American Airlines Temporarily Bans Non-Rev Travel In First Class

Filed Under: American

Update: American Airlines has undone this policy as of May 28, 2020. As of July 1, 2020, American will book flights to 100% of capacity.

Even though there are lots of empty seats on planes right now (in both economy and first class), don’t expect to see many American Airlines employees in first class for the time being.

US airlines have generous non-rev policies

US airlines have generous travel benefits for employees, at least on the surface. Employees at all the major US airlines can travel either for free or at a steep discount on a space available basis.

In most cases, employees can even waitlist for premium cabins, meaning that if there’s a first or business class seat available, they can potentially fly in that. These passengers typically clear after all paid upgrades, all revenue waitlisted customers, etc.

This is generally referred to as non-revving, and to break that down further you have:

  • NRSA, or non-revenue space available, which is when you’re traveling on a space available basis
  • NRPS, or non-revenue positive space, which is when it’s a “non-revenue” ticket, but you have a confirmed seat (whether it’s due to your rank in the company, because you’re traveling on company business, or whatever)

US airline employees have generous travel benefits, on the surface

This is a great time to non-rev (social responsibility aside)

The catch with being a non-rev is that ordinarily on domestic flights there’s a long waitlist for upgrades among elite members. Generally non-revs are going to have the best luck on international flights, where elite members aren’t receiving complimentary upgrades.

Ordinarily you can expect that it’s easier to score a first class seat as a non-rev from Dallas to Hong Kong, than from Dallas to Miami, for example.

Of course the past few weeks have been a completely different story. Just about all flights are empty, and even non-revs have consistently been able to score first class seats. Keep in mind that some employees aren’t just non-revving for fun, but are doing so because they live in a different city than where they are based, and they need to commute.

Often it can be easier to non-rev internationally than domestically

American bans non-revs in domestic first class

American Airlines has revealed internally that for the time being they’re no longer allowing non-revs in first class on narrow body two cabin planes (which is a vast majority of flights at this point).

The reason? Social distancing. While planes are for the most part pretty empty, there are many flights where there are just as many people in first class as in the rest of the plane.

To alleviate that imbalance a bit, for the time being employees will only be able to travel in economy. I’m sure this will be undone again at some point, since this is a contractual benefit, and employees work hard for that benefit.

But for the time being this also kind of makes sense, given that it’s not an unusual occurrence to see as many people in first class as economy.

American Airlines has already started blocking the first row of first class to allow for social distancing between those seats and the jumpseats, even though there’s a bulkhead between them.

Bottom line

It has never been as easy to non-rev as it has in the past few weeks, given that flights have been mostly empty. This has been one of the few periods where it has been truly easy for employees to score first class seats.

However, for the time being that perk is being taken away at American Airlines, to put an emphasis on social distancing. With first class typically mostly full and economy typically mostly empty, it makes sense to limit the first class load a bit.

  1. “because they live in a different city than where they are based, and they need to commute.”

    no, they CHOOSE to commute!

  2. Gary… MANY of us do not choose to commute. Base closures force many crew members to commute. Skywest just lost ATL, that will be one heck of a hard commute. When United lost MIA years ago, many employees were forced to commute.. United Cleveland employees mostly commute and so on. My company just lost 2 bases as well, EWR and TYS is going away so this mean hundreds will be commuting.

    Lucky.. This is by far the HARDEST time I have ever had commuting in my entire career. This is a terrible time for Non rev as there simply are no flights that match up well with schedules. My car was parked at PBI and I had to wait 6 hours in ORD to catch a flight to MIA. These day are causing more headaches for commuters than I have ever seen. Commuting this passed month… absolute nightmare!

  3. The weirdest thing about this for the company passengers seems to be the random illogical one size fits all approach that AA has with a number of things.

    Blocking the first row is fine, but wouldn’t it make more sense to revisit the seat map once all of revenue has been seated, and then allocate non-revenue, one to any open seat group?

    Certainly not advocating seating them (or any revenue customers) next to anyone else, but this approach is saying nobody can have tomato juice and it shouldn’t be catered because almost nobody drinks it (haven’t we heard that one before somewhere?)

  4. @Ryan, no doubt its hard but at least you still have a job. Many lost their paychecks and would gladly commute to work.

  5. @JW, @Gary, I thought we were celebrating frontline employees who are choosing to put themselves in harm’s way by exposing themselves to the public. Why are we disparaging FA’s, who should be in the same category as employees helping to keep essential businesses operating? The fact that it’s harder to do their jobs today shouldn’t be met with derisive comments or “lucky to have a job”. No, we’re lucky they’re there and their service should be met with gratitude.

    @Ryan, thank you for your service.

  6. JW: I am very thankful to have my job… for now. My aircraft type has been pulled and I Dequalify on my current aircraft April 30th since recurrent training was cancelled. Very uncertain times since I fly for a regional and we are still uncertain if we are included in the to govt stimulus but for now, yes I am happy to do the crazy commuting and lucky to have a job. I was not so much complaining but explaining to others that this is the worst time , not the best time to non rev.

