Up in the Air: Realistic or Not?

On Saturday, I saw the movie, Up in the Air. Living away from home a couple hundred days a year myself, I wondered how Hollywood would glamorize jetting off from place to place. Wonder no more.

George Clooney was excellent, as always. It was easy to imagine him as a hurried corporate downsizer living on the road 322 days a year. Yes, his character was a bit cold and steely but looking into his beautiful eyes, he can fire me any day.

But was the movie real? Clooney went through the same TSA lines as everyone else. One very real point also was a great tip: Business travelers never get in a line behind, as he says, families or older people. The fastest lines generally are those dedicated to frequent travelers who know all the rules.

The scene where the new associate comes into the airport lugging a large suitcase was great. Clooney is right, nearly all business travelers live out of a carry-on, avoiding checked bags whenever possible.

Much of the movie was shot in secondary airports like St. Louis, Omaha, and Tulsa. Missing were the monster airports with multiple terminals and massive TSA lines like Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles. I kind of envied him there.


The part of the movie where he talks about his accumulated miles is actually pretty real. Most of the frequent travelers I know are at least aware of their total awards and points, if not obsessed to where they check them each day. By the way, I use Mileport as my dashboard of award balances.

While American Airlines is not my primary carrier, I did have a couple observations. First, there were empty seats in first
class. I don’t see that on Continental or Delta. Second, there were quite a few puddle jumper flights but even those had large first class sections. Is this the way it works on American Eagle?

As a HiltonHonors high status member, he certainly would have had room upgrades all the time. In other words, his hotel rooms should have been pretty nice suites. Instead, they looked to be, well, very ordinary rooms.

The scene where Clooney pulls out his many loyalty cards was a little overkill but funny. The only time a card is necessary is for entrance to the airport lounges. The others – airlines, hotels, car rentals, etc – already have the numbers in their systems so the scene at Hertz where the young guy asks Clooney for his member number never would have happened.

The part about the 10 million miles with AA was confusing. The movie suggested he was seeking to be credited with that many base air miles. That is quite different than an equal amount of frequent flier points which can be achieved many ways other than flying.

At about 350,000 miles flown each year, it would take him nearly 30 years to rack up 10 million air miles. Sorry, Clooney doesn’t look nearly old enough to have been doing that kind of flying, but I suppose it’s possible.

And then there was his sparse home. Well, he calls it home for about 40 nights a year. As a bachelor always on the run, that might be quite an accurate portrayal. Fortunately I can’t relate to that part.

All in all, a bittersweet movie but nice to sit back and see much of what I probably look like during the hustle and bustle each week. Well, without the extracurricular romance, anyway.


  1. The American Airlines first class is probably empty because AA doesn’t do unlimited complimentary upgrades. They do 500-mile sticker upgrades. They will let a first class section go empty rather than complimentary upgrade their elites; I’ve seen it. One reason why I’m strongly considering switching my airline allegiance away from AA. I’ve been upgraded more times in a single year of flying Delta with second-tier status than four years of flying AA with the same level status.
    American Eagle has no first class on any of its aircraft, so that’s another inaccuracy.

  2. @Ted – You are incorrect. AA uses 500 stickers for 25k and 50k levels. Exec Platinum (100k) get unlimited domestic upgrades–cleared usually at the 100 hr window. Sort of like what United is proposing for 2010 (I’m 1k on UA, Exp on AA).
    I’ve flown to JFK to HI at least 10 times in 2009, for example, and have never seen first empty. I’ve flown transcon JFK-SFO/LAX uncountable numbers of times and have never seen Biz or F empty. Even on dinky routes where they run the MD80s, the front rarely has an open seat after the door closes.
    @OP – American’s small routes flying jets smaller than the MD80’s (Embrears typically) do not have first sections — they are typically 1/2 configuration. Unlike some of UA’s new ExPlus planes with the mini 1/2 first section in the front. I understand AA has just ordered a bunch of new RJs that are intended to have a First section like the UA counterparts.

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