Where the Air is Rarefied

800px-United_Airlines_B763_N651UAA friend of mine has accrued a little over 2 million frequent flier miles. And yet even he isn’t a member of United’s Global Services program. Until recently, little was known about this elite category. But the Wall Street Journal was given limited access a few months ago. Here are some of the details:

The airlines employ teams to track these fliers’ journeys and solve disruptions before they happen, sometimes bumping coach passengers to fit rerouted elite travelers. The carriers invite these customers to expensive restaurants and professional sporting events when they aren’t traveling. At the airport, they send their mail, press their suits and sew on buttons. United said that when an elite flier once stained his shirt, an employee sent her husband to the mall to buy a replacement.

And more:

At the far end of United’s main O’Hare terminal, tucked behind sliding glass doors, four smiling women in gold neckerchiefs await Global Services members. These fliers face no airport lines. The agents know many of them by name and have boarding passes waiting for those who often run late. After picking up their tickets, the travelers step straight to the front of the security line, cutting in front of fliers and drawing confused looks.

Meanwhile I don’t think I have enough miles for an upgrade to Economy Plus. But I can see the appeal and how it can become an Up in the Air obsession. As George Clooney’s character says, “The miles are the goal.”

Photo by Lasse Fuss

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