An amazing view of Kodiak Island, on the south coast of Alaska.

This is the reason that most of us fly, being able to look down at the earth below us.

Flying around the U.S. is something that so many people do on a regular basis.  The process used to be much more stressful. Having to track down a travel agent or even buying your ticket at the counter, hoping that there was a seat available. Today, we are able to book our tickets online, months in advance and can have increased confidence that we have a seat on the plane.  But even in today’s hi-tech aviation business, there are still times that almost make it feel low-tech and high-stress. I experienced one recently on a flight to Las Vegas.  That weekend in Vegas may have been fun, but for this AvGeek it was extremely stressful and I am not even sure if it was worth it.

There are many people who have airline benefits and have the ability to fly for free around the world.  I have flown on these “buddy passes” before and previously, and it was not that bad of an experience.  However, this trip to Vegas has seriously made me reconsider ever using one again.

The First jet we were not able to get down to Las Vegas. Here it is arriving from it's previous flight about to get serviced - Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter

The first jet we were not able to get down to Las Vegas on – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter

Friday night: Seattle to Las Vegas

I finished work and met my wife by the check-in desks for Alaska so we could clear security together.  We were wait-listed for a flight around 6:30 pm and we had about 20 or 30 minutes until boarding — that was an easy wait.  When I had checked the standby list earlier in the day, my wife and I were number two and three on the list, and there were still five open seats — things were looking good.

When we got to the gate, all of a sudden we were now seven and eight on the list… ruh roh!  Turns out there was a family of five, who by the time the doors closed, barely made it onto the flight.  Goodbye to our seats to Vegas. The next flight was in two-and-half hours, so we went off to grab some food and get some steps in around the terminals.

When we got re-booked we were once again numbers two and three on the list. But then when we got to the gate for boarding, we moved down to be numbers eight and nine… ugh. This flight had more open seats, but it was still going to be close.

I was stressing out like crazy, I had been up since super early in the morning and all I wanted to do was get into a bed.  With finger nails bitten all the way to the stub we cleared as the last people to step foot onto that flight and, even better, somehow we ended up with seats together!  We made it to Vegas, had a good time, and started to make our way home.

The view of Las Vegas on approach, we finally made it!   Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com

The view of Las Vegas on approach, we finally made it! Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter

Sunday Afternoon: Las Vegas to Seattle

I was hoping that my flight home was going to be a bit easier. I had wait-listed for a flight super early and had two more chances after that before hitting that wall of another night in Vegas and having to miss work the next morning.

I was glad to have gotten to the gate early, because about 20 minutes prior boarding, when Alaska would start to try and get people to gate check bags, I heard the dreaded sentence “I’m sorry ladies and gentleman, we are going to need volunteers.” But it was worse than I thought. They also wanted to bump eight passengers to the last flight of the night. I heard someone ask why they couldn’t go on the next one and they explained that they were going to be bumping people on that flight as well.

My savior in Las Vegas, a Virgin America A320.  Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com

My savior in Las Vegas, a Virgin America A320 – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter

I had to be back at work the next day without fail, and I couldn’t be late.  I started to panic and did something I have never done before;  I started looking for a ticket home… by talking to agents at the gate.

I saw that a Virgin America flight was about to board down the same concourse. I scooted down there and bought a walk-up fare at the gate.  $300 to my credit card later and I had my boarding passes in hand (Virgin America don’t fly direct to Seattle from Vegas) and I was getting ready to go.  They accepted my frequent flyer status and also gave me a ticket receipt on the same stock as the boarding pass — how often do you get that?

Making myself comfy while waiting in San Francisco.  Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com

Making myself comfy while waiting in San Francisco – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter

That evening, as I sat back and waited for my connection in San Francisco, I put my feet up and relaxed thinking about what had just happened.  I may have spent $300 to get home on a ticket, but at least I was getting home.  Would I have done it if the prices were $400, or $500?  I don’t know… but needing to get home was the priority and making that decision was the right call.

With my status on the list (buddy passes get trumped by active duty staff and retirees), it would have been likely that I would not only have had to stay another night in Vegas, but go through the same thing the next day to try and make it home.  Not something I really wanted to do.

