1. The act of flying for free on space-available travel as a benefit to working for an airline company, or for being a family member or enrolled-friend of an airline employee
2. Also known as "Non-Revenue Space Available" (NRSA) travel
3. Requires that the individual is in compliance with the company's standard dress-code for travel
a. In case you missed the news this week, leggings are not pants
1. A passenger who is flying for free on space-available travel as a benefit to working for an airline company, or for being a family member or enrolled-friend of an airline employee
The greatest perks of working for an airline company are the discounts on all-things travel related: hotels, rental cars, discounts from airport vendors for food & beverages, excursions, cruises, & the flights themselves. Trust me, I don't do it for the minimum-wage paycheck. I do it because I love Customer Service work... & I love to travel.
I know how glamorous it sounds... free flights, right? Heck yeah, sign me up! Don't be fooled. Non-reving is actually about as glamorous as the Hunger Games. I'm serious. I know people who have had to spend days at a time in an airport, waiting patiently for a seat to open up on a flight. Getting to Hawaii, for example, is easy... it's the return flights that are always full & practically require an overnight stay at an airport.
Competition can be fierce for seats, especially at peak traveling times like spring break & in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving & Christmas. I have been able to get on most of the flights so far, but it's usually at the cost of my sanity.
If you try planning trips in advance, good luck.
How far in advance you book doesn't matter. Depending on the airline, passengers flying NRSA are prioritized on the standby list based on the seniority of the airline employee who listed for the flight. The boarding totals literally change overnight & especially in the minutes leading up to a flight's departure.
For example, on Sunday, I had made plans to fly to Houston & then go on to Amsterdam to have two days with one of my girlfriends whose husband is stationed in Belgium. We already had the AirBNB picked out & an outline of what we would see & do if I got there. IF. When I went to bed the night before, the flight had four open seats & I was the only person on Standby. Perfect. The next morning? The flight was oversold & there were now five people on Standby, with my name sitting there in slot number three. UGH!!!! The flight to Amsterdam from Houston, however, was wide open. Ninety-one open seats & only 11 Standby passengers. If I could just get to Houston....
I got off work at 11 A.M. on Sunday morning due to the IRROPS of my weight-restricted Chicago flight. The flight to Houston departed at 11:25, which meant boarding would close at 11:15, so I had to literally run to my car for my bag -- which wasn't even packed all the way, because I was scheduled to be off at 9 A.M. & figured I would have plenty of time (silly, Megan). I jammed everything I could into my backpack, then went running back to the airport, up the escalator, & to the TSA checkpoint. Yes, people, we still have to go through security, we aren't unicorns. Thankfully, there were no other passengers in line. I went through the motions, put my shoes back on, & continued my jog through the terminal.
I was a sweaty, disgusting mess, still wearing my work uniform & scarf because there was no time to change in the chaos. I checked the boarding totals on my phone when I got to the gate & talked to Susanne, who was the Gate Agent. The other passengers who had been on the Standby list had removed themselves, & she was waiting on one more revenue passenger to board. Boarding was closing in five minutes, so basically, if the last passenger didn't show up in five minutes, that meant there was one seat available -- one seat available for ME.
Four minutes to go. At this point, my other coworkers were standing around me to see if I would get my seat or not. After all, I had been talking about the trip all morning.
Three minutes. My stomach was now churning. I was anxious, I was nervous, I was excited. Christie, another CS Agent, poked her head around the corner of the terminal & said to me, "Uh oh, there's a man running." Nooooooooo. "Trip him!" I told her jokingly... (only mostly not-joking). This passenger rounded the corner, inhaling desperate breaths & asking, "Did I make it!?"
Insert silent expletives & heart-crushing letdown on my part. His expression read complete relief when he was informed that he made it on time, while my expression was quite the opposite. Disappointment. I was literally 180 seconds away from getting to Amsterdam for a two day excursion. One hundred & eighty seconds. That's what I get for trying to fly out on the weekend of Spring Break. Lesson learned. I looked at other options for getting to Houston, be it through the later departure or through Denver, but I would miss my connection to Amsterdam. Drat.
