Matthewonlive and let's fly

Flying Non-Rev Standby on United Airlines

Traveling just got much cheaper. And much more stressful...

A friend of mine offered me a large quantity of United buddy passes, so my travel for the foreseeable future--if I so choose--will be cheap and likely in premium cabins on international flights. But my first experience flying standby, a trip to Chicago last weekend, makes me think that I might just end up buying tickets. Flying standby is not as glamorous as it may seem.

The plan was to meet up with a couple colleagues from Frankfurt in Chicago on Thursday evening, then drive to our buddy's house in Green Lake, Wisconsin for the weekend. I booked myself on an afternoon Philadelphia-Chicago flight at 4:31p (getting to the airport is quite a story...but I'll save it for another post) and made it to the gate just before boarding had started. I looked up to the upgrade waitlist and saw:

united-standby-list

Ha! No problem--as long as I got the economy class seat. (you standby directly into first class on United Airlines, but with the complimentary domestic upgrade benefit for UA elites, standbys rarely get into a premium cabin).

But with the flight checked in full, I was still number 9 on the standby list! I hung around until the end of boarding, when two more standbys got on, but I still wasn't close. With the next and last flight of the day to Chicago oversold, it looked like I wouldn't make it.

Unless I connected.

I checked loads and flying via Cleveland looked more promising than via Newark or Washington Dulles. The Cleveland flight was departing shortly, so I made my way over to the gate and was issued a boarding pass for the flight.

No lounge access in Cleveland, but the wi-fi internet was complimentary and fast and I found an electrical outlet to plug in my laptop at the gate to my Chicago flight. It felt like I was a kid again...

There were three seats left on the Chicago flight with two on the standby list, so I got the seat--Economy Plus on a CR7. I made it to Chicago a little later than planned, but it worked.

Last night I had to play the game all over again. The first flight to Philadelphia was operated by a CR7 and I was number 7 on the waitlist. Five eventually cleared, but I was left without a seat.

Next flight was a 757-200, booked even, so my chances looked good. I walked over to the gate and found the flight was delayed 30 minutes due to a late arriving crew. Soon enough, the crew walked up led by Captain Denny Flanagan! Captain Denny walked right up to me, shook my hand and greeted me by name. I am actually pretty good at remembering names, but Denny never forgets a face! Last time I had the chance to fly with Captain Denny I gave up my seat for a bump; this time I was just hoping for an economy class seat on the flight so I would not have to wait three hours for the next flight.

I made it onto the flight...an exit row middle. Smooth flight, good crew, and I made it back to Philadelphia only 10 minutes behind schedule.

Summing up my first non-rev experience on UA: exactly what I expected.

I won't say how much I paid, but it was a much, much, much better deal than buying a revenue ticket. On a shorthaul route like Philadelphia-Chicago, flying economy and missing a flight is not really a problem, but going forward I will be paying the $300-400 for a revenue ticket to California and back when I 1.) earn miles and 2.) typically get an upgrade to first class.

Flying internationally is a more difficult issue. Fares are great, but taxes are high. With base fares as cheap as $79 on many transatlantic UA flights, I am really looking at choosing between flying business class and earning no miles or flying non-upgradeable coach and earning miles. That's a tough choice...and I lean toward the coach option, or better yet spending a bit more and upgrading.

I look forward to seeing what sort of travel I can squeeze into the next several months, but as you can see, the choice to use non-rev benefits is not quite as easy as it may seem. But still a welcome dilemma!

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Comments

#1
flo September 18, 2012 at 02:35 am

I fly non-rev on a regular basis in Europe... load factors have increased over the past months. And here it isn't as easy to reroute.

But when I look by how much the US carriers have improved their SLF, then flying standby must have gotten really tough.

Can you use the jumpseat on a buddy pass? That's usually the last chance here; I've made a flights where people got bumped but non-revs still got the jump.

@flo: I could have done jumpseat on LH when I was with Star, but not with United. Believe me, I tried...

#3
Nick September 18, 2012 at 10:04 am

I fly UA non-rev all the time, but have been very lucky this year. I have only found my self bumped from I flight once trying to get back home on a Sunday. It does help that I live by a hub and I pray for those miss connects so I can get on. It is kind of nice being able to fly international business or first for a almost nothing compared to buying a ticket (taxes and such). You will have to give us an update about your first non-rev international experience as I have found this to be interesting this year especially at NRT.

