Slow morning at Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in upstate New York - Photo Steven Paduchak

Slow morning at Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in upstate New York – Photo: Steven Paduchak

Ever wonder what it’s like to be “that guy?” Specifically, when trying to get on a particular flight, standing up at the kiosk as the gate agent scans everyone’s boarding pass?  Well people, I had the distinct opportunity to be “that guy.”  Welcome to the world of flying via standby.

What is “standby” flying?  Well, I’ll tell you.  People who are on a standby list for a particular flight have the option to snag any available seats left over once the boarding process is complete.  By “standard passengers,” I, of course, mean people who actually paid money (or miles) for their ticket.  Flying standby is most commonly a result of a friend or relative working for that specific airline, or regional affiliate. My first week being a part of this kind of travel was entertaining, exciting, nerve-wrecking, aggravating, and unorthodox, to say the least.  Here’s how it all got started.

Initial decent into Cleveland from St. Louis on an Embraer ERJ-145…on July 4th - Photo: Steven Paduchuk

Initial decent into Cleveland from St. Louis on an Embraer ERJ-145…on July 4th – Photo: Steven Paduchak

As an intern with the Flight Operations and Administration departments for a regional affiliate for both United and Delta, I am allowed to have flight privileges.  These privileges allow me to travel by putting myself on standby lists.  But wait, you want to hear the best part?  It’s free!

Now let’s not get too carried away.  There’s always a catch to a deal this good.  Flying via standby is based off of seniority in regards to the account holder.  Seniority can be a powerful ally or your worst enemy when it comes to traveling.

Moving ahead to my personal experiences with this, I was given a week off from my internship.  I was recently registered for my flight benefits, and I decided to fly home for the Fourth of July and surprise my family.  The first leg was quite simple.  Since it was the morning of the 4th, the plane was half empty.  I had no issues flying from St. Louis to Cleveland.  Being at home, seeing family and friends was very nice and well needed.  Since I go to school in Florida, I don’t get to see them very often.

Early evening rush at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (KORD) - Photo: Steven Paduchak

Early evening rush at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (KORD) – Photo: Steven Paduchak

The next phase of my standby experience occurred a few days later, when I decided to fly to upstate New York to visit my grandmother.  One of my buddies dropped me off at the airport incredibly early that day.  Getting through security was a breeze.  Having my company identity card and boarding pass ready to go, I was at the gate within twenty minutes of leaving the car.  I was actually able to catch up with some co-workers at the airport in Cleveland before my flight – I was an operations intern there a few years prior, so it was nice reconnecting with them.

Things became too exciting for comfort, however, when I saw the standby list go from thirteen seats open, to being overbooked by seven.  My jaw dropped, and I proceeded to my gate.

BONUS: Booking a Weekend Away to San Diego…On the Fly

The flight from Cleveland to Chicago before my scheduled leg experienced a maintenance delay during takeoff, and had to come back to Cleveland.  People were suddenly rebooked onto my flight, which explained the sudden change to the standby list.  I started to become nervous and realized that my original itinerary was about to go out the window.

As I stood by the gate and watched all standard passengers walk onto the plane, I realized the chances of me getting on were incredibly slim at best.  I did, however, do a great job in remaining calm, or at least I think.  I was able to book myself on the next connecting flight from Chicago O’Hare to Rochester, NY if in the event I didn’t make it.  To my surprise though, there were two seats left on the flight and I was able to get on.  But WAIT, it gets better.  As soon as I got to my seat, the captain announced we had another maintenance issue and we had to de-plane.  Just my luck, right?

One of my many relays in Chicago that day - Photo: Steven Paduchak

One of my many relays in Chicago that day – Photo: Steven Paduchak

While I stood back in the terminal and watched people freak out to no end, I realized that things could be much worse.  Our maintenance delay, however, then turned into a weather issue.  Lighting and heavy rain came over from the west and delayed us even further by twenty-five minutes.  Skipping ahead, the flight did eventually leave Cleveland and got to Chicago relatively quickly.

