Have you ever been offered a buddy pass from an airline friend and instantly felt like Ed McMahon just knocked on your front door with a million dollar check?
As exciting as the idea of being issued a buddy pass, or flying “free,” is there are many specifics that people do not take into consideration when they are issued a buddy pass.
In 2008, I was barely out of flight attendant training and I had people coming out of the woodwork asking for buddy passes. Vultures. I felt like roadkill the way they swarmed around me. People were calling me, or texting me, that I didn’t even know I was still friends with.
“Hey Joe! How are you? This is John’s mother’s cousin’s best friend’s neighbor’s, cat sitter’s, daughter’s, uncle’s, grandfather’s, nephew – do you have a buddy pass?”
When a friend asks me for a buddy pass, and I have one available, I always start the conversation with, “There are some important things I have to go over with you before I issue this pass.” It’s my buddy pass agreement for whenever I give out a buddy pass. The to-do and not-to-do list so I don’t lose my flight privileges and end up hating you for the rest of our lives. If you don’t believe that friendships are ruined over buddy passes – then you are mistaken.
Trust me – It’s not all doom and gloom. If you follow all these steps you may just find yourself on the receiving end of unlimited buddy passes in the future.
1. Where You At?
I am not referring to a Jennifer Hudson track but to the people who I hardly speak with, or who are not close to me, calling me up out of the blue for a buddy pass. I shouldn’t go years without hearing from you and then get a quick, “Hey boo. How you doing?” It never fails with these people. There are a select few, that when I get a Facebook message, text, or email I know exactly what they want. You are not calling me asking me how the weather is in Northern California so STOP. Get to the point with your request so I can say, “I’m sorry. I’m all out, “ and we can go back to not speaking until you think I forgot that the only time you contact me is when you want a damn buddy pass.
2. Nothing Comes Free
Buddy passes are not free. Most airlines charge a fee for a buddy pass so don’t be acting all surprised when he find this out. What is free in 2013? Not much – including standby air travel. When you finally hear the words, “I can issue you a buddy pass,” don’t get crazy when it’s follow up with, “and the fee is…” Each buddy pass that is issued comes with a small fee, depending on the miles traveled, and taxes. We, as in your flight attendant friends, are not paying this for you so be sure to get that credit card out when you get confirmation that you will be traveling on a buddy pass. I recently gave two buddy passes to a friend to travel from Orlando to Seattle – via Boston – and it cost them a total of $250. That’s a great deal – if you make the flight.
3. No Seat For You
When you are traveling on a buddy pass you should always take into consideration that even though you paid a low buddy pass fee you may not be assigned a seat on the flight. Popular reasons you could get bumped include: weather, a mechanical, a rugby team who just purchased the last 40 seats on the flight, or a weight restriction. You have to remember that you are flying standby – not sitdown – so you are only getting on the flight if there is a seat. I always recommend having a backup plan in case you don’t make the flight; a later flight, another friend with a buddy pass for another airline, or a sofa to sleep on. The airport is a cruel and unfriendly place to spend the night.
4. Don’t Overpack
Your first mistake will be to check a bag. That is a huge no no. I issued a buddy pass to a friend once and he checked his bag. His bag had a wonderful flight from Orlando to New York. Unfortunately, he sat at the airport all day and then got dismissed by the gate agent like a second class citizen. I can see him now walking with his head down cursing me for even offering him a buddy pass. Bags are loaded onto the aircraft before you are assigned a seat so get everything you need into a smaller carry on. Liquids? I’d just buy the essentials at your destination and then leave them for the housekeeper when you are done. The hotel housekeeper will be grateful she doesn’t have to steal cheap Holiday Inn soap for the week.
5. Don’t Cause A Scene At The Gate
This will surely get you, and your airline friend, in deep shit if you act like a jackass at the gate. I know you would never do that but in the heat of the moment, when you are stuck in Helsinki, Finland and you watch the last A340 leaving for home without you, you might do some crazy shit. Yell at the gate agent. Smack the supervisor. Stomp your feet screaming, “Flight Attendant Joe said this would never happen to me.” I know it’s gonna be painful if you get bumped, especially when you travel internationally, but you have to remain cool. The gate agent feels bad that you didn’t make the flight – they may not seem it at that moment – but they do. Step away and collect your thoughts. When you have composed yourself return and ask them:
When is the next flight?
Can you list me for the next flight?
Do you have a list of cheap hotels?
Can I cry on your shoulder and spend the night on your sofa?
6. Do Not Cause A Scene On The Airplane
If you are finally assigned a seat and make it on do not act like you own the airplane. You are not Paris Hilton so don’t bring negative attention to yourself. The flight attendant has a manifest of every single person on the airplane, including standby travelers, so if you start getting obnoxious and unruly they know who you are and they will report you. Don’t ask for free stuff and do not approach the flight attendant and say, “My television is broken – can you move someone else so I can watch tv? My friend Sheila is a flight attendant here and she said you would take care of me.” Say that and you will lose a friendship and be stuck in a destination you are trying to depart from. The flight attendant may need to move your seat too. If a full fare paying passenger, which you are not, has an issue at their seat and the flight attendant needs to move you – they will. I was traveling from San Francisco to Sydney and after boarding the flight, handing over $30 worth of gourmet cookies, and finding my seat I got taken off the flight for a weight restriction. Don’t put up a fight. Smile. Take your shit and get moving.