#4
Paul September 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

I worked for AA for ten years. Lots of friends asked me for buddy passes. After giving them the speech about how bad it sucks, a few insisted on using them so I'd give them passes and suggest when to travel and what to wear to increase their chances of getting on flights. Only one guy asked me for passes again after his first experience and that was because he was a college student and had more time than money. It wasn't that bad for employees, they have higher boarding priority. But I eventually took a job that paid $8k/yr more. That's about how much I valued the benefit because I wasn't at a hub so it was harder to travel and because I was getting married and I knew kids would follow and I didn't even want to think about non-revving with young children.

#5
steve64 September 18, 2012 at 10:43 am

I non-revved for 19 years as an AA employee. I would never go back as it simply isn't worth the trouble. I see First/Biz more now as a 1K then I ever did as an employee ... bot domestic and international. And as a "buddy", you're even lower on the priority list than the employee.

No lounge access in CLE ?? There's a nice and large United (CO) Club there.

@steve64: As a pass rider, I could not use my SAS Gold status to gain entrance to the lounge. I do not have a United Club membership.

@Nick: I believe pass privs are a bit different for Express Jet. Do you get tri-cabin first or BusinessFirst on ex-Con flights if traveling alone? I can only (at least in theory... ;) ) get into business class on a tri-cabin plane on an international flight. Domestically, not that I'd ever get an upgrade, I'd be eligible for highest cabin of service.

#7
Nick September 18, 2012 at 12:36 pm

As an Express Jet Pass Rider I am able to fly on UA and DAL. Depending on what I book on employeeres I can fly first on a 3-cabin plane or BusinessFirst, both traveling alone. On my last trip to Asia I was able to fly BusinessFirst from EWR-NRT and First on UA Metal NRT-IAD. I have noticed that it is almost impossible to get first on a domestic flight. Being Express Jet they only difference is that my pass priority is lower than that of a UA employee

Nick, are you listed as a spouse or dependent? Since I am just a "buddy" I cannot get first, which is a big bummer.

#9
Nick September 18, 2012 at 01:07 pm

I am listed as a travel companion (which I guess is like a dependent). It is still a nice perk to have someone "buddy passes" for last minute travel.

#10
tommy September 18, 2012 at 03:19 pm

@Nick Have you booked Economy and end up in a higher cabin for international flight? Just curious. Even though the the tax and service fees for First and Business classes are great deal when compared to a normal ticket price, they do add up when you travel a lot.

#11
JeffISU September 19, 2012 at 12:17 am

I was able to fly on passes on NWA and definitely was easier in the 90's, especially being able to get into World Business Class (remember that?) before unlimited elite upgrades and more people using miles to upgrade internationally. But lately flights are much more full and especially in our situation of typically having to make a connection and now with wife + 2 kids in tow it just isn't worth it within the US. My dad was the employee and now as a retiree I am eligible for a non-dependant pass so am one category above everyone else with a buddy pass, though the everyone else includes my wife and kids, so not a true advantage when traveling together. The cost of a buddy pass for the routes I priced was usually 50-60% of an advance purchase coach fare.. so for us with the added risk of a connection combined with having to get four seats instead of just one, it just doesn't make sense for us. However, for those with just one or two people and especially those living in a hub city, it can be a fantastic deal if you can be flexible.

@tommy: Indeed, international national flights are much more expensive than domestic flights for buddy passes, though the difference between economy and business is not much. I have not flown internationally yet on a buddy pass and likely won't--I'd rather be in coach but earn 20K award miles.

#13
Sam October 23, 2012 at 05:47 pm

Hello,

Does anyone know what the current benefits are like for ExpressJet employees. Do they only fly on DL or UA or do they get both.

Thanks

#14
LEE JAE YEON December 20, 2012 at 04:54 pm

I am CX cabin crew.I want to fly to NYC or ORD from LAX ,2012Dec31 to 2013Jan05. Am I able to apply crew seat for myself and jump seat for my husband, if possible, How to do ? I am not able to find any place to apply.

#15
linda February 2, 2013 at 03:16 pm

does anyone know if there is a UA "load history" so i can look at the month of May for the best days to try a non-rev flight NYC TO SHANNON, IRELAND?

#16
Brittany February 5, 2013 at 10:47 pm

@Nick I am also an expressjet pass rider, how do you book flights with Delta?

#17
Doris Jimerson February 25, 2013 at 02:50 pm

My husband (Herman Jimerson) retired from Continental Airlines in 1983 andI have a lifetime pass with them and I would like some informationon wheather I can use it on United and at what cost.

