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Opera House in Sydney, Australia

I love the thrill of flying standby. Not knowing if you’ll get a seat; if you do get a seat, not knowing if you’ll get a seat with your family; not knowing how many flights it’ll take you to get where you want to go; not knowing if you’ll have to race to the other end of the airport in a different terminal to grab an alternate flight; not knowing how long you’ll be living in the airport; not knowing if you’ll have to change destinations at the last second; not knowing just about anything.

If this sounds like an adventure to you, you are a perfect candidate to fly on a buddy pass! As an airline employee I get asked all the time about my buddy passes. If you’ve ever thought about flying on a buddy pass – this is for you.

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What is A Buddy Pass?

Airline employees receive flight benefits as part of their compensation package working for an airline – as well as their spouse/travel companion, plus any children they have under 25, and the employee’s parents. These benefits include flights on the airline they work for, as well as other airlines.

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Daddy and Pie Hiking in the Caribbean on the island of St. John

In addition to these benefits, employees are issued several buddy passes each quarter. A buddy pass is a standby ticket, or space available ticket, on their specific airline. Employees of that airline can share buddy passes with friends or family that enables the rider to fly at a significantly reduced rate, if someone hasn’t purchased that seat.

For instance, our family took a trip to Disneyland with Gabriel’s cousin a few years ago. My family flew on my benefits, but gave Gabriel’s cousins family buddy passes to use to fly with us – as his cousin was neither my child, my spouse, or my parents. We all flew in seats that hadn’t been purchased and would have otherwise gone empty. 

Where Can You Fly?

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Baby Eclair swimming in San Francisco

Anywhere that airline flies as long as there is an open seat. You can fly anywhere on the route map from that specific airline, whether direct or connecting, but you must pick a city pair. Buddy passes are not open ended tickets issued as a free for all.

If you want to change the destination, you can do that too, but all changes must go through the employee who gave you the buddy pass. You cannot show up at the airport and fly anywhere open ended, and expect the airline employees to take care of everything for you. You also cannot take a buddy pass from one airline and switch it to another airline. 

Will I Get On A Flight?

The answer to that question entirely depends on where you are flying from, where you are flying to, and when you are trying to fly.

Flying on a buddy pass means you are almost at the bottom of the totem pole. When open seats are not ticketed on a flight, the first people to get the open seats are the airline employees: the people who actually work for the airlines. The next group cleared will be the airline employee’s families flying without the airline employee. Next in line are buddy passes.

Priority Sequence when flying Standby:
Emergency Travel
Employees Traveling on Business
Special Passes issued to Employees
Employees
Employees Family Members flying without the employee
Buddy Passes
Other Airline Employees

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Miss Pie smelling the beautiful flowers in Annecy, France in a french garden

The airline employee can tell you where you fall on the standby list prior to your flight, but the greatest and worst thing about standby travel, is that the list changes by the second. There are people who list, but don’t show up – this works in your favor. There are people who list for multiple destinations and take the flight that departed earlier than the flight you are listed on – this also works in your favor. There are employees who see the flight loads are open and list at the last minute – this does not work in your favor. There are numerous reasons why the list changes minute by minute. The rule of thumb is always show up. Hope for the best, and expect the worst.

The best flights to take will be early morning flights. The ones that leave when you should be sleeping. These are the most often missed flights, and customers who miss their flights means open seats for standby travelers. The next best flights to take are during rush hour in big cities.

Everyone wants to leave for the weekend. Flying out on Friday night, and back on Sunday night or Monday morning will give you a lot of competition. Flying during holiday periods, or school breaks are a definite no-no. Flying out of any airline’s hub is also a sure way to make yourself miserable. Remember all those airline employees that have a higher priority than you? They all live in the airline’s hub city.

If you don’t make it on the first flight you try for, you can try for the next one. You can continue to roll over to the next flight until you don’t want to try anymore.  

Who Can Use A Buddy Pass

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Kids saying goodbye to FAO Schwarz

You can; but you must know that flying standby is not for the faint of heart. Flying standby is not for someone traveling to a wedding, a funeral, a cruise, a baby blessing, a 50th birthday party or wedding anniversary, a very expensive event, etc. You don’t fly standby when anything is on the line.