    Darin: You’re very welcome.

  7. @Ryan, unless the company is forbidding you from living in the city in which you are based then you are choosing to commute. Companies move all the time and employees either (1) move with the company, (2) commute to the company’s new location or (3) find a new job. The company moving may not have been your choice but choosing to commute certainly is.

  8. Yeah, there’s just so much “choice” for everyone in a world whose job market is contracting by the minute, and in a country where health care is tied to your job.

    No one “chooses” to commute for any other reason than that they need to get to their job, to get paid and to get health care. If we didn’t need to do it, rest assured we wouldn’t.

  9. @Joe, I’m talking about commuting by airplane. If you live in Cleveland but are “based” in Houston (for example) what is stopping you from moving to Houston? You may have a spouse with a job in Cleveland or kids in school there so commuting is the best choice for you, but it’s still a choice to live in Cleveland and not Houston.

  10. Andrew : come on man. It’s not that easy. No other industry forces people to “move” as much as the airline industry. Especially for the wages. Remember. Those pilots making $300K is 1% of us. Moves are only very partially paid for if force displacement occurs and most don’t move because we know in 2 years we will just get displaced again. F/As and regional pilots make less than employees and management in fast food restaurants (not downing them, I’ve done it ) and if you figured the actual hourly pay for long unpaid sits, I have trips where I get paid just above minimum wage. We do our jobs because we love it, not because of the $$. I guess we choose to commute versus going to another industry but we do not choose to commute because it’s convenient. Most commuters have been displaced at some point. Also when you are new at a regional / First Officer making $36,000 .. how do you afford to live in New York City!? If you know how I am all ears! Junior bases are the most expensive cities to live in. You “choose” commute there then you finally get a more reasonable base and easier place to live like Dallas theb you move there then you get displaced 6 months later. This happens so much.

  11. @Ryan “No other industry forces people to “move” as much as the airline industry.”

    You and others can always take other jobs if you are not satisfied with the terms of your employment. Frankly, I didn’t even know airlines even paid for FAs to commute. Is this something written into union contracts? Does Delta do this for their FA’s? It honesly doens’t make much sense to incur these types of costs for an employee that only makes $36,000 a year as Ryan claims.

    “and if you figured the actual hourly pay for long unpaid sit I have trips where I get paid just above minimum wage”
    Go complain to anyone who has to sit in traffic all day about un-paid sits and see how much sympathy you get. Do you also complain about the times when the plane boards, the door closes and we sit in the taxiway for an hour while you sit in your jump-seat and text? As far as just above minimum wage? There are residents fresh out of med school who are making 55k a year in NYC and working over 100 hours a week.

    @Darin “@Ryan, thank you for your service.”
    Omg really??? As if this is some soldier putting their life on the line or a medical professional risking disease and illness to treat the sick. This is someone who goes to work everyday (and apparently complaining about it too)……….there’s no “service” he provides that should be commended over the billions of other workers around the world.

  12. I self upgraded from Domestic First Class (full) to an empty main cabin extra row last week. Was wondering how many was non revs.

    While I only recommend flying if you absolutely need to right now, it sure is a pleasure

  13. @ Voldoo – it doesn’t seem like Ryan is complaining it all – YOU are, about his assessment of his and his colleagues’ employment situation. I can imagine he’s sorry that it bothers you so much, but when the reality on the ground doesn’t match someone’s pre-conceived socio-economic-ideological point of view, it’s hard to hear, so I understand.

    He IS providing a service, in any case, one that you may need when YOU travel to the home of a member of a family member who may be ill or needs help. And he is literally risking his life when he flies you there, regardless of your baseless whining. So don’t be so arrogant as to dismiss someone’s thanks for that, in anticipation of their future wants and needs.

  14. Voodoo: no such thing as getting paid for a commute. When did I say I got paid to commute ? Pilots and FAs don’t get paid in between flights nor are they paid for their service to preflight/post flight the airplane.

    I never claimed us to be any kind of hero’s. I am happy to be working but I haven’t seen my family in a month and won’t be able to see them until I can properly self quarantine for 14 days at the start of May. We aren’t the healthcare workers but we do carry them around the country. I’d say most my passengers have been health care workers. In the normal world we do carry you and your families safely from point A to point B with extreme consistency in all kinds of weather and other factors. You don’t have to show appreciation but you do not have to be a complete jerk. But I take no offense. Just trying to make people better understand the false perceptions they have of airline workers. We are a very hard working group of people just like you and very few are paid as handsomely as the world perceives. And trust me , commuting is hardly by choice but I can see some people points. We are lucky it’s even an option.

  15. DFW-HKG is normally one of the hardest routes to get upgraded on. I have regularly seen the rev upgrade list be over 60 people, not including nonrevs. DFW-MIA is much easier in comparison to get upgraded.

  16. @Andrew, why is this the hill you are choosing to die on? You know it’s not as black and white as you make it so just shut up and move on.

