Sometimes you hear about something that just doesn't sound right.

But then you realize that other people around you are doing it. And that means they're getting an unfair advantage at your expense. So you wonder if you should be doing it too.

Case in point: American Airlines. Also, apparently, Delta Air Lines.

American announced a new rule change that goes into effect in Dec. 12. Passengers who tell say they have a peanut allergy will be allowed to board planes early. The idea is that they'll have a chance to wipe the area around them down, ostensibly to get rid of any peanut dust that other passengers might have left behind.

Delta apparently already allows this. United and Southwest are silent. But it all sounds like a good idea. Peanut allergies can be serious business.

Only, no sooner had American announced this change, than some airline bloggers were heralding it as a way that every single passenger can board early. Just be willing to lie to a gate agent.

Why do that? Well, if you're unethical enough, it gets you two things:

  1. Early access to overhead bin space, so you don't have to risk gate checking a carry on bag.
  2. The general calmness of boarding early, when things are still quiet and there's plenty of room to move around without being crowded by other passengers.

Oddly, it's passengers who pay the lowest fares for basic economy and are likely to be in the least desirable seats at the back of the plane, who will most benefit from this.

"If You're Flying Basic Economy on American or Delta And Need Overhead Bin Space, Do This," was the headline on a post by prolific airline writer Gary Leff this week:

So now if you don't have elite status ... what exactly is the reason to pay more to avoid basic economy? Just the ability to pay $200 to change a ticket that may not have even cost $200.

...

I don't actually recommend misrepresenting your needs. I do think these loopholes speak to the absurdity of the restrictions themselves.

I asked both Delta Air Lines and American Airlines for comment. Delta didn't get back to me, but American Airlines provided some context--and perhaps a little bit of faith in humanity.

"We've seen reports from a few outlets suggesting that there could be passengers who fake having a potentially life-threatening nut allergy in order to board early. We don't think we'll see rampant abuse with this policy change. We certainly hope that is the case," an American Airlines spokesperson told me in an email.

In the course of reporting this, I also heard from other people who copped to either doing or seeing other passengers do some sneaky things to board early or bend the rules. Among them: 

  • Miguel A. Suro, founder at The Rich Miser, told me about a friend's family member who is "older and frail-looking" but mostly healthy, but who exaggerates a minor back condition to ask for a wheelchair and board early. 
  • When there's no more space in the overhead compartment, advises Lucio Buffalmano, who runs The Power Moves, one idea is to whisper to a flight attendant that you have medicine for "an embarrassing, serious health condition" and you're afraid to check your bag because it could be lost.
  • And flight attendant Brittney Ursey, who is also CEO and founder of the Flygirl Box subscription, talks about "parents [who] say their toddler was under the age of two so they could hold them in their lap for takeoff and landing." Which isn't really safe, by the way.

Honestly, all of this gaming the system seems like a lot of work for not much benefit, plus you have to live with yourself once you land.

Flying isn't fun all the time for any of us. So maybe let's all just play by the rules, and make everyone's trip a tiny bit nicer.

Published on: Nov 10, 2018
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