Can You Fly For Free If You Work For An Airline?

Have you ever thought to yourself how great it would be to work for an airline and be able to travel for free? Well, I am sure that is the main reason why anyone other than senior management and pilots ever decide they want to work in aviation.

Imagine flying around the world and visiting places you have only ever dreamed about going, but not be able to afford. But can you really fly for free?

flight attendents
One of the main reasons to work for an airline is free flights. Photo: United Airlines

Free flying is one of the main reasons people want to become flight attendants, as the money they typically get paid while flying around the world certainly doesn’t make them wealthy. It is not just the flight attendants that get to fly for free either; every airline employee is given the chance to fly non-rev (non-revenue, i.e. free).

They do still, however, have to pay for the taxes that are levied on the ticket. Sounds good right! Well, guess what; it gets even better with spouses and children of the airline employee also eligible for free flights. Some airlines even offer their employees what they call a “Buddy Pass”, so employees can take their best friend with them on vacation.

Working for an airline is not all free flights

To get free flights, workers also need to put some effort in too. Working for an airline is not just nine to five with weekends and holidays off either. Working in aviation means employees have to be prepared to do shift work, often working early mornings or late nights.

flight attendents
Employees still have to pay the tax on no-rev tickets. Photo: United Airlines

Employees also have to be prepared to miss out on spending holidays at home with their family, as celebrations like Thanksgiving and Christmas go to the airline employees with the most seniority. If you’re a newbie at the airline, you also get the honor of being the last to pick your vacation weeks.

Speaking of vacation time, for the first year you probably won’t get any. After that, you’d start to accrue one week per year for every year of service up to whatever is the airline’s maximum allowed vacation time.

Because of the nature of being away from home often and having to stay in hotels, flight attendants make more money than ticket agents and baggage handlers.

While flight attendants pay is a little better than other employees, it is still nothing to write home about. Ticket agents and ground crew make the same amount of money as a cashier in a supermarket, and while the money is not great, working another job and part-time at the airport will still get you free tickets.

Tell me more about the free flights

Free tickets are available on flights the airline you work for operate as well as ones you don’t. What most airlines do is arrange with each other to offer seats on aircraft that are not full to other airline’s employees.

ground grew
Be prepared to work over the holidays. Photo: United Airlines

Let’s say you work for a small regional airline that just flies a few domestic routes. With this in place, you can still get tickets on a British Airways flight to London if you request it early enough.

These so-called free tickets on which you still pay the tax are only available on flights that have empty seats, so if there is a fare-paying passenger, you are going to get bumped. This might not sound too bad until you find yourself stuck in, say, Cleveland for two days, because you cannot get a non-rev seat back to your home airport.

Airlines have dress codes for non-rev flyers

Airlines also have a dress code for employees flying non-rev, which can mean having to wear a suit and tie for that free ticket.

ticket agent

Airlines have a dress code for non-rev passengers. Photo: United Airlines

The big kicker, and the thing most people overlook when going to work for an airline, is that, never mind trying to get the time off, you will never have enough money to go anywhere.

If you are only making $15-$20 an hour like many airline employees, once you have paid your rent and the utility bills, there is not much left for those free trips.

Think hard before taking a job with an airline, as it is nowhere near as glamorous as you might think.