  17. I agree with comment from Andrew. When American relocated its headquarters from NYC to DFW (1,000 employees) we had to chose move to DFW, find other employment in NYC area or commute.

  18. Finally! I was on a flight a couple weeks ago when things were really starting to heat up. There was only 5/12 first seats assigned on an E-175. The four single seats were taken, and I was in 3F, maximizing my distance from others. ~10 seats were taken in coach. The gate agent proceeded to put ALL 7 non-revs in first, filling the cabin. I gave my seat up, had the agent put me in row 10, blocking the other seats in the row. I was furious.

  19. I have always taken a row in the back when non-revving and asked to be taken off the upgrade list. Agreed in these times, commuting staff should assist with social distancing.

  20. @Ryan: You choose to commute. You don’t have to. You can move to your base, which is what people who are not in the airline business do when they are transferred. Happens ALL the time.

    As to the subject of this story, my wife is an AA flight attendant. She non-revved from the West Coast to PHL round-trip yesterday after this policy was announced.

    The agents placed her in first class both ways. On the outbound, she was the only one in F. On the return, there were two other non-revs. No revenue passengers in first.

    The policy does say that non-revs can fly in F if provided for in their contract.

  21. I was on an AA flight today SFO to DFW and there were a total of 10 on board. I was the only person confirmed in First. There were no upgrades on the list – I board and the gate agent moved 8 passengers to First class – yes you read right -8! I had seat 4A and I was surrounded by people in 2A (non rev against the current AA social distancing policy internal memo), 2 D,F, 3A,C, D,F, myself in 4A plus someone next to me in 4C

    What this gate agent was doing at SFO is beyond me but he obviously has not been trained properly. Being the only confirmed passenger in First I told the flight attendants I’m moving to Economy. The gentlemen’s kids were running around first with their tongues out and everything.

    I joined the other passenger in the empty economy cabin on the A321.

    It ridiculous that AA gate agents are putting peoples lives in danger and putting non revs in First.

    The response from AA – a canned response :

    “ Safety and well-being of our customers and our crew are our top priority. To encourage social distancing, we’ve relaxed our seating policy. We’re truly sorry to hear you aren’t happy with the experience you had on this flight. ”

  22. It’s curious how they aren’t allowing this to happen if crew or employees are paxing however on a narrow bodied aircraft the cabin crew are sitting next to each other for take offs and landing which can be as long as 30-45 minutes in some circumstances

  23. @Robert, yes I can confirm as an AA non-rever that DFW-HKG is near impossible for biz or first. The first two months of the route was wide open but ever since it is a packed revenue premium route. MIA is 50/50 but in general, yes, international I almost always get premium…probably 85% of the time. LAX domestic….never!

    But sometimes something odd happens and it’s a delight. Last summer returning from MAD a mechanical cancelled flight. Most rev pax were re-routed via other cities or on BA. We used hotel points stayed an extra night and laid at pool. Then took the reposition flight the next day with 10 pax on a 772. Lovely.

  24. Why are there so many tw*ts in the comment section?! Elitist pricks picking on frontline workers. Wonderful. Go *uck yourselves.

  25. Thank you, David. I was just thinking the same thing.

    This website attracts the worse type of people. Twats indeed!…but then are some of us really surprised, based upon……….

    The comment section is always full of vile vile comments.

  26. Goes to show you how much American Airlines treat and care for their hard working employees. You take away the flight benefits, half of your employees will quit. Not worth the mental and physical stress for mediocre pay.

  27. Andrew, you are clueless. You remind me of the type of passenger who wants a first class ticket for $300 and when they do get a great deal they complain about the quality of the champagne. I have moved 13 times during my military and airline career. Moving is very hard on families and is not as “easy” as you make it out to be. Don’t be a jerk.

  28. I feel sorry for the people with the vile comments because their lives are so miserable and they had to resort to putting other people down. The entitlement of wanting all FC to themselves without the non revs, boo hoo. These people are probably some angry old fat ass with their belly hanging out.

  29. @Ryan-thank you for the explanation on why you wouldn’t just move. To be honest, I had always wondered why so many did commute and didn’t understand all the moves required. Not saying I was as black and white as @Andrew but did wonder.

    Thank you.

  30. You were furious, Sel, D. But you CHOSE to fly? What did you expect? What kind of entitled BULLSHIT is that? You were rightly moved to main cabin, if that is what your fare class was.

  31. All I want is to get on one of your flights. As an OAL (fly for CX), I don’t care where you put me. Domestic or short international only though.

  32. As of 5 June, this policy isn’t being followed. 4 non-rev pax were brought forward to F this morning on my flight to fill empty seats. They weren’t on the upgrade list.

  33. Question: My family wants to take a flight from DFW to DEN on June 22, 2020. Currently, the flight is 89% booked. I’ve heard that AA is not seating non-revs when flight is 85% booked or more. How’s that working out for people? Can we trust the jetnet numbers? Is it easy or possible to nonrev these days? (I thought the flights would be really empty!)

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