So… I might be done with flying stand-by… it is just not for me. I would rather pay the money, have a confirmed ticket, and not stress out for hours at the airport, just hoping to get some horrid middle seat home.  To anyone who flies stand-by all the time, I salute you for your patience — I just won’t join you anymore.

I think I will take my confirmed window seat, and if I see you on-board, well that’s just good luck for you, right?

CORRESPONDENT - SEATTLE, WA. Mal is an Australian native who has been a huge fan of airlines and aviation and currently works in airport-related operations. Email: [email protected]

http://www.airlinereporter.com
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51 Comments

Getting to Vegas on NRSA passes is one thing…but it’s been a commonly known fact for a decade or two that trying to leave Vegas (in particular) on them is never a good idea. I know many airline employees that don’t even bother unless they are on company business.

Living in Vegas is easiest, haha. It’s so easy to Non-Rev out of here on a Thursday/Friday and nonrev back on a Sunday/Monday that I don’t think I’ve ever missed a flight I’ve listed for during those times. Flying in on a Friday and flying out on a Sunday to Vegas though is your problem.

Living in Vegas and being MPVG75k, I gotta agree with Allen here. Forget Fridays/Sundays for getting upgrades or snagging even an exit row seat when you make reservations. The most famous opening phrase on those days is:”ladies and gentlemen, we have an completely full flight today and…” Every time, every Friday inbound and Sunday outbound.

Flying stand-by for comparably little money (yes, in many airlines the employees don’t fly for free) is one of the main perks of working in the industry and probably in the top 3 reasons why I love my job. 🙂 The flexibility to decide on a Friday morning on where to spend the weekend is great in my opinion!
Also, whenever I don’t get on a flight I tell myself that I could not have afforded to take this trip otherwise. So it was taking the risk or not going at all. Therefore I love it! (but I get your point, it can get very stressful. Knowing your options in advance is the key ;-))

Jon Snow

1. Lexipro, Zoloft, Prozak, Zanex — novice non-rev’s best friend.
2. Wow, you had trouble getting in and out of Vegas on the two peak eat days? Call the New York Times, I think we’ve got a scandal!

You know nothing, Jon Snow! (Sorry, I can’t resist A Game of Thrones reference whenever possible.)

Hi Jon.
Thanks for your insightful reply. I am aware that weekends are hard times for any non rev travel, especially for Vegas. However things seem to take a turn for the worst on the way home. 2 flights with wide open seats turned to bump situations due to weather and runway construction. All of these things are stuff you can’t predict and that is why the stress levels went up.

Also I am not a believer in using medication to calm one self down. Next time you need to do that, I suggest getting a cat. I hear from fellow staff here on Airline Reporter that cats can be quite calming. Perhaps you should consider one?

My dad used to work for an airline and I used to rely heavily on standby tickets to get myself from home in Hong Kong to my university in New York. I’ve experienced it all – being stuck in NYC for three days with all flights home being full; twice rerouting via Vancouver at the last minute and barely making it onto the flight; narrowly dodging a snowstorm in Toronto; having to fly through London because of a technicality. It was worth it considering the standard price of a flight of that distance, though I always made sure I had a backup and flew nonstop whenever possible. Nowadays not only am I paying several times more, I’m also making double transits (e.g. Toronto/Taipei, Tokyo/Chicago) to save money.

I’m with Jon Snow here. Number 1 rule of standby travel is not to do it if you HAVE to be somewhere. Especially on highly popular routes. Especially on the weekend… What’s the point of this post?

Rob Goodman

My folks stopped flying non rev years ago. They instead would drive to FLA from MSP. now that my dad is retired he buys a ticket, still will not fly non rev.

I completely understand the frustration. Working for the airlines for twenty-years and it becomes part of life and you get used to it. I have never had to pay for a ticket, (sans int’l for taxes) and don’t plan to. I research loads, & make friends at other airlines and ask questions. I plan to travel worldwide twenty more years without having to pay full fare. The money I save is well worth the trouble. Many times I have been bumped up to first….that’s always a treat.