#18
Brad March 29, 2013 at 11:11 pm

You can check non rev loads at www.NonRevCheckin.com.

#19
Nathali April 24, 2013 at 08:23 am

My family works for United so I travel on Standby but still paying a portion of the regular price. Sometimes is hard when flights are full but my real issue flying standby is the service provided by the crew. We are very easy going people, and In different occasions we have been treated different from others custumer just because we are standby. Example: on our international flight ( we paid around $1.000) I kindly asked for a glass of water, the flight attendant made me go to the back of the flight to get it myself. Let alone the rude attitude every time talking to us. We made a complaint once we arrived, and we were told just because we were standbys were had no "right" to complain, and we were suggest it to forget about it because we did not want our family employed by United to have problems at work. In another occasion, we were waiting to be called to board,, apparently we were called by other names, so ofcourse we did not react, after half hour of waiting and knowing there was space in the plane, I approached the desk and asked why were didn't get called, the person looked at me and said in a loud and disrespectful tone " I called you twice, you are a standby!!! "just get in the plane"

It's horrible!!

#20
ornella May 7, 2013 at 04:11 pm

how much does a standby tickets to belize cost with united airline. this is international flight . thank you ornella

#21
Hsal July 14, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Been trying to find standby tickets since I have to fly short legs pretty frequently to visit home but haven't had luck finding any. Flying can get pretty expensive, anyone know how you get SB tickets??

#22
DLA December 4, 2013 at 01:23 pm

I must be the world's luckiest non-rev. In eight trips to western Europe over the last three years, I've never been bumped once I reached the airport. 16 legs, 13 of those in first class, the other three in Econ+. It probably helps that none of my flights are necessary, except to get home. Maybe I'm just choosey about what I'm willing to risk, load-wise. I have to fly from North Carolina to Newark to catch an international flight so I don't bother if it's really tight either way, or there are no fallback return flights that look good. But the crew has always been great. A good tip is if you catch the crew transport into town, pick up the driver's tip for everyone. Amazing what about $1/head will get you in thanks on the trip home and it's still cheaper than a taxi or train. A nice box of chocolates for the crew on the flight out is also very much appreciated.

#23
John Smith December 9, 2013 at 02:18 pm

Nonrevnue travel Glamorous? I don't think so Willis. This notion came from the 50-60s "Jet-set." These days, Jet-Set? Don't make me laugh. Once someone did me a favor and I thought about giving her a pass, then proceeded to write a one-page Procedure. When I read it back to myself, I realized how ^%#&@ stressful is flying standby, I wouldn't be doing this person a favor. Standby passes are good if the employee is a cell call away and can/willing to "guide" you on the travel day, otherwise, just buy a %&^$@ ticket because you may end up spending more money trying to get home.

But it really depends not the person--I am a "veteran" non-revver and I know exactly what to do. I am trying to get from San Francisco to Burbank today and have already missed my first flight. Now I am hoping for a seat on the next flight, five hours later. I have a club card and have been very productive here. It depends on the person--flying on a pass can be a tremendous blessing.

#25
Oran February 17, 2014 at 08:43 pm

Does anyone know how i can get one to try? Or if someone has extra they dont want?

#26
airline outsourcee May 22, 2014 at 09:53 am

Non-rev travel is getting worse and worse with each passing year now. The airlines have gotten excellent at revenue/capacity management. So good, in fact, that their 'inconvenienced' revenumodated. The final insult was finding out that UA charges other airline employees a $25 fee just to list with a human being with their rationalization that you can otherwise go to a cryptic web address to do it yourself. How insulting/offensive in taking advantage of industry employees who have taken wage cuts and pension elimination during the years.... And this is in a period of profits for the airlines.... This industry never ceases to amaze me as to how low they can stoop....

Happy Travels !

#27
Mommel September 2, 2014 at 11:53 am

I am a non rev parent. Best thing I ever did was join CO's president's club for life which UAL no longer offers. I have spent many hours relaxing there and have invited other non revs to join me . As far as flying, I try to do it on Wednesdays I live in Fl and it is a little tough to get in and out in the winter. I take the attitude that this is an ADVENTURE! And I've had plenty! My first non rev experience was waiting 12 hours to get out of Orlando! After that I got smart! Been doing this since 1998. I'm in my 70s. Keep a positive attitude, smile and compliment the gate agent. That's all I can offer. :)

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