Do Pilots Get Free Flights? An Airline Pilot Tells All!

Being a contract pilot it requires me to travel a lot and I would always see pilots sitting in the cabin with the other passengers. I always wondered why they were there and if they get to fly for free.

Most pilots get free flights within their own airline or with sister airlines. Sometimes a small fee is required to cover airport fees, especially if family members are flying too. Pilots can also be put on free standby tickets or be given a free regular passenger ticket.

Besides pilots actually getting paid for flights, there are also some more benefits to being a pilot and quite a handful of ways for a pilot to fly as a passenger. Some of them are free of charge and for some of them, a small fee has to be paid to cover the taxes of the ticket and the airport fees.

Let us see some of them and I’ll explain what everything is and how it actually works for me on a daily basis.

How Do Pilots Get To Fly For Free?

Pilots get to fly for free when ‘Deadheading’ to an airport to report for duty or when flying home after duty. Pilots also fly for free when ‘Jumpseating’. A pilot in uniform shows up to a gate with their ID and is granted access to fly either in the cabin or the spare seat in the cockpit. The Jumpseat.

What is Pilot Jumpseating or Supernumerary?

This is a favorite way of traveling and is actually for free if you are a pilot. Jumpseating or Supernameracy (SNY) both have the same meaning and the procedure is exactly the same for both.

Jumpseating or SNY is when a pilot shows up to the gate in their uniform with their company ID card and documents. Pretty much like going there to operate the flight. The gate agent will ask for the crew code and some documents like the ID and passport.

The gate agent will insert some information on the LID (Load Information Document) of the flight so that the pilots operating the flight are aware that there is a crew member onboard.

Jumpseating is the best way to get a free flight if you are a pilot as it is the easiest and fastest way to get in the aircraft. Furthermore, I know from a pilot’s experience, that when you operate a flight and you have a Jumpseating pilot onboard, you actually feel a bit safer knowing that there is someone on board that can help in any kind of emergency situation.

Pros of Jumpseating

– Jumpseating is the easiest way for a pilot to travel and there is always an available seat. If there is no seat in the cabin, the pilot is allowed to be seated in the cockpit in the “jumpseat” which is located between the two main pilot seats. Hence the term “Jumpseating”.

The ‘Jumpseat’ – Slides Out From Behind The Captains Seat

If the seat in the flight deck is taken – perhaps by another pilot jump seating – the pilot is allowed to seat with the flight attendants in the back galley of the aircraft.

⁃ A Jumpseating pilot does not have to be at the gate 1 hour earlier as this process takes maximum 5 minutes. This means that even 5 minutes before the door closure and pushback time, the pilot can actually get in the aircraft.

⁃ The pilot can carry as many bags and luggage as they want. Jumpseating is considered by some companies as active duty so there are no limitations on what you can carry on board. Water, food, liquids, and other items are allowed through the security check if operating as a crew and not as a passenger.

⁃ A Jumpseating pilot can exit the airport on arrival by the crew exit and save a lot of time skipping lines at passport control or at the immigration checkpoint.

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Cons of Jumpseating

Jumpseating for free is only allowed on the pilot’s own airline. A Standby ticket would be issued to travel on another airline.

⁃ Being in uniform and not traveling in normal clothes can be extremely uncomfortable in comparison with normal everyday clothes, especially when it comes to long flights.

⁃ Passenger interaction. For some pilots, it isn’t a problem but a lot of pilots I know get annoyed by passengers asking questions about the flight, the aircraft, and general aviation stuff that only a pilot knows. Truth is it is usually the company’s policy to not talk about the operation and the airline with passengers in any way possible.

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* A Pilot’s Flight Bag – What is in there?
* Can Pilots Go To The Bathroom?

What is Pilot Deadheading?

Deadheading is another well-known term for this matter. Again free but with some differences compared to Jumpseating.
Deadheading is considered active duty and is included in the duty hours of the pilot at the end of the month and year. When the company needs the pilot in a different place to operate a flight they “make” the pilot jumpseat for free.

The difference between Deadheading and Jumpseating is that deadheading is for the benefit of the company while Jumpseating is for the benefit of the pilot.

Do Pilot’s Families Fly For Free?

Family members of a pilot don’t always get to fly for free, but they do get heavily discounted tickets or tickets with only a small fee. Family members can be issued either a Standby Ticket where they fly if there is room or a Confirmed Ticket where they are guaranteed a seat.

The way to get tickets for family and friends is the same as described above in the Standby – Confirmed tickets section.

Again, Standby tickets are unlimited but confirmed tickets are available for a limited amount. This number differs from company to company but some airlines provide crew members with a limited amount of charge-free tickets for each pilot’s family.

Can Pilots Fly Free On Any Airline?

Pilots only get to fly for free within their own airline or sister airlines. When flying on other airlines they will have to pay a small fee and it will almost always be a standby ticket where they can only fly if there is a free seat. If the flight is full they have to wait for the next flight.

If the company is a member of an airline alliance then the pilot can get tickets at a discounted price for him and his family but those tickets are mostly standby tickets and the confirmed tickets option is not available.

To find out more about Airline Alliances please check out our article here:

Airline Alliances 101: What They Are & Why Airlines Join Them?

How Do Pilots Get Discounted Flights?

To fly for cheap pilots have to apply for a ticket from their employer. They will then be given either a ‘Standby’ ticket where they fly if there is room, or get given a ‘Confirmed’ ticket which guarantees a seat on a particular flight. Pilots pay a small fee to cover charges.

When it comes to tickets for their staff and crew every airline has the roughly the same policy. This inludes two categories of tickets:

  1. Standby Tickets
  2. Confirmed Tickets

Stand-By Tickets

Standby tickets are those that a pilot can buy paying a very small amount of money to cover some of the taxes and the airport fees. These tickets are called standby because if the flight is overbooked and every revenue passenger arrives, there won’t be any seats available for the pilot or any crew member with a standby ticket. Most of the time there are always 1 or 2 free seats so it should not be a problem.

Standby tickets are available for every flight and there is no limit on how many each pilot can get.

Confirmed Tickets

Confirmed tickets work pretty much in the same manner as the standby tickets but in this case, the fee paid is slightly higher. The big difference, as you can imagine is that there is an available seat for the pilot that bought the ticket and the pilot is going to be included in the seating plan.

Pilots usually get a limited amount of confirmed tickets and most of them are outside of the busy periods of the year.

Do Pilots Get Discounts or Benefits?

Pilots are considered airport staff and the company ID card or the Airport ID card is sufficient for a pilot to get discounts on the duty-free store, or food and drinks at the airport cafeterias and restaurants. This discount varies between 10% and as much as 70%.

One of the biggest benefits pilots get is discounts in hotels and Airbnb. Most companies are offering discounts on hotels for their staff members using the company ID card at the check-in of the hotel. Usually, there’s a dedicated website within the airline that staff members have access to, and can book hotel rooms pretty much anywhere in the world and in the places the airline flies to and from.

Most of these hotels are in the vicinity or close vicinity of the airport so the pilot can have easy access to the airport.

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* What Do Pilots Do Between Flights? A Pilot Explains
* Can Passengers Visit the Airplane Cockpit?

Rick James

I am an aviation nut! I'm an ATP-rated helicopter pilot & former flight instructor with over 3500 hours spanning 3 countries and many different flying jobs. I love aviation and everything about it. I use these articles to pass on cool facts and information to you whether you are a pilot or just love aviation too! If you want to know more about me, just click on my picture!

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