Jonny Snowden

Jim’s right on: if you pick your spots and know your options, non-reving’s a great option. A how-to article on nonreving might make a good read:
– know your options, have ZEDs and be aware of connecting opportunities
– go for early morning flights
– understand operations, misconnects and no-shows
– recognize the correlation between cheap fares and high loads/tough nonreving in a market
– try September instead of July
– know when to fold them, head to Kayak and buy your way out (or rent a car and drive 200 miles to a better airport)
Nonreving’s awesome if you know how to do it.

Captain America

Sorry that retirees and active employees(lucky mooches) might bump a real mooch. But frankly as a pilot commuter who has constantly been rebased to keep airline fares low, profits in certain pockets, ( downgrades, new bases, closed bases) etc. etc. You can have the seat I might have taken and they can cancel every flight I was suppose to show up for because they can’t find anyone else to fly the plane and keep those fares $100 cheaper. Who ever gave you those passes should be embarrassed of your entitlement. This is a industry of crooks, u want something for nothing, deal with it when u get caught doing the same…

Well said Captain America!

Non-reving is a “privilege” afforded to those “actively” and “retired” from actively serving their time in the industry. Airline companies extend “buddy passes” as an added bonus on top of the free or reduced fare travel benefits given to employees. It was this “privilege” that was graciously extended to you by a friend who actively works for the company.. and, you should be thankful (never heard one word of thanks in your article to the friend who gave you the pass) for the opportunity to fly for less than the person sitting next to you. Seats are never guaranteed when choosing to travel standby.. and, as previously mentioned: if you absolutely NEED to be somewhere, do the right thing and pay for a positive-space ticket. There’s no doubt that non-rev travel is challenging and stressful at times; but, this stress is the real price you pay.. now it’s up to you to determine which has more value.

JP,

I don’t think the story is the right place for Mal to be thanking whomever gave him the buddy pass. I am sure he did that on his own and that is between him and his “buddy.”

And yes, this “privilege” of being not only able to fly yourself non-rev, but giving others a pass to do so, used to me much more of a privilege.

The story was to share what many who have the ability to fly non-rev experience. I don’t feel he is making a judgement that he is entitled.

He made his own call to spend his own money to fly home and he planned that as a back up plan all along. Not really sure why you have such a problem with that.

David | AirlineReporter

This post shouldn’t even exist, I agree with everyone saying it’s a privilege to fly this way. Nobody said it was easy, it’s just what it is, quit complaining Malcolm, you always do that. I’ve done this (international) maybe if you want to do a short cheap trip, the best option is to pay, don’t be so greedy Mal!

Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see anything in Mal’s story to say that pilots should be bumped off of a flight. No question that being an airline pilot has become much more difficult — we can see that by the shortage. But Mal’s story wasn’t about pilot issues, but one that many people face with having difficulty flying stand-by due to higher load factors.

David | AirlineReporter

Yes there are challenges to flying as a non-rev, but its important to think about a few things. First, as a buddy pass traveler (depending on the airline) its likely your priority is below active employees. If so, active employees will always go ahead of you, even on subsequent flights. It can be a losing proposition. This is the main reason I avoid sharing my buddy passes.

You also need to consider that if there had only been two seats left, that family of five may have declined a split, and you would have been boarded. There are so many moving pieces to a given flight scenario, its a tough call until the final minute the door closes. I have gotten on even when they initially called for volunteers and even when a gate agent says, “this flight is full, there is no way you will get on.”

We all know a ‘green’ flight can turn ‘red’ even in the last 24 hours. Its always important to have a plan B. For an employee, we can use discounted passes on other airlines. Flight crews have reciprocal jumpseat agreements on other airlines.

There are many frustrations with this type of travel, but much of it changes by being an employee rather than a buddy pass traveler. Personally, after 18 yrs of it, I still would not trade it for another job.

+1 for what Dima said. Non-rev 101. You used a buddy pass on a weekend to/from Vegas when you ‘have to be at work’ on Monday. What were you thinking…did the person who gave you the buddy pass not tell you how it works?