After a quick and needless relay from one terminal to the other, realizing that my connecting flight was just one gate over from where we came in, I made my second flight from ORD to Rochester (ROC) by MERE seconds.  My grandmother found my hectic afternoon to be quite interesting.  Nonetheless, she was glad I made it!

The journey back from Rochester to Cleveland was something else.  I booked for a flight in the late morning.  The business crowd already travelled through, so the airport was kind of dead.  It started off with a half-hour delay due to a late inbound aircraft.  Once the plane arrived, I saw passengers get off and walk towards baggage claim.  The ground crew had a fast turn-around for our flight.  The boarding process started not even ten minutes after the plane arrived at the gate.  The morning rush was already over, so the plane had plenty of seats open.  Getting to Chicago wasn’t an issue.

However, O’Hare was quite a workout.  While the morning was calm, I ran into the business travel Friday evening rush in Chicago.  Catching a flight to Cleveland was near impossible.  The seniority concept was defeating me repeatedly, and I missed flight after flight.  To my luck though, my girlfriend, who was graciously helping me with flight updates and openings, called me and asked why I didn’t try for Akron-Canton Regional Airport (KCAK); just forty-five minutes south of Cleveland.

Walking off the plane at Akron-Canton Regional Airport (KCAK) in Northeast Ohio - Photo: Steven Paduchak

Walking off the plane at Akron-Canton Regional Airport (KCAK) in Northeast Ohio – Photo: Steven Paduchak

After mentally kicking myself for a few minutes, I saw a flight departing for Akron thirty minutes later.  After going from terminal to terminal throughout the day, I had to do it once more, except in a full sprint.  I can’t lie, there were a few shoves being put out there, BUT, I did make the flight.  Landing in Akron that Friday evening was incredibly relieving.  Oddly enough, it was also the day NBA superstar LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The atmosphere at the airport was filled with excitement and joy, seeing that LeBron is originally from Akron!

The final leg of my week off came that Sunday morning.  Luckily, Cleveland to Chicago had no delays, and I was able to snag a seat on the flight.  Recalling my fun experiences a few days prior in Chicago, I decided to book myself on every O’Hare to St. Louis flight for precautions.  The afternoon took an interesting turn however, when I caught glimpse of Major League Baseball legend Joe Torre walk past me in the terminal.

He was accompanied by (I believe) his son.  I wanted to turn around and say hi, but he seemed to be in a rush, like most people walking through O’Hare!  If I had to guess, I’d say he was catching a flight up to Minneapolis-St. Paul for the MLB All-Star Game!  Sorry guys, unfortunately since I had no real chance to turn around and catch up to him, there are no pictures.  He definitely rocked the “MLB” polo he had on though…keeping it classy.

Caught up with an All Nippon Airways Boeing 777-300ER in ORD, before my flight back to STL - Photo: Steven Paduchak

Caught up with an All Nippon Airways Boeing 777-300ER at ORD before my flight back to STL – Photo: Steven Paduchak

When it came time for my flight back to St. Louis, I could see the amount of people piling up at the gate.  I was getting nervous, and had flight information up on my phone.  I could see the standby list get larger and larger as the time came closer.  What worried me the most, however, was that the flights afterwards were also filling up with overbooked seats and standby lists longer than the terminal itself.  The process became nerve-wrecking.

I kept my boss at work appraised of the situation, if in the event I didn’t make it back to St. Louis in time for work the next day.  My heart rate suddenly increased.  Then, out of nowhere, I heard my name called over the intercom.  I quickly raced up to the kiosk and confronted the gate agent.  She asked to see my company identity card.  After I showed it to her, she then handed me a boarding pass with a seat number on it.  I felt as if the biggest weight was taken off of my shoulders!  I was lucky enough to get on the noon flight and return to St. Louis with no issues!

There are two things that I’ve learned thus far.  The first is to never have any solid plans.  Itineraries always take an interesting turn when flying on standby.  The second item is I will have a very deep and meaningful relationship with Chicago O’Hare International Airport this summer.  I honestly don’t mind though.  I see it as a major opportunity for epic plane spotting.  And I know I’m not the only one who has an appreciation for it.  You have to be an AvGeek to understand!

