Welcome to the exciting world of standby travel! As a pass rider, you’re incredibly lucky to have a friend or relative in the airlines. Flying standby, or non-revenue (non-rev), is an amazing opportunity to jump on any flight you wish and see the world for free! *Conditions apply.

Depending on your previous experience with travel, you may have already developed some expectations of how flying works and how customers are treated. Please understand that the entitlements to which you are accustomed as a paying passenger do not apply to pass riders.

  • You have to follow the dress code.
  • You don’t earn compensation or hotels from the airline when you are bumped from a full flight. (Feel free to pack a sleeping bag).
  • Once you check your bags, they don’t get re-routed with you. If you get bumped off a domestic flight, the bags are still going. On international flights, they’re returned to the baggage claim (outside of security).
  • Finally, you are not entitled to take up the gate agent’s precious time and attention with frivolous complaints or questions like “am I going to make my connection?” Your experience while flying standby is completely up to your attitude, effort, and a pinch of luck.

Here are some tips to get you through the process…

standby pass rider guide

Excellent advice from Jetlagged Comic

Listing for the Flight

Your employee will likely do this for you and they will do their best to schedule you on a flight with as many open seats as possible. Please listen to them when they say things like “a weekend trip to Florida might not be the best idea” or “the afternoon flights might fill up. Can you take the 7 AM?”

What to Wear and Pack

Each airline has its own dress code for employee travel, which you can find here. You can never go wrong with business casual, but in most cases, the minimum is sneakers, jeans, and a polo shirt or blouse in good condition. Avoid anything tattered, revealing, or offensive. Try to pack carry-on luggage only, as you risk separation from your checked bags if your desired flight does not have any seats available. While you can carry-on one suitcase and a personal item, keep in mind that you will be the last to board. If overhead storage fills up, your suitcase will be checked, so use a small backpack or purse to store anything you will need during the flight.

Checking In

seat request card

The check in process for a standby listing is similar to the normal process you’re used to. On your computer, airport kiosk, or at the check in counter, provide your 6 character confirmation code. Upon completion of check in, you will be issued a “Seat Request Card.” This is not a boarding pass and you do not have a seat assignment yet. This is simply your ticket to proceed through security to the gate.

seat request card

View your seat request card on the United mobile app

At the Gate

Getting a seat calls for celebration

Getting a seat calls for celebration

As long as you have a seat request card in hand, there is no need to approach the gate agent until they call you. You are checked in for the flight, and your name is on the gate agent’s list of standbys. If you are making a connection, however, you might have to ask the gate agent in the connecting city to check you in. Standby seat assignments are typically made in the 15 minutes preceding the departure time, so sit tight. Check the monitor in the gate and listen for announcements for seat assignments. If your name is called, congratulations! You can board the aircraft and proceed to your assigned seat. Not so lucky? The gate agent will automatically “roll over” your standby listing to the next flight to your destination. This process will check you in automatically. At this point, you might want to contact your employee and discuss backup plans, if you have not already.

Good Luck!

Browse the links page for helpful tools catered to standby travelers. And last but not least, remember to treat everyone you encounter on your trip with respect. Airline employees can lose their travel benefits over the misbehavior of a buddy pass rider. And they probably won’t be your buddy after that.

Now, where would you like to go?

Non-rev destination guides

Where to go when