Don't book any hotels, AirBNB's, or car rentals that don't have a cancellation policy.
If you don't know how to be flexible when traveling, please don't even bother.
I get travel anxiety anyway, but being an avid non-rev passenger has helped me be less anxious. Be it the repetition, or just getting used to the letdown of full flights, the whole process has been quite enlightening.
My enrolled friend was flying home to visit his family this week, & the flights looked great... until the night before his scheduled departure, of course. All of the Colorado Springs departures were full or overbooked, & the Standby lists were all looking ugly. I checked the boarding totals from Denver, which looked exponentially better. The next morning, I double-checked the PBT's (Passenger Boarding Totals) again to see if the situation had improved any from Colorado Springs. Nada. I told him if he could get to Denver, there was a good chance he could get on the flight from there. But again, no guarantees. He had to be flexible enough to make the hour-plus drive, knowing full & well that he still may not get a seat. Was it ideal to drive to Denver? No. But, Denver offered more flight options, so this particular morning, the best option was to get to Denver. If the flights to Chicago filled up, then I would try a reroute through Louisville or Nashville to Paducah. He made it home (after having to spend the night in the Chicago O'Hare airport terminal), & I only imagine that his reaction went something like this:
Sometimes you get to the airport & have no clue where you'll end up.
This is the fun part, I think. Showing up at the airport, not knowing where you may (or may not) end up. Always pack a warm outfit & an outfit for the cold. If your original plans fall through, don't sweat it -- just list yourself on another flight & go to Mexico instead of Canada. Or go to Boise, Idaho just because. Adventures awaits, if you just keep yourself open to the possibilities. One of my supervisors recently had to fly halfway across the country from Indiana to Newark, where there were open flights to take her from Newark to Colorado. Flying out of Colorado Springs definitely has its limited available flights as a regional airport, but you gotta make the most of it. Or drive yourself to an international airport if there's one close by. I have a trip planned later this spring, but I have no idea where I'm going. I just know that I'm taking my two days off, showing up in the Denver International Airport terminal with one of my girlfriends who is a Flight Attendant with the same two days off, & seeing which destination we can get to together. I don't know that I've ever been more excited to have no idea where I'm going.
Is it really all that bad?
For me personally, the answer is No, it's not really all that bad. I usually fly by myself, which only requires one seat, which gives me optimal flexibility in looking for flights. Non-reving is just like everything else in life -- sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get that First-Class upgrade, & sometimes you're in the last row next to the lavatory. You can choose to be bitter & angry when the odds don't work in your favor, or you can choose happiness, no matter where you end up... even if you just end up back home in pajamas with a gallon of ice-cream & a ladle for a spoon.
I was really disappointed when my flight to Houston didn't work out. I was really wanting to go international, see Heather, eat a real stroopwafel, & to sit on the bench from The Fault in Our Stars along the canal in Amsterdam. I came home feeling defeated, changed clothes, & got on the computer to see where else I could go. Flying out of Springs was impossible & most of the Denver flights were looking incredibly bleak (duh, Spring Break week). I almost booked a trip to Mexico, but resolved that I needed a three day weekend at home to remind myself what it feels like to relax. To catch up on everything I had been neglecting from working so much. Just last weekend, I was complaining to Andrea, my roommate, about not knowing how much longer I could keep going with this crazy schedule. I was exhausted, I had dark circles under my eyes (even with makeup), my body couldn't keep up much longer without taking a break. So, in the end, it worked out that those 180 seconds kept me home, kept me here in Colorado Springs.
The world is literally at my fingertips, so long as there are seats available... & you know what? I'm willing to take that chance. I will take that chance, every single time the opportunity presents itself. Sure, I probably can't get anywhere the week of Spring Break, or in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving & Christmas. But there are 330+ other days that are wide open & ready for travel this year. So I'll just be sitting patiently in the boarding area, minding my own business & not wearing leggings, while I wait for my name to be cleared on the Standby list.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.