Airline Upgrade Guilt – an examination

Do people with high levels of guilt-proneness tend to have a heightened sensitivity to injustices – what happens if they get an unexpected airline upgrade for example? This question has been examined by professor Anna S. Mattila and professor Lu Zhang of the School of Hospitality Management, The Pennsylvania State University, US along with professor Lydia Hanks at the Dedman School of Hospitality, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, US.

Their research paper: ‘Existential Guilt and Preferential Treatment : The Case of an Airline Upgradeis published in the Journal of Travel Research, September 2013 vol. 52 no. 5, pp. 591-599

“Using the context of an unexpected airline upgrade, we examined factors that influence an individual’s reaction when they are overrewarded compared to others: guilt-proneness and relationship to the other, underrewarded, individuals. Results demonstrated that for individuals high in guilt-proneness, satisfaction with the upgrade and behavioral intent may be qualified by a feeling of existential guilt when they receive benefits that others do not, particularly if they have a close relationship with those others.”

The findings have important implications for the hospitality, airline, and travel industries, say the authors :

“ … for customers high in guilt-proneness, receiving an expected upgrade may, in fact, have unintended negative results. Managers can use this information to make employees aware of the potential detrimental effects of rewarding or upgrading only one member of a party.”

The photo shows a Singapore Airlines suite : “How close is too close? You’ll never have to know”

[ Declaration of interest. The author of this post declares an interest, in that he has been the recipient of an unexpected airline upgrade. No perceptible increased levels of guilt ensued however, existential or otherwise.]