Forget getting upgraded to first class. How about getting upgraded to your own plane?
One lucky Delta flyer got the royal treatment last week as the only passenger on an otherwise empty flight from Aspen (ASE) to Salt Lake City (SLC). Vincent Peone, a film director and production company owner, captured the unbelievable experience and is still reveling in the oddity of his own, pseudo-private jet experience on a major U.S. airline.
As a Delta Diamond – the airline's top-tier status – Peone spends plenty of time flying. Still, his experience as the only passenger on board even a little regional jet was a new one.
“This was above and beyond,” he told Thirfty Traveler. “I appreciate how insane it is – I imagine this was more like an experience from the golden age of flying.”
Just watch this video he put together of the surreal experience:
— vincent peone (@vincentpeone) August 12, 2019
You occasionally see empty flights like this, but rarely in the U.S., where airlines have turned filling every seat on each flight into an art form.
Rather than risk empty seats from no-shows or last-minute changes, airlines routinely oversell flights and cancel or change others that have undersold. That push for full planes – called load factors – is a critical part of airlines' cost-controls and record-high profits.
In 2018, more than 84% of available seats were filled on domestic flights in the U.S., according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That's up from 79% a decade ago – and just over 70% in 2002.
‘Oh, Please Make the Announcement'
Peone was wrapping up a family vacation in Aspen, flying to Salt Lake City en route to head home to New York City to visit his grandfather, John Erceg, in the hospital. He had no inkling he'd be flying solo until he walked through a fairly empty terminal at Aspen and approached the gate agent, who informed him he was the only passenger on board.
And while normally an airline might reschedule such an empty flight, airline employees told Peone they needed to get to Salt Lake City to serve a subsequent flight. A delayed flight that morning likely was a factor, too, as many passengers apparently chose to take the earlier flight to Salt Lake City.
When the gate agent suggested she may not need to do the boarding announcement for the 7 p.m. departure, Peone couldn't help himself.
“I told her: ‘Oh please make the announcement,' and pulled out my phone,” he said. “Everyone from the (airline) from that point on got a kick out of it and played along beautifully.”
With an empty flight, Peone had no need to request an upgrade to first class. A flight attendant told him to sit wherever he liked and put a drink in his hand. All 68 seats behind him on the roughly hour-long flight were unoccupied.
Ground crew had to load the plane with extra weight just to fly safely. He even chatted with the pilots, cheekily telling them “thank you so much for flying me.”
“The flight attendant and I did some quick math and we guesstimated it probably cost about $30,000 to fly the plane that night so I felt pretty special,” Peone said.