My current employer expects that any time spent traveling to a customer site is not billable and I will either work on the airplane or take PTO - even if I am flying five hours across the country.

While travel time may not be billable to the customer, it is still time spent performing a duty for my employer. At previous jobs, I logged travel time to the customer, but nonbillable. It counted toward my 40+ hours per week of time worked.

Current employer demands that if I fly out on Monday morning and back on Friday morning, that I do one of the following:

  • Work over eight hours during the week to make up for the time spent on travel.
  • Work on the airplane (not feasible for short flights with little time over 10k feet)
  • Take my own PTO while traveling on company business.

I feel that this policy is morally wrong: if I am traveling to a customer site, that is time I am spending for my employer. How can I work around this policy without taking PTO, working more than eight hours during the week, or not napping on the airplane? What options do I have?

I am FLSA exempt.

  • 8
    This is highly unusual and possibly illegal. Where are you located? I would consider consulting a lawyer.
    – David K
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:02
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    @DavidK I agree, but requests for legal advice are off-topic.
    – user16626
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:12
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    In the US, what your employer is doing is illegal. smallbusiness.chron.com/…
    – HLGEM
    Oct 7, 2016 at 21:05
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    @HLGEM OP is almost certainly exempt. If you are, can you edit that in Snowman?
    – Lilienthal
    Oct 7, 2016 at 21:13
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    "Current employer demands that if I fly out on Monday morning and back on Friday morning, that I do one of the following: Work over eight hours during the week to make up for the time spent on travel." This is ridiculous! They're the ones who made you travel... If anything, all things being equal, they should be giving you time in lieu for the lost personal hours (though I can appreciate that if this travel is a core part of your job, your contract probably stipulates it as "normal operation"). Oct 8, 2016 at 13:19

5 Answers 5


It's almost certainly illegal to make you take your time spent travelling for work out of PTO. Doing anything necessary for work is work.

On the other hand, since you are being paid for the time on the flight, it's reasonable that your boss directs what you do, which includes working on the plane - as far as is practical. So instead of reading a magazine, or watching the inflight movie, do some work. That's as much as can be asked of you.

It isn't always possible to do much work. Flights are short, there is checkin, checkout,safety briefings etc. If you can work you should - but the entire time spent travelling is nonetheless 'work' for the point of view of being paid.

Incidentally, be aware of confidentiality issues. You probably shouldn't read confidential documents with someone sitting right next to you.

And finally, I'm assuming your boss is not in this flight with you, so it's not like he can check exactly what you are doing. Something easy like reading meeting notes counts as work.

  • 2
    Spot on, is this. Oct 8, 2016 at 13:20
  • Other things that would normally count as work are planning activities (e.g. figure out how many confidential documents you are going to review when you get to your hotel room or who needs to be called regarding an upcoming meeting), converting handwritten case notes into a database, translating documentation, and re-reading that memo you wrote yesterday to make sure it still sounds professional. Sep 13, 2017 at 23:13
  • I'm confused by this. I traveled across the country and stayed there for 2 weeks for work. We worked on the plane, but time spent sitting in the airport, switching flights, etc. were not considered billable. Likewise, time spent at the hotel chilling or sightseeing was also not considered billable. If I am on an airplane watching a movie, listening to music, or sleeping, why would my employer need to accept that as billable time? I agree it's inconvenient, but I wonder why so many people are question the legality of it.
    – ribs2spare
    Mar 12, 2020 at 17:43
  • "billable" implies to me that you are a contractor. Rules are almost certainly different for a contractor. What I wrote applied to an employee. Mar 12, 2020 at 18:19

I would tell the boss that this is unreasonable and I won't be doing it. 5 hours travel for the company is 5 hours out of my time. I'm not going to make it up later.

No difference if they have me at work for 5 hours, if I'm not free to do whatever I please, then it's not my time.

In terms of working on the flight, I'd take something to read and maybe draft up emails but that's about it, unless I'm in first class I'm unlikely to be in a comfortable environment to work in and as far as I'm concerned that would be multi-tasking anyway since I'm already at work sitting down in an airplane seat. I do spend time preparing for the job I'm heading towards, but I'm pretty much focused just on that, not any other work.

When it comes to monkey games with either my working hours or money I don't engage in argument with bosses. Both of these are big deals to me, so I tell them my needs and if they still want to play games I job hunt.


I would suggest working on the airplane. Even if you only get 5 minutes to work you are complying with their request. If they are treating it as work hours then you should as well. Make a reasonable effort to be as productive as the situation allows. They would not be okay with you napping on company time in the office, it is perfectly reasonable for them to not be okay with you napping during company time elsewhere.

  • I normally do, despite the lack of space or comfort. I was hoping there would be an alternative.
    – user16626
    Oct 7, 2016 at 20:14
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    @Snowman: The "lack of space or comfort" will just mean you get less work done, or possibly do not work at all at some times because it is not practical. E.g. "During the evening flight, the seat in front of me was reclined, meaning I could not open my laptop. I used the time to make some notes on the project state, but more work was not possible." I don't see how your boss could object.
    – sleske
    Oct 8, 2016 at 11:57

Taking your own PTO for employee business sounds unusual and possibly illegal. Working on the plane is an acceptable alternative, however I would ensure that when doing this you are logging work-time accurately so as to not get in trouble.

Discuss with your manager about the industry standards in this situation and state that the company deviates from norms. Perhaps that might get them to apply this policy less harshly?


For an exempt not fair.

You are the one on the road, in front of the customer, pulling in the billable hours.

Even if you work on the plane you still have check in, board, un-board, and travel to the site.

As an exempt working for Shell Oil the expectation was travel on you own time. Monday meeting or class would start at 8 AM and end at 5 PM. But we would only train 1-2 weeks a year. And the only people going to a lot of meeting were senior level managers good money.

As an exempt performing on site billable services I did not mind catching the 6 AM first flight out for a long day and only billing 8. There was not much of my work at the time that could be done on the plane. Or for a long flight leaving at lunch and getting home after dinner.

As a contractor they could do that I just would not take any jobs that were more than a 2 hour flight. Which is 3-4 hours with check-in and getting to the work site. I would take a taxi to save car rental time. I would get a hotel next to the business so my week day commute was 10 minutes. So I would work 5, 10, 10, 10, 5 for 40. There is not that much to do when you are not at home anyway.

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