I do have a few more places I want to visit before my internship concludes, so I’ll make the best of it.

As I finish my bachelor's degree in school, I knew this industry was my calling. I enjoy all aspects aviation has to offer. With family nationwide, I travel each summer to see them. Being around the travelling community is what sparked my interest in air transportation. The rest is history!

http://www.airlinereporter.com
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7 Comments

As the son of a airline pilot, I have flown as a “nonrev” (non reservation) many time. And let me tell you it can be a whole lot worse. I have spent nights sleeping on rows of uncomfortable airport seats, sat at the airport all day long to only get on the last flight of the day, and missed hotel reservations because the airplanes all of a sudden filled up. It is definitely a stressful way to travel but hey, it’s free!

Nonrev actually stands for non-revenue, as the airline makes no money off of you for flying that flight.

This “benefit” to fly standby as an employee is no longer a “benefit.” In fact, I believe most employees would rather sell back the “benefit” to the company and just buy their tickets for full fare. I have given up on flying non rev and purchase my tickets for my family and I. A lot less stressful.

No Fly Zone

1: @Brian ought to know that “Non-Rev” is no revenue, not no reservation. While similar, that are worlds apart.
2: @GT got it a lot closer. In the old days, load factors were lighter, and standby pax of all classes usually made their intended flights.

I can remember the days when a (Customer Paid) military standby flight was pocket change and if in uniform (or not?) an upgrade was the norm. That went away. Some years later I flew via a close relative’s benefits several times. There was a tiny cost, but if “Properly Dressed,” the seat and the available upgrade we almost automatic. The routing may have been unusual, but one got there in reasonably good form. I did get dumped a couple of times, usually in Denver, headed for Portland, but I never had to overnight after a dump/bump. That too is mostly history.
As noted by others, these days even active employees often forgo the standby process on many flights and lower ‘class’ non-rev or low-rev pax don’t stand a chance of obtaining a seat on a popular flight. As an Employee Benefit, standby has become almost worthless, short of significant research and multiple backup plans. The only winners are active crew that can claim a jump seat when others get left behind.
During my active years, I got bumped and left behind only twice, and it was easy to live with. These days, at least in theory, I can still use the relative’s benefit, but I do not; it it not worth the trouble and horrible paperwork, so I rarely fly on my own nickle. Even my almost retired relative avoids the non-rev standby when going with another as the odds of getting two seats are even worse. What used to be a fun perk has essentially become worthless for the bottom feeders.
Sadly, even serving military members rarely get an inexpensive seat and they too are bottom feeders when it comes to available seat upgrades. Non-rev and low-cost flying for the military and for airline staff and friends is but a pleasant memory.

I have indeed heard that it’s changed over the years. From what you’re saying its seems like you are a veteran yourself. In which case, “No Fly Zone,” I’d like to thank you for your service to our country!

Steven, AirlineReporter

I grew in a family of airline pilots and aviation geeks. The best non-rev flying was flying the jump seat on FedEx. Prior to 9/11 and the insanity that followed it, I rode the jump seat 56 times. Sometimes in the cockpit, sometimes behind the bulkhead in front of the cargo net. FedEx has 6-9 seats depending on the aircraft. No windows in back, no F/A’s, all the water you could drink and the can was only 4 ft away. You carried your own bag up the steps and you flew late at night or very, very early like 0300 — 0500 until FDX added day time flying for the USPS. I even flew one trip with the my brother flying left seat in a 727 and watched a CATIII approach and landing from the cockpit. Way Cool! I loved it. Got to fly 727’s, DC-10’s, MD-11’s, A-300’s, A-310’s all over the US and couple of foreign countries. I have albums full of photo’s and memories of very fine FedEx employees.

Wow, JW, your adventures non-reving on FedEx flights seems really cool! I know a few people who used to fly for them. Sounds like a great company to work for. Cheers!

Steven Paduchak
Contributor, AirlineReporter

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