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Flying Standby: Tips and Options for the Modern Traveler

Flying standby has significantly evolved over the years. In the past, travelers could arrive at the airport hours before a flight, without a ticket, and request to be placed on a standby list. If any seats were available after all ticketed passengers had checked in, these seats could be purchased at a significant discount.

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However, changes in the airline industry have led to fuller planes and reduced seat availability. Today, flying standby is considered an “unconfirmed same-day” flight change, meaning you must already have purchased a ticket to be eligible for standby.

How Can You Fly Standby?

There are generally four scenarios where you can fly on standby:

  1. You’re flying with a guest pass or buddy pass from an airline employee. In these cases, you’re responsible for taxes and airport fees.
  2. You’ve booked a ticket but can’t take your original flight, either voluntarily or involuntarily, or want to go earlier or later than scheduled.
  3. You volunteer to be bumped to a later or alternative flight on overbooked flights.
  4. You’re a passenger seeking an upgrade.

The Cost of Flying Standby

Standby is no longer a cheap last-minute flying strategy. Fees can range from $25 to $100 per ticket, depending on the airline. Always check with your airline for the most up-to-date policies.

Standby Priority: How Does It Work? Flying standby

Each airline handles standby requests differently. For example, passengers who paid full fare have priority over those who purchased a discounted ticket. Those with elite status in an airline’s frequent flyer program are often given priority.

Increasing Your Chances of Getting a Standby Flight

Here are some tips to boost your chances of success:

  1. Choose off-peak seasons, times, and holidays. Avoid travel with connecting flights.
  2. Pack lightly and travel alone. Use a carry-on only so you’re ready to go quickly.
  3. Do your homework on your airline’s standby policies and fees.
  4. Be flexible and patient. It pays.
  5. Always get to the gate very early to get on the list — at least three or four hours. Immediately ask a gate agent to place your name on the free same-day standby list.
  6. If your airline offers a standby app — get it. You’ll be able to program a flight change and get updates on the process.
  7. Consider signing up for elite status with your airline. It’ll increase your chances of getting a last-minute seat.
  8. If you’re flying on a buddy pass, you’re effectively representing the airline. Go with business or business casual dress and always be polite.
  9. Expect to pay a fee, unless the ticketed flight was overbooked or delayed. Fees vary for each airline.

Remember to protect your travel investment with travel insurance. It offers coverage for trip cancellation, interruption, and more.

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