Treat the Gate Agent as the Most Important Person in the World

travel gate agent

At a seminar I presented in Toronto, a lady sitting in the front row who had not said anything throughout the whole session put up her hand.


When I called on her, she said, ‘‘I’m a gate agent for Air Canada. May I tell everyone the real scoop?’’ ‘‘Please do!’’ I replied. ‘‘For anyone who is nice to me, I do my best to provide them with a great seat. But, for those who are nasty to me, I return the favor.’’ She went on to tell a story about one, articularly obnoxious traveler who harassed her, impressing on her what an important person he was and threatening that if he did not get upgraded, he would never fly AirCanada again. The gate agent assigned him to a middle seat, next to a mom traveling with a baby!

I heard another story about a gate agent that is certainly humorous, though I cannot tell you whether it is truth or fiction. A businesswoman standing in line to see the gate agent witnessed the man ahead of her being very nasty. When her turn to talk to the gate agent came up, she empathized, promising to be kinder than the previous guy. The gate agent responded, ‘‘No worries. That passenger is on your flight to Seattle. But I’ve routed his baggage to Hong Kong!’’ Do gate agents even have that kind of power? I don’t know. But it’s a good story with a great lesson.


Being nice to gate agents can pay back in spades, not least since these overworked staff people are far more used to being abused by irate passengers not getting what they want. If the agent says that he cannot improve your seat, ask if it may be worthwhile waiting until twenty minutes before departure for the possibility of a better seat opening up. In some cases, the agent will tell you to return to the desk within a certain time frame; or better still, will offer to hold your boarding pass to see whether something better may open up. As a last resort, ask to speak to a ‘‘special services’’ manager or supervisor.

I have been upgraded without using certificates or miles just by schmoozing the gate agent and simply asking, ‘‘What will it take to be upgraded today?’’ Bring some cookies—or buy some at an airport newsagent or nearby coffee shop. It takes so little to add a bright spot to someone’s day, and your courtesy may very well be rewarded. Treat overworked airline employees with kind thoughtfulness. Your tasteful gift will be remembered.


‘‘For anyone who is nice to me, I do my best to provide them with a great seat. But, for those who are nasty to me, I return the favor.’’ She went on to tell a story about one, a particularly obnoxious traveler who harassed her, impressing on her what an important person he was and threatening that if he did not get upgraded, he would never fly AirCanada again. The gate agent assigned him to a middle seat, next to a mom traveling with a baby!
I heard another story about a gate agent that is certainly humorous, though I cannot tell you whether it is truth or fiction. A businesswoman standing in line to see the gate agent witnessed the man ahead of her being very nasty.

When her turn to talk to the gate agent came up, she empathized, promising to be kinder than the previous guy. The gate agent responded, ‘‘No worries. That passenger is on your flight to Seattle. But I’ve routed his baggage to Hong Kong!’’ Do gate agents even have that kind of power? I don’t know. But it’s a good story with a great lesson.


Being nice to gate agents can pay back in spades, not least since these overworked staff people are far more used to being abused by irate passengers not getting what they want. If the agent says that he cannot improve your seat, ask if it may be worthwhile waiting until twenty minutes before departure for the possibility of a better seat opening up. In some cases, the agent will tell you to return to the desk within a certain time frame; or better still will offer to hold your boarding pass to see whether something better may open up. As a last resort, ask to speak to a ‘‘special services’’ manager or supervisor.