Have you ever thought of taking an impromptu trip to wherever your feet lead you? Once upon a time in the history of flying, you could show up at the airport without a ticket. If you felt like going on a trip, you could book one on the spot and hop on a plane to the destination of your choice. This concept was called “flying standby” and was one way for travelers to save money on airfare while unlocking their more spontaneous, adventurous sides.
What Does It Mean to Fly Standby?
Flying standby was the concept of arriving at the airport without a ticket and buying one spontaneously to any destination of your choice. Back then, it was a way to save money on airfare, especially if you had a flexible schedule and didn’t mind flying anywhere.
Since the 9/11 tragedy, however, you can no longer show up at the airport without holding a pre-purchased ticket. If you try to show up spontaneously at the airport without an airplane, hoping to snag a great deal on that same day, you won’t be able to do that. If you want to pass security, you need to show that you have a ticket on hand.
What Does Flying Stand-by Mean Today?
These days, airlines don’t allow you to hover around the counter in hopes of getting a “stand-by flight” with a few available seats left at a cheaper cost. Flying stand-by still exists, but it is no longer the spontaneous, budget adventure it used to be. These days, if you wait until the very last minute to get a flight, you almost always have to pay a fortune as tickets bought on the same day tend to be more expensive.
Today, flying stand-by is only for the following kinds of passengers:
- Passengers who are involuntarily bumped off from their original flight
- Passengers who want to get on an earlier or later flight on the same day as their original scheduled flight
- Airline employees and their families and eligible companions with special passes that allow them to fly for free (or nearly free)
Flying Standby with the Buddy Pass System
If you’ve got a friend or relative who works for an airline, you may be lucky enough to be able to fly stand–by through the buddy pass system. One of the perks of being an airline employee is receiving several free passes each year that you can share with family and friends. Although you still need to pay taxes and other fees, the buddy passes are a lot cheaper than buying a regular plane ticket.
The buddy pass system varies from one airline to another, however. Nevertheless, one thing remains the same: the stand-by passenger needs to wait until there is an available seat. There are no guarantees, so if you’re asking a favor from a buddy who works at the airline, you’ll need to prepare to spend some time waiting at the airport. You’ll have a better chance if you fly during the off-season or odd hours. Avoid holidays and weekends, and go for early morning or late-night flights.
Buddy pass traveling is always first-come, first-served, so you have to be early if you hope to get the seat you want at the time you want. You’ll also need to have a Plan B in case flying standby doesn’t work out as you hoped it would.
How Much Does It Cost to Fly Standby?
Many people assume that flying stand-by these days is free—or at the very least, affordable—and can help them save a lot of money. That is a misconception as flying stand-by is not the best way to save up on travel costs. It is, however, a lot cheaper than buying a new ticket at full price.
The cost of flying stand-by varies per airline, and it also depends on the flight and your original ticket. Each airline has its own policies and fees where flying standby is concerned. If you fly standby, you will most likely incur a fee between $25 and $100.
In some cases, passengers with economy tickets are not eligible for standby. Other airlines waive stand-by ticket fees for first-class or business passengers. Even if you are using a buddy pass, be prepared to pay taxes and other fees. Check with the airline and read the fine print if you aren’t sure. Before you decide that you want to take a chance with flying standby, it’s best to check ahead of time for these policies and fees, so there are no unpleasant surprises when you get to the airport.
North American Airlines Stand-by Fees and Policies
See below for a breakdown of each airline’s fees and policies regarding stand-by flights. Click on the airline to find out more about their fees and policies.
|Alaska Airlines||Free for certain types of passengers with certain types of tickets (refundable first class, etc.).|
$50 for confirmed flight change which allows passengers to switch flights if there are available seats on their preferred flight (for those who are not eligible to fly stand-by).
|American Airlines||Free depending on the ticket type and travel route.|
$75-150 for same-day confirmed change depending on the destination
|Delta Airlines||Free for some tickets and routes.|
$75 for same-day confirmed change (free for Diamond, Platinum, and Gold Medallion Members).
|Frontier Airlines||Free for Elite level members.|
|Hawaiian Airlines||Free for Pualani Platinum members, Pualani Gold members, and corporate customers who have booked through the corporate web portal.|
|Southwest Airlines||Free depending on the flight and the passenger’s elite status. Other passengers may be required to pay the government taxes and other fees associated with the itinerary changes.|
|Air Canada||Free depending on select routes and passenger’s type of ticket fare.|
|Porter Airlines||$75-$150 depending on the type of fare and type of flight.|
Tips for Flying Standby
- Arrive as early as possible. Flight standby requests are handled on a first-come, first-served basis, so you need to be first in line to get good seats.
- Travel with carry-on luggage only. Some airlines will only let you take a stand-by flight if you have a carry-on. They might even turn down your request if they find out you have already checked your bags. It’s best to travel with carry-on luggage only so you don’t have to worry about your luggage getting delayed or lost.
- Always check the fine print. Some airlines have special conditions before you can fly standby. Read the fine print before getting the ticket if you aren’t sure what those are. Check with the airlines for additional fees and other rules they may have. It’s best to prepare yourself rather than face unpleasant surprises when you get to the airport.
- Head over to the departure gate as early as you can. Be ready to respond when the airline crew calls your name. As this is first-come, first-served, you might lose your chance if you aren’t around when the agent calls your name.
- Be patient and flexible. Sometimes, even if it seems like you won’t be able to get onto a flight, it’s best to wait till the very last minute. Many changes happen just as the gates and airplane doors are about to close, and you might just be able to go after all. Be prepared to wait for a long time (bring a book to read or something else to do). You might also have to do a lot of walking from one gate to another (especially if you are unable to ride the first time around).
- Join airline loyalty reward programs. When you become part of an airline’s reward programs, like Delta Skymiles, you gain status, which helps bump you up the standby list. You can also use the airline’s lounge and relax while waiting for your stand-by flight.