgrading passengers on a flight that isn’t oversold has become entirely automated. “Even if we did manipulate the system, we are constantly audited so would have to explain why we upgraded someone for no reason.”
Next: A gate agent can’t always make this switch for free, either.
4. Can I get on an earlier flight for free?
Outside reports that a gate agent can often get you on an earlier flight. But whether or not you’ll have to pay for the privilege will depend on the airline’s policies. “Gate agents have to charge the fee that applies to your ticket class or airline elite status,” the publication explains. And they probably can’t get you on a later flight for free, either. At least not if you want to voluntarily change your plans. Plus, “Unlike switching to an earlier flight, which helps the airline free up seats later in the day for passengers who may experience other delays, changing to a later flight is more difficult. Your empty seat on the earlier flight is now flying without bringing additional revenue to the airline.”
Next: The gate agent definitely can’t help you with this request.
5. Can you get me into the VIP lounge?
If you have some time to kill at the airport, checking out the lounge sounds like a good idea. The rules about who can get into airport lounges vary by airline or program. But one thing is certain. The gate agent doesn’t have the ability to get you into a lounge if you don’t have the status to qualify. And they certainly can’t waive the price of a day pass for you. You’ll need to talk to the lounge staff instead.
Next: Unfortunately, the gate agent just doesn’t know the answer to this common question.
6. How much longer will we have to wait?
Some airlines do better than others at communicating with passengers. But gate agents almost never choose to withhold information from the passengers at the gate. When your gate agent gets any new information on the status of your flight, they’ll likely make an announcement. Otherwise, they’re probably still waiting to hear the latest news themselves. Similarly, the typical gate agent doesn’t have an psychic abilities. They can’t predict the future. So they can’t tell you exactly how much longer you’ll have to wait.
Next: If you ask this question, you’ll definitely annoy the gate agent.
7. Isn’t there a spare plane?
Sometimes, flights get delayed. Often, when that happens, it’s not because the plane is just sitting at the airport. Instead, your plane is en route from another destination. And it’s gotten delayed somewhere along the way. The gate agent may feel just as frustrated as you that the flight won’t arrive on time. But it never helps to ask them why there isn’t a spare plane at the ready. That’s just not how airlines operate.
Next: The gate agent can help. But they don’t want to hear your life story.
8. Can I switch seats because [insert long explanation here]?
Your gate agent can help you move to a different seat. But they probably don’t want to hear your whole life story — or all the details of your day so far — when you ask for help. As USA Today reports, “gate agents are dealing with a logic puzzle to get every passenger into the best seat.” They juggle lists of connecting passengers. They also move around people who want to sit together. Plus, they clear standbys into open seats. USA Today explains, “What that means for you is that there is always a chance to score a better seat at the gate since seats being blocked for families or handicapped passengers are being released after check-in closes.” Outside recommends making your request 30 minutes before departure. (It probably doesn’t hurt to ask nicely and without a patience-trying explanation.)
Next: Try not to interrupt a busy airline employee.
9. Can you stop what you’re doing to help me?
One gate agent told Business Insider that travelers shouldn’t repeatedly bother gate agents with questions that they’ve already answered. “They are working with a time crunch, and all those extra questions are keeping them from doing their work.” Another gate agent told The Huffington Post that even a seat change is a lot of work to process. “Our computer systems are so archaic that everything we do requires a cumbersome series of codes. It isn’t just a point and click system. Even a seat change is a long, drawn out process.” If the gate agent looks busy, that’s because they have a lot of tasks to complete in a short amount of time. Try to remain considerate of that fact if you need some help.
Next: This complaint won’t get you anywhere.
10. I’ve been standing in line for so long!
If you’ve been waiting to be assisted by the gate agent, don’t complain about the line or the wait. As one gate agent tells The Huffington Post, airline cost cutting means that a gate agent is often working alone. “This means that I have to meet the inbound aircraft, assist with unaccompanied minors and wheelchairs, work the counter to answer passenger questions for the new flight, board families and wheelchair passengers for the new flight, clear standbys and upgrades and board the plane alone, all within 30-45 minutes sometimes.” If it takes the gate agent a few minutes to address your question, that’s only because they’re juggling countless other tasks, too.
Next: The gate agent will find out if you’re lying about this.
11. I paid so much for this ticket!
Another tactic that doesn’t work? Complaining about the price of your ticket. As one gate agent tells The Huffington Post that they can see how much you paid for your ticket, where you bought it, and when you bought it. So if you complain about an expensive ticket in order to get what you want, the gate agent can see if you’re telling the truth. Even if you did pay a lot for your ticket, telling the gate agent about it probably won’t help your cause. Try to remain calm and courteous when you talk to the gate agent — if only because you need their help.
Next: Most gate agents hate it when passengers do this.
