Free travel is a perk of the job, but it has limitations. Here’s a quick look at how flight crew travel perks work.

Boeing 777 beginning take-off from runway
Photo: Shutterstock

It is no secret that pilots, especially airline pilots, have great travel perks, able to travel in their off time for little cost, often free. In fact, this travel perk is so ubiquitously known that when I mention to someone that I’m a pilot, often the first or respond response I receive is a comment about the ability to travel off-duty. But it is not just pilots; these travel benefits also apply to other airline employees. I have worked with several flight attendants whose love of travel brought them to the job, and travel perks are the glue that keeps them in the career.

Standby or non-rev

For pilots, cabin crew, and their families, flying in their off time is referred to as non-rev, short for non-revenue, or standby. The terms are interchangeable.

Airplane flying over two surfers standing on a beach.
Photo: Sorn340 Studio Images / Shutterstock

The nuanced rules for standby travel vary greatly from airline to airline, but generally, employees and dependents, and other qualified pass riders, can list as standby passengers on a company flight. If a seat is available, they will receive a seat assignment and fly for free. The fuller the flight, the closer to boarding time this will occur – standby passengers often are the last to board. If the employee would rather have the certainty of a confirmed seat, the employee can often purchase tickets at a discount; 20% is the norm.

If a pilot or other employee works for a regional airline that operates flights on behalf of multiple mainline carriers, the regional airline employee will typically receive flight benefits from all partner airlines they operate for, called codeshares.

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Beyond his or her employer airline, employees can often access standby benefits on many other airlines, too. Still, there are more limitations and rules here than flying standby on your own airline. If possible, employees will attempt to fly standby on their own airline first, as they will have a higher priority in the pool of standby passengers than a non-employee.

An airport with dimmed lights
Photo: Mauro Rodrigues/Shutterstock


Standby travel is a great way to see the world but it has limitations. Standby travelers must be flexible and understand that their travel plans will not be certain and will likely change due to availability. Because a standby passenger is a non-revenue generating passenger for the airline, the airline will do its best, and it should, to fill the aircraft with paying passengers. So, traveling on standby during peak travel times, such as Christmas or Spring Break, is a perilous choice, especially if you need more than one or two seats. Standby passengers might add their name to the list for a flight a few days before they travel, for example, showing 30 available seats, only to find the morning of the flight that the flight is now full. For reasons such as this, standby passengers must always have a second and third plan for getting to their destination if it is time-sensitive. And starting travel early helps, too. If the early flight does not work, perhaps the next one will later in the day. Because of the flexibility needed, standby travelers almost never check baggage, as their travel plans can change very quickly. So, travel light.

Traveling standby is a valuable perk for the patient, flexible, grateful, and sometimes intrepid traveler.


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