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Non-Revving for Beginners: Never Check a Bag and Other Important Advice

Welcome to FlyerTalk 101, a guide to traveling like an expert from the experts. For more guides like this, check out our FlyerTalk 101 tag or head to the forum links in this article to have any of your questions answered.

For those of us who have been in the airline industry for a while, we are well versed in flying standby, also known as non-revving. Having the ability to go anywhere, at any time, on almost any airline is an amazing perk of the job and can make traveling much easier and cheaper. However, this freedom can be overwhelming to new employees, so I have created a guide to help the newbies out there understand the benefits, risks, and hacks of standby travel and learn how to master it.

What is Non-Revving?

Non-revving, which stands for non-revenue, is a benefit offered to airline employees and their beneficiaries allowing them to fly free of charge on their own airline, and for highly discounted rates on other airlines, pending space available. This means that as long as there is a seat open and there are no weight restrictions on the aircraft, non-rev passengers can fly without purchasing a full-fare ticket.

Who is Eligible?

Flight benefits are extended to direct airline employees (not contractors), their beneficiaries, regional employees, and travelers with buddy passes. Beneficiaries are those that are related to the direct employee that can also enjoy flight benefits, although the policies vary airline to airline. Typically, beneficiaries include parents, children, and a spouse or travel companion. A travel companion is normally a friend or sibling who doesn’t fall into the other categories, however, most airlines only allow an employee to have a spouse OR a travel companion, not both.

Regional employees work for subsidy airlines of the major carriers, such as PSA Airlines – a subsidiary of American Airlines, Air Wisconsin – a subsidiary of United Airlines, and Endeavor Air – a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, and are granted benefits on their parent company’s airline. In most cases, when a flight is operated by a regional carrier, employees of that carrier get first priority over the parent airline’s employees.

Buddy passes are an additional benefit of the airline industry. They are standby tickets for an employee’s airline that can be given to anyone for any flight for a small fee, however, some airlines offer free passes. Airlines outline how their buddy passes can be distributed – some allot a specific number of passes that can be used per year while others allow employees to earn as many as they want. Buddy passes do come with rules and restrictions that will be outlined a little later.

What Airlines Can Employees Fly On?

Direct employees of airlines can fly on their own airline free of charge (I do not know of any airlines that charge their own employees to fly standby), it’s codeshares (typically free as well), and various other carriers for a discounted rate. The different airlines that employees can fly on vary and depend on partnerships that their airline has made with others. For example, Qatar does not extend benefits to some employees of U.S. carriers while Royal Jordanian does.

The cost to fly on other carriers varies, but each airline (in my experience), has outlined a fixed rate for their flights, not including taxes, depending on distance traveled. The further you travel, the more expensive the flight will be. For example, a nonstop flight from Las Vegas to London Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic costs about $90 one-way while a hop from Atlanta to Orlando on Southwest will run you about $30. Additionally, some airports have high departure taxes, which are always included in the total non-rev rate, so flying out of London Heathrow is a lot more expensive than flying out of Copenhagen.

Standby Priority

Each airline has outlined in what order they clear standby passengers. Most airlines give higher priority to employees who have been at the company the longest, while some airlines base it on check-in time. When the standby list includes more than just employees, typical policy clears direct employees of the airline and their beneficiaries first, buddy passes second, regional employees third, and other airline employees (OAL) last.

Each airline has standby codes that are assigned to each non-rev passenger, some are more complicated than others. United has 46 different codes outlining every circumstances under the sun that one may be traveling standby, while Delta only has 21. Normally each airline has about five or six that directly apply to leisure non-revving, but you need to be aware of other individuals who may be ahead of you, such as deadheading crew members, FAA personnel, and revenue passengers flying standby on an earlier or later flight than their own (their priority on Delta is HK, so employees like to call them “home-killers”).

Buddy Pass Rules and Restrictions

Buddy passes are a great perk of the airline industry, whether you are an employee or not. Buddy passes can be given to anyone – siblings, aunts, uncles, roommates, best friends, and friends of friends who need a favor. They generally cost a small fee, anywhere from $20 – $40 each way, but some are offered for free. What is important to understand about buddy passes is that they are not a guaranteed seat – they are based on seat availability and have lower priority than direct employees and their beneficiaries.

Buddy passes are normally allotted one carry on and checked bag for free and maybe seated in any class, from economy to first.

