In this comprehensive guide you'll learn:
Most U.S. airlines allow you to stand by at the airport with last-minute confirmation—that is, take another flight the same day on the same airline, provided they have a seat available.
Generally, you will already have a reservation for a confirmed flight (which you will hold in case you are unable to get on your standby flight).
When you fly standby at an airport, you almost always find out whether or not you can get on at the last minute.
Until recently, this option was usually free. Now, expect to pay a fee, unless you are traveling with a full fare ticket or have elite status in a frequent flyer program.
Most airlines offer you the additional or alternative option of changing your confirmation to another flight on the same day for a fee, which is usually $50–75.00. Again, there must be a seat available.
With this option, the airline confirms you immediately if it can.
If not, in most cases you can still stand by at the airport.
Here you'll find:
Before you get to the airport –
What you should do after you reach the airport –
Don’t leave the gate.
If you are not there to hear your name called, someone else may get your seat. (If you have to leave the gate for any reason, ask the agent if you can be out of touch for a moment.)
If you don’t hear your name as departure time approaches, reconfirm that you’re on the list.
Some airlines display a screen in the gate area that has the abbreviated names of those on the standby list that have now received confirmed seats and those who are still waiting.
Standby rules vary by airline, but here are some typical ones if you want to stand by at the last-minute –
There are several ways to register for standby. The sooner you’re on the list, the better your chances.
With United Airlines, for example, you can go online to check in and print your boarding pass up to 24 hours prior to your current reservation. At that time, United may show you a selection of flights available for standby.
If you don't have the information needed to check in online, call United reservations for your reservation number ("record locator") and then go online.
If you are not traveling with United or don’t have online access, register for standby at the check-in counter or, if available, faster through an easy, computerized check-in kiosk.
Note that you will need a boarding pass for your original confirmed flight to go through security.
If you've already passed through security and decide you want to try for an earlier flight, go immediately to the appropriate gate and ask to be put on the standby list. Or, if the flight's gate agents are not at the gate yet, ask any other gate agent of your airline who is not busy or go to any one of its customer service desks.
Your chances are usually good, if you check ahead with your airline as suggested above.
I frequently get on standby flights, which is why I will at times book a cheaper reservation later in day than I prefer to travel.
However, your success in getting on standby flights is affected by various factors, such as weather, season, day of the week, and the number of people traveling with you.
Dramatic weather conditions anywhere can affect you; for example, a blizzard in Chicago may cause passengers who were to connect in Chicago to seek alternative routes, including possibly your intended standby flight departing sunny Houston.
Specific days matter, too. You are less likely to succeed on standby on the first and last days of major school holidays. And getting out of Orlando or Las Vegas on any Sunday can be tough.
The obvious advantage of paying a fee for early confirmation is that, if a seat is available in your class, you won't have to wait until the last moment to be confirmed. This gives peace of mind.
However, note that if a seat does not open up in your fare class until the last moment, you will not be confirmed until then. In any case, you will not be charged until you are confirmed.
For specific rules, see below.
All policies on this page are subject to change. Please reconfirm prior to travel.
Also see --
Not surprisingly, Southwest marches to a different drummer.
Now that you know how use standby flights, have a great trip!