I second that comment. I can remember coworkers calling me asking for me to cover them because they were stuck. I would say you have flunked nonrev 101. Then depending on who it was I would say no.

Mal has worked in the travel business for a long time. He knows better than most about load factors, what flights will more likely be filled. I don’t think this was a shock to him and he was prepared to pay for a flight home if needed, which is what he did.

What he shared is an experience that many face, but many more do not know the benefits and downfalls of flying standby. He was sharing that painful experience to those people.

David | AirlineReporter

Flying in and out to Las Vegas on a buddy pass can be tough. Matter of fact, even if you’re a airline employee it’s still tough. You always need a plan B and C. I always have to monitor the flights throughout my stay to see if anything has changed. For example, get in and out of New York on a weekend can be hell. I had to fly up there for the weekend. I was coming from Atlanta. I knew Saturday that I was going to have problems on Sunday. We are talking 60 plus standing by. Instead of trying to fly straight from New York to Atlanta I flew to Louisville, Ky first. Now instead of 60 plus standing by in New York to Atlanta there was only 3 people standing by from Louisville, Ky to Atlanta. I got home quicker then staying in New York all day trying to get out. This was plan B. Plan C was going to be fly to Pittsburgh, Pa then to Atlanta, Ga. It takes some work sometimes and it can be stressful trust me. I learned re quick from some nonrev veterans on how to fly nonrev.

Stby travel is a privilege and an adventure. The non-normal. 1st world problems is what you have.

YES! Exactly what I thought when I read this.

TL;DR: “Oh, how my life is so rough. I got to travel for free and I had to wait for HOURS!!!!!! ” Massive Eyeroll.

Hi Kbreeze. If you had actually read the article you would find that I did not travel for free, but in fact had to pay almost the cost of a discounted ticket to actually get down to Vegas as I was not flying on a Non rev ticket but a buddy pass (which is an AD90).

Lol. I did read the article. You are writing from a very privileged point. Your problems are not real problems.

Kbreeze having to wait around for hours to maybe get a flight and then ending up paying out of pocket for that flight is hardly privileged. You should look at how thousands of people fly everyday (many of our other stories share those experiences) and you can see that this is probably one of the most unprivileged flying experiences one can have.

This website is about talking about the airline industry. If you feel that no one should talk about first world issues, then this site would never exist, b/c the ability to travel by air, as a whole, is a pretty first world issue.

Although air travel is great in so many ways, it can also be frustrating at times. When you are in the middle of that frustration, even if in the bigger picture it is not that big of a deal, it feels pretty big at the time.

David | AirlineReporter

Mrs. Muir

It’s all my fault for letting you use them on weekends. Tuesdays at 6am is where the non-rev goodfeels are.

Yea Mrs. Muir — how dare you :). Let Malcolm come out and play more. Although after this “warm” reception, he might not want to!

David | AirlineReporter

Something you should know that people in aviation travel m-thurs for leisure and on slower months is where our vacation would be like feb-March-april-may-sept-oct early nov and avoid all major holidays. They will tell you to avoid flying to Europe during summer months because you will get stuck for days and might have to go through a diff country to get home.
Always have plan A-Z . You sound like a buddy pass novice and for that I forgive you lol im also glad you Wrote this “buddy pass” blog to shine some lights on the buddy pass mooch in our lives that only talks to you when they need something. Lastly, I work for a major carrier and If I give someone a buddy pass I must really hate them especially to Vegas on a buddy pass. The same type of hate that you give someone a buddy pass to travel in and out of Hawaii in the summer time

Happy travel!!!!

Greetings, Mr. Muir!

Don’t mind the haters, I’m in the industry and I know the feeling. Your article is spot on regarding the feeling one gets when you see the airplane you wanted to catch pull away from the gate. Now imagine it being the last flight you could take to make it to work on time!

I’d like to encourage you to give it another shot. Maybe not to Vegas on a weekend (I know you’ll never make that mistake again,) but some far away place on an off-peek time. You’ll find NRSA travel to be one of the most freeing (and exclusive) experiences.

Getting stuck is a rite of passage. Welcome to the club.

Blue Skies.

