Flying Standby on Airlines

If you are ever offered the chance to Non-Rev (aka fly free on standby) you should take it! It’s an amazing gift, but there are a few things you should be aware of and tips to help you successfully catch a flight.

Being able to fly for free is one of the major perks for employees, their families, and friends. People often wonder how we successfully fly ALL six of our family members (sometimes more) on standby regularly. We have learned a few tips that we hope to share so that you can enjoy the benefits of flying standby too!


First, I want to go over some rules about flying Standby. This is important because airline employees have had their flight benefits revoked or even been fired because of their actions, or the actions of the person they gave a buddy pass to

Each airline has different rules so ask the person who gave you the tickets if you have any additional questions. You can also check the airline’s website. Below are a few of the most important rules for flying standby.

  1. Be considerate of everyone you come in contact with. This especially includes airline employees and customers. Don’t say ANYTHING negative about the airline or their service. I can’t stress this enough! Remember the airline is allowing you to fly free! This is the main reason employees lose their flight benefits, and they aren’t likely to forgive you for that! Haha
  2. Dress appropriately. Make sure you don’t have holes in your jeans, ripped shirts, or clothes that are distracting.
  3. Don’t show up drunk or cause a scene. Be on your best behavior.


Now to the tips. Again, each airline is different in how they process standby passengers. Many of these apply to most airlines, but some are specific to Southwest.

Check in 24 hours in advance online. Use the confirmation number given in your email when you signed up for standby
  1. Verify what time you can check-in for your flight. Southwest and some other airlines go off of who checked in first when processing stand-by. The second you can check-in, do it. This can usually be done 24 hrs in advance online. The check-in information will be emailed to you once you are signed up for standby on a flight.
  2. Arrive 2 hours before your flight. So much can happen from the moment you enter the airport doors. Sometimes airlines will start giving boarding passes out earlier than the standard 30 minutes before boarding. Even if you are higher on the Standby list, you could get bumped if someone else showed up first.
  3. If there are a lot of open seats go ahead and check your luggage if you wish. If the available seat numbers are very low, then keep your luggage with you as a carry-on. We don’t often take these risky flights so 99% of the time we check our luggage.
  4. Sunday’s are often the most difficult day to Non-rev. The flights are usually full, and more non-revers are trying to get home for work on Monday morning (ps. employees will always outrank you on standby) Occasionally you can find a good flight, but not often. Standbys on a Sunday is a chance we don’t typically take.
  5. Try to be flexible with the dates. It’s always best if you give yourself an extra day to get home just in case. Most of the time you can get home the day you planned, but sometimes storms, airport closures, or a randomly busy Tuesday happen and they don’t just affect the airport you are flying from. If a flight gets canceled, they will prioritize paying customers first and you may not be able to fly out till the next day. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. We’ve seen a lot of people burned by this.
  6. As a general rule, we don’t try to take flights with only a few open seats, especially if we have our kids with us. Even if it has enough for everyone in our party at the moment, these numbers change often, and there is a GOOD chance you won’t make it! For our family of six, we usually try for numbers higher than 15. Occasionally as low as 10 but rarely lower than that. If you are traveling alone or with a companion 6-10, the day before with no other no-revs should be ok. Lower than 5 is almost always bad news. You might still make it but be prepared for a day at the airport.
  7. If the numbers are close, bring a good book, food, or anything else that can keep you busy. Sometimes, you will be bumped from one flight but will be given priority on the next.
  8. Your chances of making a flight always increase if you have multiple airports to choose from. If your flying in or out of Orlando for example, consider checking Tampa if the Orlando flights are full.
  9. Sign up for the earliest flight of the day. I know this sounds terrible, but it sounds terrible to revenue passengers as well. These flights also have the most no shows from passengers accidentally sleeping in. This will also give you more flight options throughout the day if you get bumped from your first flight.
  10. Don’t be picky on which flights you select to non-rev on. A direct flight, in the afternoon, sounds perfect, but it sounds perfect to revenue passengers too. Those flights are more likely to be sold out. By being picky, you are setting yourself up for a day at the airport. As a general rule, you won’t even know which flight to sign up for until the day before. We often have people ask us to sign them up for specific flight weeks or even months before their fight. We can’t/ won’t do that. We only sign up the day before when we see which flights are the most likely to work out.


Many are excited about their free flight but are not sure what to do once they arrive at the airport.

When you are signed up for your flight you will be emailed a confirmation code just as if you had a purchased a regular ticket. When you arrive at the airport, you will use this code at the kiosk or the check-in counter to receive your security document. The security document looks just like a boarding pass, but without a boarding position. THIS IS NOT YOUR BOARDING PASS! This document will only get through security, but not onto the plane.

Once you have made it through security, check-in at the assigned gate. Tell them you are hoping to fly standby on flight #________ to (name destination). They will either tell you to wait or will print off your boarding pass. Many airlines won’t print off standby passes until an hour before airplane pushback from the gate. This is usually 30 mins. before boarding. If the flight is close to full, they might even wait until after boarding to issue standby tickets. The gate agent will call your name over the intercom system, so stay close to the gate. If they announce your name and you don’t appear within a few minutes, they will move onto the next person on standby. Please don’t pester the gate agent. If you already checked in at the gate, they know you are there. If your name is never called, unfortunately, you did not make the flight. You can then ask the gate agent to help you find another flight option to your destination.

All in all, be grateful to fly free. Thank the person who gave you the stand-by ticket, and be grateful to the airline that gave you this amazing benefit. Have fun and happy travels!

Airplane photos courtesy of Dylan Phelps


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