What It’s Like To Fly NonRev (Standby)

When it was good, it was very, very good, and when it was bad it was HORRID!

The little nursery rhyme sums up what it is like to nonrev. When you get a seat on the plane, you are on top of the world, and truly getting something for free!  But when the plane leaves and you haven’t gotten on, sometimes it can be so depressing and horribly inconvenient.

What Nonrev Means

Active airline employees and their families can fly on the employee’s airline for free or small cost on a space available basis. Non-rev is short for “non revenue.” Different rules and costs apply depending on whether or not the employee is flying, and each airline has its own rules.  You “list” on a flight, which means you get put on a standby list. If there is an empty seat on the plane available 15 minutes before the plane takes off, then you will get to fly.  You will not get a seat until all paying passengers have been accounted for.

Priority is Everything

You are assigned a priority on the standby list depending on who you are, and your sponsoring employee’s hire date.  I am the parent of an employee who does contract work for one of the majors, so my priority is very low.  Often I am on the very bottom of the standby list, but not always!  Sometimes I am one or two places above the bottom–over people who are flying on the infamous “buddy passes” that employees can buy for their friends. I have to make sure that I choose flights that have a good chance of going out with empty seats.

How It Works

You check in just like you are going to be leaving on the flight.  Instead of a boarding pass you get a seat request that allows you through security.  When you get to the gate, you wait near the counter until boarding is almost complete, and then listen for your name to be called. If you don’t get on the plane, the gate agent will roll your name over to the next flight.

When It Works

The best possible scenario is that you get seated in first class. This doesn’t happen very often for me.  For example, I have never flown a transcon or a transatlantic  in the forward cabin.  But there are some routes where I have about a 30% chance of getting up front.  I have had great luck on flights from the US to Canada, and to/from Latin America.  If you get into First/Business class you get the same treatment as a paying passenger.

I have good luck taking the first flight out of the day.  If there are 10 flights a day between two airports, and the first flight leaves at 6:00 am, you can expect that there are some people that won’t make that flight.  I also don’t list on flights unless there are a lot of empty seats 24 hours before departure.

I have flown for free many times.  I have flown to/from Lima, Santiago, Costa Rica, Rome, Montreal, Toronto, and countless domestic destinations.  It is a wonderful benefit that I am thankful for (when it works).

When It Doesn’t Work

Well, often I am left behind at the airport..  Even with careful planning, I don’t take about a third of the trips that I plan. Even though I won’t even consider going unless there are seats available, often people seem to come out of the woodwork and fill up the planes.  The most common scenario is that flights get delayed and cancelled and planes fill up quickly.  I have left my house after confirming that there are 25 unsold seats, only to arrive at the gate and find the flight oversold.

There are some routes that are hard to fly because so many employees are commuting on these routes.  For example, a horrible route for me is Atlanta to Salt Lake City–two bases!  I have been number 40 on the standby list behind 35 active employees.

The lowest I have been on the standby list is number 275 on a flight from LaGuardia (New York) to Atlanta.  This was after a couple of flights were cancelled.

I have so many nightmare stories I really don’t know where to begin, but I will give a couple of examples

  1.  Bruce and I were flying to Ecuador to do some mountaineering, so we checked bags. There was only one flight per day to Quito and we couldn’t get on it.  We had to wait three hours to recover our bags, before making the depressing drive back home.  Once we got home, we booked and went on a cruise (We also got award tickets to Quito for the next month–there’s always a silver lining.)
  2. On another trip we were trying to fly out of Quito.  That flight left at midnight.  We had to go back through customs and find a hotel at 2 am.  The next morning I got on the computer and used award tickets to get us home.
  3. I was trying to fly to Bogota from Atlanta to meet Bruce on his bike trip.  I couldn’t get on the Atlanta to Bogota flight, so I flew to Houston to try to fly from there.  Couldn’t get on the Houston/Bogota flight, so I spent the night at the airport, waiting for the 6 am flight back to Atlanta.  Took me 18 hours to fly in a circle.
  4. And I could tell you about the night I spent at baggage claim in LaGuardia………

It’s Still a Wonderful Benefit

When it works it is fantastic. If you have to be somewhere on a certain date it is not.  For those that have flexibility, and don’t mind spending hours (or days) in an airport, it can save you a lot of money. There is really too much to cover in one blog post.  If you have any questions, please ask!







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