You can’t buy buddy passes, nor can you buy standby tickets. A buddy pass is a gift from an airline employee to fly on their airline, shared with someone they explicitly trust with their livelihood, who doesn’t have to be anywhere specific in any specific time frame.

You must abide by all FAA and TSA rules and regulations.

All changes to the reservation, including where you want to fly, who wants to fly, the dates you want to fly, and any and all questions about the flight including your baggage allowance and whether or not you are going to get on the flight, must be directed to the employee who gave you the buddy pass. You are not a customer, so don’t create extra work for the employees who are letting you sit in an empty seat to fly across the country for next to nothing. 

Rules of Engagement

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Crossing the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world in Tokyo, Japan

You are a guest, you are not a customer. Would you go into someone’s house where you were invited over for dinner sweating and not wearing any deodorant after running a marathon and head straight for the kitchen to deplete the cupboards? No, you’d be considerate and cordial. The same applies to flying on a buddy pass.

You arrive at the airport. You sit politely and wait. You speak when spoken to. You graciously accept any information that is provided, and you do not expect anything. You wear nice clothes; nothing offensive, nothing torn, nothing revealing, no flip flops.

You don’t create more work for the Airport employees, or the Inflight employees. You recognize that just about everyone on this flight paid hundreds of dollars while you paid tens of dollars, and you keep that to yourself. You silently muse how lucky you are and when you arrive at the destination you can kiss the ground. Feel free to bring the crew gifts, and/or chocolate. This is expressly what the Duty Free stores are for. Don’t make a mess.

And never, under any circumstances, use social media to talk about what you are doing. Do not ever complain if you don’t get on a flight for $10. Do not ever complain about not getting on the flight. Do not ever complain about the seat you were given. Do not ever complain about not getting a seat with your family. Do not ever complain about anything. You flew for free, or practically free, and you’re not entitled to compensation if the flight is delayed. You have no justification to complain. If you do, you’ll never get another buddy pass again from anyone ever, and you’ll likely be banned from flying on that airline ticketed or otherwise.

Disclaimer

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Meeting the Luau dancers at the Royal Lahaina Resort in Maui, Hawaii

This post is for informational purposes only. I’m not offering buddy passes, nor am I selling them, nor am I giving them away to strangers. If you want to fly on a buddy pass become really, really, really good friends with someone who works for an airline.

What did I miss? Do you have any questions about using a buddy pass, flying standby or working for an airline? Do you have a great buddy pass flying experience? One of our most fun experiences was trying to leave Cancun International Airport!

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8 COMMENTS

    • It all depends on the airline you work for. Typically each airline with have what is called OAL (Other Airline) agreements where you can pay a small fee to fly standby to the destinations in their network.

  1. Catherine, when I saw this post I got incredibly excited because this is my life. 😀 I too am an airline employee so I know about every last detail you mentioned as my family and I have been flying standby for quite some time. I have buddy passes I let my family use, but often it’s stressful for me in having to explain the rules and the “what ifs” associated with it. My parents are finally used to it and once when I told them “Um – all flights went to pot at LGA – you need to get in a cab and drive to JFK NOW!” they totally understood and went! I have friends asking me too, but as like you – I don’t provide it to everyone, I simply can’t unfortunately. I would ask you what airline you work for but I’m sure you want to keep that private. You can e-mail me if you wish to discuss non-rev stories. 🙂

    • Yes! Up until just about a month ago, my mom wouldn’t fly unless there were a minimum of 30 seats open – you can imagine how often that happened. Then, just one day, she couldn’t get on a flight and I told her I could reroute her with a connection in Seattle. She agreed, and then did it by herself! I was impressed, and a little bit in shock. I’d love to email you! I’ll reach out tomorrow!

    • It’s always interesting to me to listen to these stories. They always come from a place of entitlement, and I always think to myself, entitlement to what? A ticket you got for free – that’s something else!

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