One crucial element to buddy passes is understanding that your actions are a reflection of the employee. If you bad mouth a gate agent or throw a temper tantrum because you didn’t get on a flight, the employee can, and most likely will, get in trouble with their airline. Most airlines do not take this behavior lightly and may take away that employee’s flight benefits or even terminate them. Standby etiquette is extremely important to understand and control, regardless if you are on a buddy pass, an employee, or a beneficiary.

Non-Rev Dress Code

I’m sure we have all heard about United denying boarding to a young girl because she was wearing leggings, right? Well, social media jumped on this and scolded United for all sorts of offenses. The reality of this situation is that the girl was flying standby on United and was not following the dress code. United specifically states in its standby dress code policy that non-rev passengers must be “well-groomed, neat, clean and in good taste…the following attire is unacceptable in any cabin…[and] form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants (aka leggings) and dresses.” It may seem silly, but many airlines want standby passengers, many of which represent the company, to look presentable for revenue passengers.

Most airlines follow a similar dress code to United’s, while some are more relaxed and allow leggings, such as Southwest. However, if you are flying standby and are hoping to get upgraded to first or business class, you should always wear business casual attire – jeans sometimes don’t even cut it.

Personally, I do not think it is that difficult to wear jeans or a dress when traveling. Even if it kills you to put away the leggings, remember that it is basically a free flight and it is not the end of the world.

First/Business Class Upgrades

Yes, you can get the luxury of flying first class on a standby ticket if there is a seat available. Airlines do outline who is and isn’t eligible to receive the first-class upgrade, but a lot of the time if the seat is available and they’re trying to push the plane, then you could snag that fancy seat.

In my experience, Delta will give their direct employees and their beneficiaries first/business class if it is available but does not offer this benefit to other airline employees. On the other hand, some European carriers offer it to any standby passenger. Upgrade policy will vary airline to airline, but I have gotten lucky in my non-rev travels and have gotten business class quite a few times.

Tips and Tricks to Non-Revving

First and foremost, understand that non-revving is a little bit of skill and a whole lot of luck. You may get to the airport and see 20 available seats left on your flight with only 3 standbys, but that can change in just an hour. People change their flights last minute, revenue passengers from a canceled flight may get rebooked onto yours, and last-minute standbys with a higher boarding priority may show up at the gate – you really never know. To help combat some of these what-ifs, I have compiled a list of tips and tricks that may help you in your non-revving adventures.

  1. Never leave the gate. Some flights seem impossible to get on, but don’t give up until that plane has pushed back from the gate. I have gotten on flights that were oversold and I was 12th on the standby list – anything can happen!
  2. Never check a bag. Non-revving is unpredictable and you may not make it on the non-stop flight as you expected. If you decide to get on a connecting flight instead, don’t expect your checked bag to go with you.
  3. Be patient. You may find yourself sitting at the airport all day waiting for a flight home – and this is common when non-revving, so get used to it. I suggest getting a credit card with a free lounge pass so you aren’t too uncomfortable sitting in the airport all day.
  4. Always have a plan B, C, and D. Make sure you have backup options if the first few don’t work out. Gate agents are not likely to help reroute you if they are busy, so have your routes planned out ahead of time.
  5. Avoid non-revving on holidays. Flights are always full during holidays, so if you need to be somewhere, buy a ticket – don’t bank on getting lucky.

Non-revving is an amazing perk of the airline industry and it gives employees the opportunity to travel the world. However, knowing what to expect and how to react when things go wrong will make your standby experience much easier.

Comments are Closed.
ovacikar January 15, 2021

@Taylor, one person cannot have multiple bookings on thr same flight, the computer will cancel the first booking automatically..

revatron October 4, 2019

Loganair charges it's employees on standby a nominal ~GBP10 per sector. While annoying it still provides very cheap travel to employees but of course we'd love to see zero fares for employees on our own airline. What does ramp up the costs on SBY are taxes/airport fees. These can add around £25 per sector for flights within the UK. (UP APD of £13 plus UB charges which are as high as £19 for some of the Scottish island airports)

Taylor Rains October 2, 2019

Hi jrpallante, although that idea seems like an easy hack, it is against airline policy. If caught, most airlines will take away the employee's flight benefits or fire them altogether. I actually know of a Southwest employee who tried this and ended up getting fired. By doing that, the airline loses the money for the seats that you refunded and they do not like that...some will say that it is a form of stealing because you are buying the seat at full fare, cancelling it, and then getting that same seat for a non-rev fare. I hope that answers your question.

jrpallante October 2, 2019

When flying standby, can't you improve your odds of getting a seat by purchasing a couple of seats at fully refundable fares, and then canceling just before flight time? Voila, that full plane now has a few empty seats.