So you fancy yourself a nomad? Looking to jet set around the world and spread yourself wafer thin across the five continents? Looking to plant your wild oats in far-flung fields? Great! I applaud you.
Your new life will involve a lot of flying, and as any frequent flyer, you should find yourself an airline patron.
What is an airline patron?
An airline patron is someone working for an airline that provides their employees with non-revenue travel passes transferable to friends and family. Most airlines do this. These non-rev passes are the travel equivalence of the golden Willy Wonka tickets. They open the door to the fantastical world of stand-by travel.
There is no point in having the freedom to travel if you can’t afford to do it.
If you already have a job that earns you a steady income whilst being geographically unbound, congratulations. However, if you –like me– are looking to build such a career en route, then you will have to travel cheaply for a while.
Cheap travel usually means busses, but trans-Atlantic busses are hard to come by, and sometimes you just want to fly. You are a modern nomad after all.
With an airline patron, you pay a heavily reduced price, around a tenth of the standard fare. You can also be upgraded to first class on certain routes if there is space. There is no better feeling than to sip champagne, look at your fellow first class passengers and know that you paid a tenth of the coach price.
Airline patrons work in the travel business. They know all the tricks. They have access to all the inside information. They know which airports have the grumpiest border control police, they know where the free Wi-Fi is located and they know the risk of your flight becoming ground-locked by that storm the news are talking about.
This experience and un-Googleable (it should be a word) information is priceless to any frequent flyer.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Think — freedom. You are free to go wherever you want, whenever you want.
Well, you would, if you could afford to buy last-minute tickets all the time. But ticket prices skyrocket the closer you get to the departure date, and flexible tickets are expensive. So you end up buying tickets months in advance, with fixed return dates. Where is your freedom now?
Enter stage right, your airline patron! With him at your side, you can book a flight as late as the date of departure. If you change your mind, no worries! Unbook it at no cost whatsoever. Want to change the destination? Sure, whatever you want; the world is your oyster!
Stand-by flights are cheap and flexible, but they come with the risk of not having a guaranteed seat on the plane. As a non-revenue stand-by passenger, you only find out if you will get on the plane when you are at the airport. Your airline patron can tell you if the plane is heavily or lightly booked, and if there are plenty of open seats then you shouldn’t have any problems, but there is always the risk. Even good flights can fill up quickly if bad weather forces the airlines to cancel a few flights. The airline will then prioritize the revenue passengers, and you can end up waiting a long time at the airport.
The worst example I’ve seen of this was when I flew to New York from London. There had been several cancelled flights, and the backlog of passengers was so bad that the stand-by passengers had waited for five days at the airport. I was in luck; the backlog cleared the day I arrived and I caught the fourth and final flight.
This uncertainty sounds terrible, but for a nomad it isn’t so bad. Waiting a day at the airport doesn’t eat away at our precious holiday days. We don’t have holiday days. What does it matter if we arrive a day late? We are in no hurry. We can drink some airport coffee, pay for the Wi-Fi and make a working day out of it.
How to find your airline patron
Ask around. Maybe a distant relative or a friend of a friend works for an airline. Buy them dinner; get them drunk; beg on your bare knees; start a blog. Hopefully, your prospective patron works in the travel industry because he is passionate about travel, and your decision to become nomad is perhaps something he’d want to support.
Finally, I am always looking for new patrons. I’m especially looking for a British Airways patron. If you work for an airline and would like to support the endeavours of a modern nomad, please contact me.