Real Answers from Real Pilots

Flying Standby

(Cameron Clark) #1

Hey guys,

I just have a question about flying standby. My dad used to work for Continental, so I’m pretty familiar with the process. I don’t know if it is the same for all airlines, but United has their SA1, SA2… SA8 or however far it goes back. Who falls into each category? My dad used to be in mid-management so we were SA1. Now that he has since retired, we are SA5. As a pilot, where do we fall in the standby line? I know seniority comes into play based on who is also listed for your flight in the same standby group (I.e. SA1 or SA4). Hopefully the wording of this made sense. Thanks!


Hey Cameron,

Yes you make sense. Know that it can very from carrier to carrier (usually negotiated in the contract) but generally most current employees are ALL first tier (ie. SA1, SA standing for Space Available). It really has to be that way because the airline really can’t say any one group is more “important” than any other. Followed by their families SA2, Regional Partners SA3, Retirees, etc etc etc. This again is another reason seniority is so important. If someone is senior to me by 1 day, they get the seat regardless whether they’re a pilot, flight attendant or ramper. Also keep in mind there’s the dreaded PB1 (positive board). That’s usually upper mgmt. (ie. the CEO, etc) in which case EVERYBODY gets pushed down a notch!




As you might know, I am a former Continental pilot myself. When the merger came we got rid of the pass level distinction for management personnel and now all employees are SA1. That old system was despised by the employee group as it made some employees “better” than other employees. Now all active employees are in the same group and it is sorted by seniority. The lower SA categories are for employees of our regional airlines and for retired employees.


(Cameron Clark) #4

Wow ok. I wasn’t aware that all active employees were on the same level. Thanks for the info. Also another unrelated question, how much more attractive are bilingual applicants? If I decided to take a Spanish class at school for the next two and a half years ( I know I won’t be fluent), would that greatly enhance my marketablility. I was wondering how much it would help me to say that I am conversing in another language.



Being bilingual would not help you much at all. It is an FAA and ICAO requirement that all aviation radio communications are conducted in either the native tongue or English. Speaking two languages won’t do much to help you with the airlines, but it will make you big star with your crew on those foreign overnights.



Chris is incorrect. Being bilingual will help you greatly at many airlines (in fact it’ll move you to the front of the list), provided you want to be a Flight Attendant or Gate Agent :grin: