I was recently in a Delta flight where there were two off-duty, but in-uniform pilots flying along with the passengers. One of the pilots sat in the First Class section of the airplane and the other sat in the Economy section. After the seatbelt sign came off, the pilot in the Economy section moved up to the First Class where there was apparently an empty seat.

This led me to wonder: what privileges do off-duty pilots have in-flight?

I am limiting this to only US to keep it from being "Too Broad".

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If they were in the back in uniform, they may not have been off-duty, but simply deadheading. This is assigned travel to get into position for later flying (either that day or the next), or back to base after they finished flying someplace else. That's still on-duty, but just riding in the back. There are other alternatives as well, but deadheading is an obvious possibility there. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @RalphJ True, but I was meaning "off-duty" as in "not flying the plane". $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ Does "not flying the plane" inclde another set of crew required on flight longer than 8 hours? $\endgroup$
    – vasin1987
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @vasin1987 It was only a 2 hour domestic flight. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @vasin1987, the relief crew on long flights is accommodated in crew rest area, which long-range aircraft have, not in the passenger cabin. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


This is airline specific, so there's no single true answer: but I'll give an overview of what's "normal practice" for many airlines:

Airline staff will typically be bumped to First/Business class when there are available seats, although they're not usually top of the list.

In a typical airline, frequent flyers will be bumped first (particularly those with a lot of business class miles but who happen to be travelling economy right now): it's a way of rewarding loyal/frequent customers.

Once the frequent flyers are all moved up, though, the seats will often be filled with staff or contractors. Typically deadheading/on duty staff first (ie those who are flying home from a previous flight that they were working on), followed by off duty staff and their families.

This is airline specific, however - some airlines will bump everyone on the frequent flyer program until Business is full, leaving no space for staff. Others will not move any passengers up (to discourage business class flyers deliberately trying to "game" the system by booking economy on quiet flights knowing that they'll likely be moved up), leaving more space for staff. Some airlines will not bump staff at all, or will only do so for deadheading staff (those who are flying because of work, not for their own holiday etc).

There's a lot of variation on things like whether your family will be bumped with you, or whether only higher-level contractors will be moved up. I used to work for a company which worked with airlines, and typically our directors would be moved up to Business while the lackeys were left in Economy


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