(p.s: chocolates or some kind of sweet treats for the gate agents go a long way. If not by outright bribery, by good karma. Bon chance!)

I only hope that those who read this story are friends and family of mine and will stop pestering me for buddy passes.

I don’t give out, I have never and I never will. When I get those email or FB messages from long lost friends and barely known relatives asking if I can get them discounted travel…I don’t even answer with an actual reply, I just send them a link to the career site for various airlines.

Ha! That is a good way to handle it Tony!

David | AirlineReporter

You are an absolute joke. Whoever did you the favor of letting you use one of their allotted buddy passes should slap you for being so dumb. Go buy a ticket, then you have a right to complain.

Does that go for everyone with a buddy pass or just those who are given one? How about those who are using their miles? Or won a free trip? The author was just sharing an experience that many have every day. But there are so many, who have no idea what the process is like flying on stand-by or on a buddy pass. This story was more for them, not for those who live life above it all!

David | AirlineReporter

David, let Malcolm defend himself, seriously

He is free to converse on this story as much as any one else. I don’t think he quite cared for the tone of many of the replies and that is his call not to reply. When people are being harsh towards our readers, you are damn right I am going to let my opinions known!

I will not reply to your other comment on this story, where you pretty much insult him. Probably for the best anyhow…

David | AirlineReporter

Into LAS on a Friday, out on a Sunday… What’s the worst that can happen? The only thing more ridiculous than this itinerary is trying to non rev to/from Hawaii during spring break season. When I worked for AA, D3 travel was embargoed for Hawaii during that period. At least with Vegas Monday afternoon flights finally open up. Talk about preaching to the choir! Lol

Greetings from Guam,

Mr Muir, Kudos for writing on this subject. I enjoyed reading about your experience with the “Pass”. I’m a companion traveler /pass rider/ non-rev traveler initially starting off with Continental Airlines (I’m fortunate now that I have friends and family each working in the big three) and as I read your story, I was able to feel the emotions and the stress you experienced the same way I did when I first traveled. It is a rough and tough experience but I’m glad you made your way back as necessary.

Although I’m not familiar with the Vegas airport, I recall when the privilege was first bestowed on me and thinking about where I wanted to travel off to, back in 2009. I was excited. My sponsor , being single, rotated her privileges between friends since her family was given extended privileges. I’ve heard about the horror stories with pass riders getting stuck in Manila or Honolulu, so I immediately made that rule number one- Never travel on a pass to Manila or Honolulu because you may be able to get there, but getting back home to Guam, is a different story.

There really is no such thing as slow season or peak season from Guam since our destinations and connections are limited. Eventually I learned the system all in my first trip. Since Continental had four flights daily between Guam and Tokyo, I decided to try My luck to South America and I was blessed and grateful that it went smoothly when I routed myself from Guam to Narita into Houston and down the way to Lima.

Before my departure and even prior, upon learning about her gift to me, my sponsor discussed everything thoroughly, especially dress code and what to do I the event that I get bumped off. Much to say, like yourself, I had plan B- Well not really…. On the return from Lima, I got stuck in Houston. My plan was to break my rule number one and route through Honolulu but even that flight filled quickly with our service men and women trying to get to the military bases for their change of command to Guam. I ran in to a friend who was also trying to get home from Houston on a non rev ticket and she made it to Honolulu where she got stuck for three weeks- she was lucky she had family there to help her. In my case my husband had a relative working for AA who managed to list me as a guest traveler after singing around for a flight from IAH to DFW, and it was there that I was able to experience the best of the best for first class travel with a legacy airline. I was able to get from Dallas to Narita And I managed to do all of that without once ever having to call my sponsor in the middle of her night to trouble her for help.

Upon my return home my sponsor and I had dinner and I shared my non rev adventure with her. She was extremely thrilled that I was resourceful and that I knew how to route myself around, she said that I’m the only person who wasn’t afraid to use the privileges to go outside of the Asian region and outside of the U.S. Mainland and the fact that I managed to find options without having to call her was a bonus, that she has since awarded me with being her companion traveler to this day.

