Essential Rules of Non-Revenue Travel
1. Behavior: Always remember, you are representing the company you work for. Avoid loud, boisterous behavior in the gate area or on the plane. DO NOT identify yourself as a non-revenue passenger to the paying customers. If you need to identify yourself as to the flight attendant or gate agent, be discreet. Do not ask a paying customer to swap seats with you. If you have been given a seat on a full aircraft and you hear an announcement that the airline is offering denied boarding compensation to paying customers, make sure you discreetly identify yourself as a non-revenue passenger. Do not argue with the gate agent. If you have a problem that needs to be resolved, find a supervisor and discuss the issue discretely.
2. Food: Bring some snacks with you! When traveling stand-by, one never knows when one might get stuck somewhere without access to amenities. Also, airlines have really cut back on their meal service, so be sure to eat or drink whenever food or drink is offered! However, if it looks like a flight is running short on meals, be sure to let the staff know that you are a non-revenue passenger so that they can serve the paying customers first. When offered a choice of meals, we usually state our preference followed by, "if you have enough". It is an easy way to endear yourself to the flight attendant. Sometimes when they run out of meals, you may be offered a special meal that has not been claimed. Take it! These are usually very good!
3. Full Flights: It is better to be in the air than on the ground. Even if you have to travel in the wrong direction, sometimes it is best to just get out of a city where the flights are full.
4. Baggage: Never check a bag unless you can get by without what is in it. If you do check your bag, be sure to keep a change of clothes and all medicines in your carry on. Government regulations require that airlines ensure that checked bags travel on the same aircraft as the passenger. Checking a bag can prevent you from being able to change to another flight at the last minute. Learn to pack light. Try to find some comfortable shoes that can be worn with business casual clothing for the plane, but are also comfortable for walking so that you will only need one pair. Learn to like synthetic fabrics. Microfiber clothing can be washed and dried quickly in your hotel room. (Sometimes it is necessary to check a bag if you have such items as skis or golf clubs, but checking bags should be avoided if at all possible.)
5. Carry-on: Keep your essentials packed and ready to go at a moment's notice. Buy extras of all of your toiletries so your overnight bag will always have what you need in it.
6. Flexibility: Be willing to change your destination at the last minute. To be able to do this, you need to pack for any eventuality. When purchasing your travel wardrobe, always choose function over fashion. A lightweight raincoat, a fleece jacket, lightweight pants, a swimsuit, and long underwear will allow you to change your destination to any climate.
7. Planning: Plan carefully, but include extra days in your schedule, “just in case”. Checking for flight availability more than a week ahead of a trip is wasted effort.
8. Attitude: Charm (and an airline ID card) will get you everywhere. Be polite. When you are stranded, find an airline employee who is not busy and ask for assistance, but whatever you do, DO NOT BOTHER THE GATE AGENT who is busy trying to get a full aircraft out. If you have an airline ID, you can sometimes get access to a restricted area to use a computer terminal where you can look at flight availability. Avoid using a computer terminal behind a gate or ticket counter. Passengers will assume you are an agent and will ask for help.
9. Seats: When told to take any available seat, assume you’re going to be in a middle seat, in the back of the plane. Assuming you’re in the back will help speed the process along, which helps the staff as they try to make an on time departure. If you see an open area in the overhead luggage bin, put your luggage in it immediately, this will also help speed the boarding process along.
10. Separation: Decide before you are asked whether you will split from your party. When being assigned seats on an aircraft, the gate agent may say there is only one seat in first class and ask if you want to split your party between first class and coach. (Splitting in this situation is recommended. Chances are that you may not get to sit together in coach either, and if you split, at least one of you will be comfortable.) You may instead be told that there is one seat left on the plane and asked if your party wants to split, meaning someone gets left behind. (Splitting in this situation is sometimes necessary, but never leave a minor child behind alone.) Discuss these possibilities ahead of time and have your answer ready so as not to delay the boarding process. Never do anything that might delay the departure of an aircraft.
11. Stay Put: Never leave the gate until the plane has pushed back. Even when it looks hopeless, after the gate agent has taken the paperwork down the jetway, stay put until you see the aircraft push away from the gate. There is always the possibility that the agent might open the door and say there are open seats. Even if you are not next in line, if you are the only one remaining, you might get on.
12. Attire: Dress for first class. It’s nice to be comfortable, but if you are dressed in jeans and there are only first class seats available on an airline whose dress code does not allow jeans in first class, you WILL NOT be traveling on that airplane. Research the standby dress code for all classes of service for the airline on which you will be traveling and be sure your attire is acceptable for any seat. If you are dressed for first class and you get seated in coach, it is acceptable to change into more comfortable clothes as long as you adhere to the dress code for the cabin in which you are seated. It is NOT acceptable to change into coach attire if you are boarded in first class.
13. Patience: No matter how well you plan as a standby traveler, chances are that you will at some point have to spend some time waiting in an airport. Bring a book, magazines, electronic games, cards or crossword puzzles for these occasions.