Studies in Standby: The Buddy Pass
For most people who don’t work in the airline industry, their introduction to the world of standby travel is a ticket that is equal parts reviled and coveted: the buddy pass. Once an almost ubiquitous benefit granting the perks of airline travel to one’s friends and acquaintances, the buddy pass has undergone a sea change in recent years as airline load factors have exploded. Like all standby fares, the buddy pass is based on available seats in the aircraft cabin. Seats are assigned based on standby priority and buddy passes are always consistently on the bottom. When flights are full (as they often are these days) buddy pass travelers, often with little underlying knowledge of the standby system can be left stranded for hours if not days on end. The buddy pass has lost so much of its once shining glitter that it is often referred to colloquially as the Ex-Buddy Pass; meaning that whichever buddy you give it too quickly becomes your ex-buddy.
The buddy pass can still be a fantastic way to travel, but only if you are flexible. Whenever the Captain or I give one out we make sure that our friends know what they are getting into. You can end up in first class, drinking champagne over the Pacific if things go well, but end up sleeping in the airport for days on end, washing your clothes in the bathroom sink if things go badly. The disparity is alarming, but for those willing to take the risk, the benefits are huge. As long as there are open seats, you can score a high-end ticket for a fraction of the cost; this is especially true for international flights and it is here that the buddy pass can be a real asset. A friend of ours recently used one to come back from Seoul and got out in first class on his first flight, and of course promptly thought buddy passes were the greatest thing on the face of the Earth. If you get stuck however, things go downhill rapidly, especially overseas. Buddy passes are only good on the airline of issue, and unlike employees who can use ZED fares on other airlines, buddy pass travelers have to stick with the horse they rode in on. When there are only a few flights a week out of your destination and the flights are full or if one cancels, the days stuck in an airport terminal really can turn into weeks. So is it worth the gamble? As long as you won’t lose your job if you don’t get back on time, go for it! Give yourself a backup plan and remember, fortune favors the bold:)