Now, I currently have privileges with Big Three and although I am fortunate for having great friends who share these benefits, I still keep in mind that traveling non rev can still have its moments of stress but some moments in having those privileges are well worth it, the same way it was when I was able to hit that first class seat on American.

I hope you reconsider your options for traveling as a buddy because if planned properly, sometimes there is no stress and the adventures that come with it can be awesome.

Regards from my paradise,
Jayke

Our Family (standby) motto is: “We go where no one wants to go when no one wants to go there”

JohnPaul Flores

My dad works for United so we never fly with confirmed seats. I did have a similar experience in which I had to get home and take the SAT the next day but every single flight filled up. I was desperate to get home so we ended up take Southwest to get home but costs us a lot of money. We are stuck with stand-by but it also means that we might be able to get a free bump up to first-class if there are seats available. We had that done on several international flights. There’s good and bad to stand-by flying. Oh well

Heywood Ublome

Any seasoned traveler knows better than to fly standby to vegas on a weekend. Then you tried to fly home on a Sunday evening? You failed miserably with this one mate.

It is about learning and then sharing what you learn to others.

David | AirlineReporter

Day Tripper

I’ve never gone to Vegas on a weekend. Maybe BFL or FAT would have been a better destination. Next time travel on a Tuesday.

Gail Marie

Once my in-laws wanted to travel to Seattle from Dallas in August on a buddy pass. I love my in-laws so I strongly advised against it, explaining it would be next to impossible to get back to Dallas and they would probably end up having to buy a ticket. They took my advice. Don’t give up on D3 travel but don’t have unrealistic expectations and you will enjoy it much more.

Retired after 36 years at a u.s. flag carrier airlines. My seniority on the stand-by goes back to mid 60’s. Went to Las and almost got stuck! Got the last two seats. (lucky me?) Monitored the flight for days and almost up to the gate, there were 9 seats open. Somehow the 9 seats vanished during boarding. Trouble with this airlines, retirees get on the 2nd tier while zero seniority active employees are on the 1st tier. The airlines habitually pay peanuts and use the ‘fly free standby’ as an incentive to hire people. They dangle that carrot but woe to those who try to fly with low seniority!! That is why the turnover at airlines are high. There is no reward for long hard years of work in the past, for sure!!

I’m late on this in article. Thursday night I tried to fly non rev via DL to LAS out of Atlanta – missed two flights. They claim there will be plenty of space in the morning, but no way, will I every set myself up to be stranded like that. They flew my bag to Las, so now I have wait for that to return next day, pay to park to go inside to get it. I’m with you Malcolm, non rev is not the way travel. As an new employee, I didn’t understand how this works at first, but now that I do, I don’t even consider it a benefit.

Im trying to Fly from ORD to HON nonstop. Theres one nonstop flight per day. Our accomodations are from March 25th – 31st. We’re going to try to start flying from the 22-25th. Do you think as bottom tier non rev standby passengers we’ll be able to get to HON from ORD during spring break season? What is we fly separate flights? Please advise.

Kind regards,
Jason Colyar

OMG you are funny! SEA-LAS on Friday and returning Sunday is ridiculous to even try – unless you are doing first flight out both ways – your friend who gave you the ticket should have told you that! hahaha I’m sorry but it’s too funny, I can’t even feel bad for you. Non rev travel (buddy passes are also considered non rev, duh) is an art in and of itself, and the main skill required is Flexibility, maybe tied with Infinite Patience.

Linda cunningham

Non-rev is not non-rev. There is no “tax” on jon rev so you are paying overhead. They should call it “non-profit” but… even if it is free… people deserve to be treated respectfully. The airline jacks up the prices as the departure day approaches so there is no reason for the prices. It’s a supply and demand issue. These seats are otherwise empty. The problem is taking someone halfway to their destination and dumping them. That should be a liability. The Ceo at the greedy airlines
Make millions and the employee make crap. Also, “non-rev” consumers will still buy airline tickets at a later date and maybe not want to use your airline next time. The goal should always be to accommodate everyone and not treat them badly because they are using a buddy pass. What an elitist attitude. I guess people on food stamps shouldn’t complain about poor quality food. Some
Of you people are embarrassing.

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