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The Ins and Outs of Flying Standby

Written by Chris Osburn

This blog post was updated on August 17, 2021.

Your bags are all packed and you’re itching to get on the plane for your vacation to begin. Wouldn’t an earlier flight be nice? Or even an upgrade to a better class? Or perhaps you’re looking for a shorter journey than the one you booked. Here’s where flying standby could work in your favor!

Are You Eligible?

It’s not as simple as the old days where you’d just show up at the airport hoping for a last-minute seat on the plane. Now you’ll need to fall into one of two categories:

1) You have a connection to the airline (i.e. you are a family member or friend of an attendant or pilot). In this case, you won’t necessarily need to purchase a ticket. You would just need to go to the airport and fly on a “buddy pass”, only meant for leisure trips where the ticket price is based on the distance traveled. The odds of an upgrade to business class are better than those of customers with elite status!

2) You have a purchased ticket but are available to travel earlier or later than your ticketed itinerary. This would apply to anyone hoping to catch an earlier connection, offering to take a later flight when one is overbooked, a missed connection, or a shorter connection time. If you buy a ticket with the intention of flying standby, be sure to purchase the cheapest one for the destination you intend to visit.

And remember: solo customers who take part in the airline’s loyalty program are the most likely to benefit from flying standby.

Check the Airline’s Standby Policies

Before you fly, check your options. Each airline will have a different policy, so when you book your ticket, read up on what they allow. It’s also good to check flights you have the intention of taking so that you’re aware of schedules, how quickly they sell-out, or the price they’re selling for.

The Cost

Typically there will be a fee in the $50-$200 range to fly standby. On some airlines, if you have preferred status you won’t have to pay (or can pay with miles). Check before you go, as certain airlines don’t offer standby. However, they might change the ticket based on availability for a minimal fee.

Travel Light

The last thing you need is to struggle with heavy or large baggage when you’re trying to get on a standby flight! When possible, travel with a carry-on rather than a bag you need to check-in. This makes it easy to hop on at a moment’s notice but also decreases the risk of you losing your luggage. Also, note that some airlines don’t allow standby with checked luggage.

You may also like: The Art of Flying First Class Without Breaking the Bank

Be Flexible

As soon as you arrive at the airport, inform a ticketing agent immediately. There’s no need to arrive incredibly early because most booking decisions can only be made closer to boarding time. The requests are handled in the order in which they are received (unless you have preferred airline status, which would bump you up!), so you’ll want to be the first on their list. Then, remain at the gate even after the flight has finished boarding, so that you can respond when the gate agent calls your name. If you’re not there, you run the risk of losing your spot and potentially being on standby for days (or until the airline can rebook you!). This means, if you’re headed on vacation, wait to book accommodation or car rental until the very last minute. Avoid flying standby if you need to be in a specific destination at a certain time!

Where and When to Fly

Booking cheap flights won’t guarantee you to fly standby: the key factor here is your destination. You’ll have more luck flying standby on domestic flights as people are more likely to show up for an international one. That said, overseas flights are less likely to sell out, especially in low season. Choose weekdays and pick the earliest flight. Avoid high seasons, long weekends, and holidays. Ans if you need to travel on a holiday, fly on the holiday itself to improve your chances.

Got any tips on or stories about flying standby? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the author

Chris Osburn

Chris Osburn is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant, and curator and the driving force behind the long running and award winning blog, Originally from the American Deep South, Chris has lived and worked all over the world and has called London home since 2001.