How to Fly Standby on a Buddy Pass

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Tips for Minimizing TSA Security Stress and Wait Times -- fly on the right day and at the right time.
Make TSA security stress disappear with this guide. Photo credit: Pixabay

If you’re fortunate enough to be friends or family with an airline employee, you may be able to snag a coveted buddy pass. This pass allows travelers to fly for free on a specific airline if there is extra space on the flight. 

While a buddy pass is a fantastic way to cut down on travel costs, there are many rules associated with how and when you can use this nearly-free voucher. Read on to get all of the details from a veteran buddy pass user.

What is a Buddy Pass?

Buddy passes are non-revenue, standby tickets provided as a benefit to all airline employees. The employees then share those passes with friends and family. While there is no fee to fly (non-revenue), the passenger who uses the buddy pass must pay any taxes, fees and charges for each leg of the flight.

Don’t assume the “free” buddy pass is the way to go. Do your research.

One buddy pass user related this story: A buddy pass for some family members would have cost $160 round trip in fees and taxes. The passengers found full fare confirmed seats for $170 round trip. The comfort of knowing they had a guaranteed seat on the flight was well worth the extra $10.

Read More: How to Successfully Fly Standby During the Holidays

How Is a Buddy Pass Issued?

Typically, a buddy pass comes in the form of a credit that is adjusted every time the employee books a flight for a friend or family member. An employee may get up to 10 buddy passes per year that expire annually. A Qatar Airways buddy pass could be completely different from a Jetblue buddy pass. Each airline’s program is unique.

How Do I Book a Flight Using a Buddy Pass?

This will vary from airline to airline and may involve calling a reservation agent to “list” yourself on a flight using a confirmation code the employee will give you. Or the employee can do it for you online.

Since you are flying standby, you are not guaranteed a seat. Either the reservation agent or the employee can check flight loads for the dates and times you wish to travel. That will tell how likely you are to get on that flight. A flight that often flies with empty seats is a better bet than a flight that’s usually full.

Once you choose the flight, your name will be added to the flight’s standby list. You can change your listing up until the time of travel. Experts advise that you check the flight load daily to see if you need to adjust your plans.

Keep in mind, the busiest days of travel are weekends and holidays. The busiest time of travel is afternoon. If you can be flexible and are willing to take a 6am or 10pm flight, then flying on a buddy pass will work well for you.

girl at airport gate - SheBuysTravel
Make that buddy pass flight go smoothly with these tips. Photo credit: Chris Bird

What Do I Do at the Airport When Flying with a Buddy Pass?

Present your confirmation code to the ticket agent or enter into the kiosk for self-check-in to be issued a standby ticket. Should you need to check bags, the ticket agent will attach a special “standby” tag so that if you don’t make the flight, your bags won’t take off without you. I prefer to bring all bags with me to the gate and gate-check them after I’ve been cleared for the flight.

Depending on the airline, you may be able to check in online like on a normal flight. If this is the case, you can skip the ticket counter altogether unless you are checking bags. Just be prepared to show your ticket and head straight to the gate.

Buddy Pass Flights: At the Gate

If the ticket agent has checked you in, there is no need to approach the gate agent. The computer will show all standby passengers who have checked in. You simply wait for the flight to finish boarding and the gate agent to call standby passengers to the podium to be issued a boarding pass.

If you checked in online, notify the gate agent that you are there and on the standby list, then take a seat.

passengers on a plane, how to fly standby
Here’s how to fly standby (the right way) with a buddy pass. Photo credit: Pixabay

Have a Buddy Pass Back-Up Plan

It’s important to always have a backup plan. You may end up needing to fly to another city to connect to your final destination, which can mean paying for that extra leg, too. Or you may not be able to get on the flight at all and have to pay for a hotel room for the night.

One buddy pass user said she and her husband used buddy passes to come home from Copenhagen on a flight that connected in New York. Bad weather at JFK delayed their flight, and they missed their connection. They had to spend the night and because bad weather had backed up lots of flights, there were no seats available to Atlanta. They checked 27 cities before finding a plane with two available seats. In the end, they flew NY-Indianapolis-Atlanta.

In addition, if you’re traveling with children, you’ll probably be separated since buddy pass users are the last to board. That probably means everyone will be assigned a middle seat. Flight attendants are not supposed to ask a full fare passenger to move to accommodate a pass rider. Pass riders also may not ask a passenger to change seats. If a kindly passenger offers to change seats to help you, that’s OK.

Finally, there is something called “payload optimum.” That means cargo goes on before pass riders in some cities. If the cargo brings the plane to proper weight and balance, the pass rider doesn’t get to board even if there are empty seats on the plane.

Bottom line…you need to have a back-up plan and lots of flexibility and time!

