Private check-ins? Airlines offer secret perks to best customers

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By Joy Jernigan

The unofficial kickoff of summer is just a few days away, and for millions of Americans, that means air travel. 

But instead of long lines and short connections, what if you could be treated like royalty every step of the way? There's a whole world of secret airline perks, and NBC's Janet Shamlian scored an exclusive ticket into this elite flying club.

American Airlines, for example, offers expedited and private check-ins. 

"You do get that personalized attention where they meet you, greet you, get the baggage taken care of all the way through until the moment you get on an airplane," said Lillian Ortiz of American Airlines. 

United Airlines has a special direct phone number to a team ready to troubleshoot your every need. And Delta Air Lines' has private chauffeurs who escort select travelers to their connecting flight via a Porsche hybrid.

"Customers love it," said Delta's Mike Henny. "They're excited about it too, not only from the perspective of 'Now I don't have to worry about missing my flight,' but also from the perspective of 'This is really cool. ' "

You want in? Not so fast. You can't qualify for these red-carpet perks on miles alone or buy your way in. Most are invite-only, a way for airlines to reward their best customers, those who fly several times a week or buy full-fare or first-class tickets. 

"The types of tickets you buy, the amount of travel you do, where you're flying ... all these things are factored in to the equation," said Alexander Dorow, who runs United Airlines' Global Services Operations.

"And they're secret?" asked Shamlian.

"Absolutely," Dorow said. "Something's gotta stay secret."