Doing Kindness At The Airport: Do You Ever Extend Your Priority Benefits To Strangers?

Have you ever seen a struggling family, with a long delay at the airport after their flight was cancelled, so you guested them into a lounge? Of someone that was running late, worried about missing their flight and facing a long check-in line, so you brought them along with you in the priority check-in queue?

Or perhaps you’ve spotted someone across a crowded gate area on a full flight, they were traveling alone and you thought they were cute, so you strike up a conversation – and offer that they can board with you in group one to ensure there’s space in the overhead bin? If it’s Southwest you might even wind up snagging seats together. People find love quickly on an airplane!

World record inflight hookup: 2B helps 2A her stow her bag in Austin. She tells him about her kids and shows him her Priority Pass and Amex Platinum. They held hands for descent into Houston. A new couple is @United. #love #upintheair

— gary leff (@garyleff) May 6, 2018

Here’s how to think about extending your elite benefits to others,

  • Check-in. Priority here seems intending for your own traveling party, usually on the same flights and ideally even in the same reservation, but if someone is traveling with you and they accompany you in the priority check-in queue they shouldn’t have difficulty in getting helped on most U.S. carriers.

  • Lounge. Check lounge access rules first to ensure that your guesting privileges aren’t limited to passengers on the same flight, and in recent times U.S. airline lounges have generally required passengers to be on eligible flights (either on a flight operated by the lounge’s airline, or at least one of their partners). But you can frequently guest someone into the lounge, especially if your lounge access is based on status or membership rather than flying business class.

    Capital One’s Priority Pass isn’t limiting the number of people you can bring, at least as of December 2022. Maybe you’re traveling with a spouse and you both have memberships (a Delta Executive membership, an airline spouse membership, or an American Citi Executive card where no annual fee authorized users can access the lounge plus two guests as well). It may be possible not just to guest in that potential someone special, but an entire family in need.

  • Upgrades. Complimentary upgrades are often available not just for the member but also a companion, and the companion usually doesn’t have to be on the same reservation. You may be able to add someone to the upgrade list in the lounge or at the gate. Don’t offer false hope! If you aren’t a top elite and at the top of the upgrade list yourself this probably won’t be super helpful (then again, waiting out the upgrade together could create connection). On the other hand if you’re a top elite you might be able to gift someone an upgrade – which frequently trades off with someone else sitting up front who would have otherwise cleared.

  • Boarding. Each passenger is supposed to board based on their own boarding order, but this is rarely enforced. At the very beginning of boarding someone might be sent away if it isn’t their turn to board, but there’s usually not much enforcement by U.S. airlines between say group 4 versus 6. However if someone with a lower boarding number accompanies you you’re likely to be good. For instance when my wife or daughter have had lower boarding groups than I have, they’ve boarded with me without difficulty. This isn’t guaranteed, however, so if you’re making an offer just bear in mind that the person you’re helping could get turned away (whether by following or by not following airline policy, as the case may be).

You have elite benefits, or credit card benefits, and those are often designed to make travel easier not just for yourself but travel companions as well. Nowhere is it written that you had to know someone traveling alongside you before you got to the airport. Have you ever befriended a fellow traveler and let them piggyback off of your benefits? Would you?

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