12. I don’t need anything, I’m just going to wait here.
Most people wouldn’t actually say this to the gate agent behind the podium. But Condé Nast Traveler learned that gate agents hate it when passengers linger by the podium, waiting for the boarding process to begin. You won’t get on the plane any faster than if you waited elsewhere at the gate. And you’ll just block the pathway for everybody in the boarding groups before you. Do the gate agent a favor and back away from the podium.
Next: This complaint won’t do much to help you.
13. This airline is the worst!
Condé Nast Traveler learned about another kind of passenger that a gate agent never wants to see. This kind of passenger, disgruntled about something, exclaims loudly that the airline is the worst. They complain about the delays they’ve encountered or the inconveniences they’ve suffered. And they keep complaining until they’ve made the crowd of people around them as miserable as they are. You probably aren’t one of these passengers. (At least, we hope not!) But if you are, Condé Nast Traveler quips, “The gate agents will surely thank you for making their jobs even more difficult.”
Next: Arguing with the gate agent generally doesn’t help.
14. Do I have to gate-check my bag?
Often, airlines encourage passengers to gate-check the bags they planned to carry on in order to make the boarding process go more quickly. Sometimes, there’s really no more room in the overhead bins. It almost never works to argue with a gate agent if they tell you that you have to gate-check your bag. (You don’t really have the right to say no.) If you want to push your luck, you can follow the lead of a few frequent flyers who just tear off the tag and carry the bag on anyway. But that’s unlikely to endear you to a gate agent or a flight attendant who catches you.
Next: You may or may not be able to talk to this person.
15. Can I talk to your supervisor?
As some passengers have found out the hard way, it’s often not possible — or at least not practical — to talk to a gate agent’s supervisor. After all, many gate agents wind up working at a gate entirely by themselves. And a supervisor may or may not be anywhere nearby. Most people demand to talk to a supervisor when they hope to get a different answer. And that’s as unlikely to happen at the airport as it as in other settings.
Next: The gate agent already knows if you’re telling the truth about this.
16. I fly with your airline all the time!
No matter what you’re trying to get a gate agent to do for you, it never helps to claim that you fly with the airline all the time. Especially if it isn’t true. If you really do have elite status with the airline, the gate agent will already know that. And if you’re fibbing, the gate agent will also know. Plus, when an NPR host asked a gate agent whether “you get more bees with honey or vinegar,” the agent responded, “the vinegar approach rarely works.”
Next: Don’t hold up the line by arguing about this.
17. My bag can’t possibly be overweight or oversize!
On a related note, some passengers who planned to carry on a bag that’s clearly over the weight or size limit become incredulous when a gate agent catches them. But arguing with the gate agent about your bag’s weight or size probably won’t get you anywhere. It’s not the gate agent’s fault that you got through the airport with an oversized bag. And if they’re enforcing the airline’s rules about bags’ weight an size, you don’t have much recourse except to comply. The Huffington Post advises, “Don’t initiate a blood feud with the gate agent who insists on checking the humongous bag that you know, deep down inside, is not carry-on complaint.”
Next: Once the doors are closed, the gate agent can’t do much.
18. I know the doors are already closed, but. . .
We’ve all been there, running through the airport at full speed to make a tight connection or compensate for a delay. Sometimes, you make it to the gate just in time. But other times, you arrive, and the airline has already closed the doors to the jet bridge. In that case, you’re out of luck. As Travelers United explains, the gate agent usually closes the door about 10 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart. And USA Today reports that the gate agent has to print paperwork to give the pilot, including a list of everybody on board. So they really can’t let last-minute arrivals board the plane.
Next: It usually doesn’t make sense to delay a flight.
19. Why can’t you delay the flight?
If you didn’t make your connection, don’t argue with the gate agent about it. One airline employee told The Huffington Post that deciding whether or not to hold a flight is “not really up to us. We have to get the flight out on time. If it’s more than 15 minutes late, we’re held accountable unless there is a weather or mechanical delay.” The computer system shows the gate agent all the connecting passengers, including those who could make the flight. But delaying the flight, even if a few of them could make it, will affect other passengers, other flights, and even the crew. “It’s like a series of dominoes so we have to be very careful the whole operation stays on time,” a gate agent tells the Post.
Next: The rules exist for a reason.
20. Can’t you bend the rules?
Whatever the situation, many of us have been tempted to ask a gate agent to make an exception to one of the airline’s rules. But that rarely works. As one gate agent told Business Insider, “Travelers think we are being rude when we tell them, ‘No, you can’t do what you want to.’ We tell them no because we are enforcing the rules that have been made up by our company, not by us personally. The rules are there for a reason — not to make traveling harder, but to make it safer.” Another adds, “‘Most of the rules were made for safety reasons. Travelers think the rules are a nuisance or trivial, but they are rules for a reason. It’s to keep the passengers safe.”
Read more: 15 Secrets Airlines Don’t Want You to Know
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