Standby Passenger Rules & Etiquette

Although it may feel outdated, some airlines still advertise a dress code, particularly for standby passengers. Alaskan Airlines, for example, suggests that standby passengers wear business casual attire. According to the dress code, passengers should look neat and clean. Short shorts, halter tops, bare feet and exercise clothing are considered inappropriate. 

Most airlines, however, have a more relaxed dress code. Passengers on a Southwest flight are expected to have a “clean, well groomed, and tasteful appearance,” though the airline considers its dress code casual. According to its Contract of Carriage Document, United Airlines prohibits passengers “not properly clothed” or “whose clothing is lewd, obscene or offensive.”

As a representative of the airline, you are also expected to be polite and courteous to the airline employees. Do not pester the gate agent. Remember – they have the power to decide whether you board or not.

More of Your Flight Questions Answered

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22 responses


  1. Delta Buddy passes definitely are NOT free! I am a 51+ year flight attendant, recently retired with the government supported retirement/downsizing package. The employee has to handle the transaction but fees are definitely mandatory. They are added to the employee’s taxable income. If Delta discovers an employee has provided a non-employee with access to booking their own travel it can lead to the employee losing all pass travel benefits. Depending on the employee’s work history it can lead to termination. Much info accessible once in the pass travel pages is NEED TO KNOW ONLY.

  2. As far as clearing standby passengers for boarding, items 4,,5 and 6 are not entirely correct. Off-duty employees. pilots included, are only ahead of you if they are deadheading and not traveling for pleasure.
    Priority is a two tiered system based on seniority and your relationship to the employee. As a “buddy” you will be lowest on the totem pole. But it makes absolutely no difference when you check in. I have checked in 30 minutes before a flight after relisting myself and jumped ahead of people who were already on the list based on my wife’s seniority.

  3. if it looks like I can’t get on a flight so I decide to just wait till the next day, do I have to make a new reservation? In other words how do I cancel for that day? Just not show up?

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  6. Can you fly only on delta with a delta buddy pass?

    1. Can you fly. Business class on a buddy pass?

  7. Thank you so very much for this informative information. Especially the part about having a dress code. I’m not a blue jeans kind of guy in the first place and representing the airline is fine for me! People should be polite, patient and cooperative in cases like this. I just hope they don’t take non-tangibles into the equation too. (he looked at me cross eyed, he looked too fat or too…)

  8. I fly standby on Delta a lot, and a couple of things operate differently than what you mention. While almost always cheaper than buying a ticket, it’s not free. I believe there are some formulas (trip length based??) to calculate the fare. For example, Atlanta to South Africa comes to about $800 RT. Also, buddy pass travelers are not prioritized by how early they check in, but by the hire date of the person who gave them the buddy pass. For example, I could be at the gate two hours early, but if someone comes in much later– and the person who gave them the buddy pass has been working for Delta for 15 years vs. my person who’s been working for them 10 years– that late-comer gets the seat. I’ve actually been seated ON the plane when they pulled me off because a buddy pass traveler who’s pass-giver had an older hire date showed up!

    1. Are buddy passes for one time use? Or are they unlimited stand-by flying for the person who has it? How many passes can a pilot give out? And do siblings and parents of the employee and dependents automatically get buddy passes?

  9. You don’t fly or free on a Delta Buddy Pass. It can be a greatly discounted price, but far from free. For example, Atlanta to South Africa would cost about $800 RT.

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  11. from Liberia or San Jose (Costa Rica) to Montreal (Canada) round trip on May 18th to 25th best prices?

  12. “Should you need to check bags, the ticket agent will attach a special “standby” tag so that if you don’t make the flight, your bags won’t take off without you.”

    This will only apply to international travel. A standby flying domestic that did not make their flight, but checked a bag will have to pick it up in it’s location. The domestic bag will go without you.

    Do you have a specific airline that you are getting this information from?

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  15. What happened to the US Air Buddy Pass program? My brother works for US Air and they informed him that he no longer has any buddy passes.

    1. Hi Bill, employees only get a certain amount of passes and when they are used up then no more will be issued. If your sponsor has lost ALL pass privileges then they will not issue buddy or guest passes i.e. rowdy and boisterous rude, poorly dressed etc.

  16. i just read an article online about 2 people that were informed to change their attire before boarding US Airways while flying 1st Class using Buddy Passes. I instantly became interested in reading for myself US Airways’ Buddy Pass Policy. I checked their website with no luck. the info you posted towards the end has made me more interested in reading this. is it possible that you direct me to how I can go about gettin this online orby some other means? thanks you in advance…

    1. That is very true if not dressed correctly eg in jeans or tracksuit you will be asked to change

  17. for reservation for standby ticket

    see link

    http://www.sulit.com.ph/index.php/get+link+code/id/5244265

  18. Great tips!!

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