Smart Tips for Airline Employees Flying Standby

One of the main benefits of working for an airline is standby flights.

Many people believe that airline employees just get free flights all the time – but it’s not that simple. Airline employees have the ability to take advantage of free or reduced fares, but the catch is that they have to fly standby. This is a method of flying that allows traveling airline staff to “fill in the gaps” and take the empty seats after all of the paying passengers have boarded the plane.

In this post, I’ll explain how flying standby works – as well as offering you some useful tips for making the most of this flying method.

flying standby

How Does Flying Standby Work?

When you fly standby, you aren’t necessarily guaranteed to get a seat on the plane. You see, airline employees flying for free are considered “non-revenue-passengers” (ie. The airline isn’t making any money on them.)

This means they are considered a lower priority than the paying customers (even those in economy) and they will only be given a seat on a flight if everyone else is on board and there is extra space.

So, even if you are an airline employee, you are not guaranteed a seat and there are many people who will be given a seat on the flight before you, including airline employees who are ‘en route’ to work, full-fare passengers who were bumped from a flight and off-duty pilots.

flying standby

This means that if you are traveling to somewhere a little bit off the beaten track, you’ll be fine. The flight likely won’t be full and you’ll be able to hop on for free (or for a discounted fare.)

However, if you are trying to travel on a very busy route you might have to wait for a plane that isn’t completely full – which can be challenging. Since many airlines overbook their flights to account for no-shows, flying standby to popular destinations can be very difficult. If you need to be in a particular place at a set time, flying standby is not a good idea as you won’t be able to guarantee your time of arrival.

Of course, when it does work, flying standby can be fantastic. It’s a great way to travel for less and you can also share the privileges with your friends and family with a “buddy pass.” For example, an employee might get up to 10 buddy passes every year.

flying standby

Tips for Flying Standby

When you do it right, this method of travel can be really effective. Here are some tips to keep in mind for flying standby:

  • Ask your reservation agent to check the flight loads for the dates and times you want to travel. This will give you an indication of how likely you are to get on that flight.
  • Seek out off-peak flights to slightly more obscure destinations. They will often fly with empty seats, so you’ll have a much better chance of getting on.
  • You can also log into the airline website a few days before you fly and take a look at the seat availability. If you can see that there are no seats available, you can choose a different flight.
  • Keep in mind that weekends and holidays are the busiest travel days and the most popular time of day to fly is afternoon. If you can travel outside of those hours, you’ll have a better chance of getting on a standby flight.
  • Also, if you show up for the first flight of the day you’ll have a better chance of being higher on the list for later flights.
  • Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before the flight you are trying to catch and check in with the ticket or gate agent.


flying standby

  • When you check-in at the airport, make sure that the ticket agent attaches the “standby” tag to your luggage. This will ensure that if you don’t make your flight, your bags won’t leave without you.
  • Or, you can make it a lot easier by flying with hand-luggage only, so that you don’t have to worry about checked bags. If you are only traveling for a short getaway, this might be a better option.
  • You don’t need to announce the fact that you are a standby passenger to the gate agent – they should be able to see on their computer system that you are.
  • All you need to do is to wait for the flight to finish boarding, then the agent will call all standby passengers to the podium to be issued a boarding pass. (Don’t pester them… if you annoy them they can decide not to let you board! Always, always be polite and kind to the airline agent.)
  • Make sure that you are sitting near the gate and listening carefully for your name. If you miss it, the gate agent will call out the next passenger on the list and you’ll miss your chance.
  • Dress nicely! Not only do some airlines have dress codes that you must adhere to when flying standby as a non-revenue passenger, it’s also been found that airline employees tend to treat passengers better when they are smartly dressed.
  • Stick around even after the flight has closed. You never know – sometimes passengers leave a flight at the last minute and you’ll have the chance to take their place.


flying standby

Flying standby can be a great option for cheaper travel, as long as you have the patience and flexibility to potentially wait for a while to receive your tickets.

Above all, one of the most important things to remember when flying standby is to stay calm and don’t panic if Plan A doesn’t fall into place. Have a Plan B, C and D and a good book to read while you wait. You’ll eventually get to where you are going!

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