7. Take The Seat You Are Assigned
Some gate agents do their best to assign standby travelers the best possible seat. Some gate agents at the bigger legacy airlines don’t care. If you are assigned a middle seat it’s because; there are no more aisle or window seats, you were way down the list and got the last seat available, or you pissed off the gate agent enough to still let you fly but put you between two fatties for the next seven hours. I had a buddy pass traveler walk up to me on the aircraft once and demand another seat. “I paid $34 for this buddy pass and I need a window seat. This is bullshit.” It wasn’t a fun experience. “Oh, you paid $34 for this flight? Can you grab your bag for me – I got the best seat in the house with lots of room – it’s called the gate area.”
8. Be Pleasant And Say Hi
I always encourage my buddy pass friends to approach the gate and introduce themselves. Some flight attendants discourage this practice but I always do it with great success. When you do this, in the correct way, you make a connection with the gate agent and they will hopefully remember you were nice and polite. I always say, “Hi. I am listed standby on this flight. Have you assigned seats for standby?” If they have not assigned them, and they are not ready to, they will tell you to remain seated until they call your name. Fair enough. If they are just about to assign seats they may ask you, “Window? Aisle? Middle?” And you will have a say in the seat you are assigned. Approach the gate and say. “Hey, I need a window seat,” and you will be waiting until the last person gets assigned – and all the overhead bin space is taken.
9. Don’t Arrive Empty Handed
I never travel on another airline without bringing treats for the flight attendants. It’s just the polite thing to do when you are flying for free. I encourage anyone who is traveling on a buddy pass to do the same. I’m not saying spend $100 on the finest European chocolates but a small bag of Snickers or cookies goes a long way. Please don’t open the bag and snag a few for yourself – that’s just tacky. Bringing treats will most likely get you additional special treatment such as a free drink, free food, and possibly a move to First or Business class. I have been wined, dined, and practically 69’d on flights when I came bearing treats. I even encourage friends who purchase full fare tickets to bring something for the Crew. My advice is to leave the apples, oranges, and bananas at home and although you might mean well – baked homemade brownies will only be tossed in the trash. If you are flying in coach a $4.99 bag of candy could be all that stands in between you and First Class.
10. Check In As Soon As You Can
All airlines are different and it doesn’t matter what the cut off time is – check in as early as you can. My airline allows you to check in 24 hours before departure and I am always one of the first to check in. I set my alarm and I will wake up in the middle of the night if I have to. Some airlines have electronic tickets and some have paper tickets. Paper tickets? What is this, the Stone Age? It’s like giving Fred Flintstone a buddy pass. Alaska Airlines goes by seniority so even if you check in first you could be bumped by someone who walks up to the counter last minute and has more seniority than the person who issued you the buddy pass. Ask your friend how their airline handles listing for flights. Getting answers to these questions can save you time, money, and lots of frustration.
11. Flight Attendants Are Not Travel Agents
I wanted to be a travel agent when I was younger but instead I became a flight attendant. Although I enjoy planning my own vacations I am not here to plan yours. A buddy pass given to you does not mean that your entire trip will be planned out by your airline friend. Yes, we may have to list you for the flight. Yes, we may have to collect your fee. Yes, we will check loads for you. Yes, we will do everything that needs to be done for you to use the buddy pass – so relax. Don’t text, call, email, or send the police knocking on my door to check loads at all hours of the night. We don’t have time to be at our laptops for hours trying to plan your way around the country so you don’t get stuck. It’s stressful. That will land you on the “No Buddy Pass” list.
12. Know When To Buy A Ticket
As exciting and cheap buddy passes are there are times when it is just not smart to travel on a buddy pass. Holidays are the worst times of year to travel on a buddy pass. I actually refuse to issue buddy passes during the holidays. I don’t want them blowing up my phone, screaming at me that I ruined their Thanksgiving dinner, because they couldn’t get out of Orlando until after the turkey turned to jerky. If you have a cruise, wedding, funeral, or expensive vacation that you are attending and you have to be, 100%, at a destination at a certain time – my suggestion is fork over the cash and buy yourself a positive space ticket. With buddy passes you have to be flexible and if you have to get to Ft. Lauderdale on a certain day to start your 7 day cruise you might be very disappointed if you have to fly to San Juan to catch up with the ship.
13. Your Child And A Buddy Pass
If you are traveling on a buddy pass with a child you may not get two seats together. I know that sounds frightening – and it is – but if there are only two seats left on the airplane and you and your six year old are assigned those two seats your options are to take the seats or not take the flight. You may ask the passenger sitting next to you to take the seat that your child is assigned but they have all the right to refuse to move. The flight attendant can not demand someone to move so that you and your child can sit together. If this happens please do not hold up the flight and cause a delay. Most of the time the flight attendant will watch out for your child but we can’t be there for the entire flight. Bat your eyes, lick your lips, and convince the person next to you to move.
14. Dress The Part
You don’t have to wear a three piece suit when you travel on a buddy pass but you also don’t want to look like a crack whore. Nobody wants a crack whore on their flight. The only cracked out passenger I want on my flight is Whitney Houston and well – that ship sank in a tub.
I can see it now, “May I get you something to drink?”
“No girl, Bobby isn’t here.”
“You know that comes in a can, right?”
You have to remember that traveling on a buddy pass is a privilege and you are traveling under someone’s name. You are representing the person who gave you the buddy pass. If you come to the airport in a halter top, cut off shorts, and flip flops the gate agent has every right to send you back home or to the airport mall for something decent to wear. Don’t call crying that you weren’t allowed on the flight because you were prancing around in your new stripper outfit and fuck me pumps. That shit won’t fly at 37,000 feet.
Some form of the buddy pass agreement is issued by most airline employees. When I started writing this post I had some readers send in their buddy pass horror stories regarding friendships lost, possible job loss, and detailed tips on how to act when traveling on a buddy pass. It has occurred to me that issuing out buddy passes is like lending money to a friend. Hopefully, and most often it all ends well, but sometimes people act stupid and all hell breaks loose.