Throughout my childhood, I have been given the opportunity to fly across the world by the use of non-revenue tickets. For those that are unfamiliar, non-revenue tickets are complimentary tickets issued for passengers who are related to someone that works in the airline industry. These tickets usually carry the stipulation that they are not guaranteed tickets, but rather are able to be used when a plane is not completely full.
My “Non-Rev” experience began at a young age, crossing the country multiple times a year with my dad to visit family in Baltimore, Maryland while living in California. Years later, I’m now 15 years old and live with my dad on the east coast while my mom is based in San Francisco as a flight attendant for United Airlines. Many times throughout the last few years, I have been flying on non-revenue tickets for other trips besides just visiting family. Some examples include trips to Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for plane spotting, as well as flying through Frankfurt for a connection to a city near the Swiss and Austrian border known as Friedrichshafen.
In 2014 alone, I was able to travel on 16 flights, all without paying the high costs of an airplane ticket. Every trip that I book begins slightly different than that of a normal flier. Employees and their families utilize an internal website for United, in which you type in the usual Origin, Destination, and date information as you would on the regular united.com site. The search lists multiple flight options in which prices are not shown, but rather what is shown is the load factor for each flight. This enables Non-Revs to have a better chance at boarding a flight if they know that it is not already fully booked, as the website provides information on how many seats are confirmed in each class as well as if a specific class has no remaining space. Once the seats are arranged, the cost of the taxes for the flight are issued and are deducted out of the employee’s paycheck at the end of the month.
With having such a tremendous opportunity to be able to travel as much as I do, I wanted to give readers an inside look into what it is truly like being a Non-Rev flier.
“Tale From A Non-Rev”: Part 1 of Flight to SFO
Origin: Baltimore/ Washington International Airport (BWI)
Destination: Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
Aircraft: 737-700 N24729
I knew had a busy day ahead of me as I was connecting in Chicago on my way to San Francisco to visit my mom on a very tight connection window. Arriving at the airport in Baltimore around 9:10am, I was in quite a hurry since boarding was scheduled for 9:14am. Thankfully most standby fliers qualify for TSA Pre Check and I was through security in less than 5 minutes. Today’s flight was operated by crew that were originally from Continental Airlines before the merger with United, resulting in my mom being unable to email them about trying to assist me in being confirmed for the flight that morning. In the meantime, I decided to purchase a bagel from the Cafe past security but was quickly surprised when walking that there seemed to be a lack of passengers huddled near the gate. It turned out the inbound flight on N24729 coming from Chicago had been delayed due to “Snow and Ice Removal,” and with an already full flight seemed to only reduce my chances as to being selected to board.
Suddenly at 9:44 a.m. I was shocked when I was given my seat assignment through the United app and was booked on seat 27E. Lucky for me I was given boarding group 3, and with United normally operating with 5 boarding groups I was able to walk right onto the plane and fit my camera bag where it needed to be. I was politely greeted by a friendly male and female flight attendant up front who seemed to be making the most of the delayed flight.
As departure seemed imminent, the baggage crew quickly finished up loading the bags for the next 15 minutes as the cabin crew prepared for takeoff. We were now 40 minutes late and lifted off the soon to be closed for repairs, runway 28/10. Taking the TERPZ3 departure gave us quite a ride with the combination of strong gusts, low visibility, and the opportunity to see the athleticism of the 737 Next Generation series aircraft. Our tail waggled its way past 10,000 feet, only to hit several pockets of turbulence on our way up to our cruising altitude of 31,000 feet. Being almost 6’1’’, United Economy legroom wasn’t great but seemed feasible for a short flight such as this. I turned off my in-flight entertainment system that included DirectTV, which I usually take full advantage of on longer flights.
I decided to get some shut eye and take a nap, not wanting to use all my sleep on this short flight but to save it for the 4 hour 55 minute flight ahead of from Chicago to San Francisco. Not long after I awoke to a ding that rang through the cabin, followed by by our captain on the loud speaker stating that we were beginning our descent into the Chicago Area. We broke through the scattered clouds to reveal a snow covered Chicago. The plane did a U-turn and proceeded to have a long final descent full of strong gusts once again until touchdown.
Each non-revenue flight I participate in brings about its own challenges and complications, but not without the immensely rewarding experience of getting to travel around the world at a fraction of a cost compared to most flyers. I hope to continue to be able to have opportunities such as this, and further reflect on my journeys as I plan trips in the years to come.