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How to Fly Standby
Rules and tips to maximize your standby chances
Here you'll learn:
- General rules for how to fly standby—plus the secrets of maximizing your chances of getting on a standby flight,
- Not only last-minute standby, but also about another way to change your flight on the same day—by paying a fee for early confirmation, and
- Standby rules of major airlines.
Two ways to change your flight the same day—
- Flying standby with confirmation at the airport
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 in your fare class.
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.
- Paying a fee for early confirmation
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 in your fare class.
With this option, the airline confirms you immediately if a seat is available.
In not, in most cases you can still stand by at the airport.
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Flying standby with confirmation at the airport
Here you'll find:
- Standby tips for maximizing your chances,
- Typical rules for standby,
- Your chances of success.
Standby tips for maximizing your chances
If your airline allows you to stand by at the airport, use these tips:
Here's what you should do before you get to the airport:
- Pack lightly and don’t plan to check any luggage. This gives you a better chance of getting on the flight.
The way this works is that the airline's decision about which standby passenger/s will get on the plane is usually made at the last minute. Very often, there is not time to transfer your checked bags to your standby flight. Thus, those without checked luggage are given priority.
- Plan to stand by for earlier flights only. This way, if you fail to get on, you can always use your confirmed reservation. (You won't lose your confirmed booking until you've been told you can board the standby flight.)
- Check online for empty seats, but do this only on your airline’s website. Don't check for this info on Priceline, Travelocity, and other third-party vendors, because they usually don’t have access to last-minute availability of flights within several hours of departure.
Online, input your origin, destination, and date, and then check if multiple seats (lets say 4 or 5) are available on your desired flight. Do not complete the booking.
Or, call the airline. Your airline will tell you if the flights you want are fully booked or overbooked (have more reservations than seats). If either, ask the airline to suggest alternatives.
- If you’re traveling via a connecting airport, be sure there are lots of alternatives for your connecting standby flight.
Connecting hubs at Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Denver, Houston, New York/JFK, Toronto, and Dallas are often great places to stand by because they usually offer a number of flights to each destination.
- Leave for the airport as early as you can before the flight you want to stand by for. The sooner you're on the standby list the better your chances.
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. Departure time is a stressful period for gate agents, and they may accidentally overlook you. As always, practice patience with these pressured agents.
At some airports, you'll see a screen in the gate area that displays the abbreviated names of those on the standby list who have now received confirmed seats and those who are still waiting.
Typical rules for last-minute standby
Standby flight rules vary by airline, but here are some typical ones if you want to stand by at the last-minute for a lower fee:
- You must stand by for flights on the same airline (or sometimes its partner).
- You must stand by on the same dates as your reserved flights (with very few exceptions).
- You must travel between the same origin and destination.
- You must travel either via the same connection point as on your ticket, or in most cases also nonstop between your origin and destination even if you were originally booked via a connecting airport.
How to register for last-minute confirmation standby
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 shows 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 of success
Your chances are usually good, if you check ahead with your airline as suggested above in "Standby tips for maximizing your success."
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 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.
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Paying a fee for early confirmation
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.
If your airline cannot or does not confirm you until you reach the airport, please refer to "Standby tips for maximizing your chances" above. Many of these tips will apply to you.
See "Standby policies of major airlines" below for specific rules.
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Standby policies of major airlines
All policies on this page are subject to change. Please reconfirm prior to travel.
Please see -
Air Canada same day airport standby (Canada)
Air Canada same day airport standby (U.S. destinations)
Air Canada same day airport standby (Sun destinations)
Air Canada Rapidair standby (services between Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto)
AirTran same day flight changes
Note! These standby policies are NOT the same rules as used in AirTran's young adult standby. For those, see -
AirTran standby for ages 18 through 22
Alaska Airlines same day flight changes
American Airlines same-day flight changes
American Airlines confirmed flight change
Delta same day travel changes
At $50, Delta charges less than most airlines.
On the other hand, Delta does not allow confirmed same day changes more than 3 hours prior to the proposed new flight. As a result, be sure to read how to maximize your changes for last-minute standby above.
Frontier Airlines same-day flight changes
Read carefully -
JetBlue standby travel
United Airlines same-day flight changes
In my opinion, United used to have the best system for free standby. The ability to change plans for no charge, if for example when a meeting ended early, was an attractive but no longer available reason to use United.
US Airways "MoveUP" basics, and
US Airways "MoveUP" policies
Not surprisingly, Southwest marches to a different drummer.
Southwest Airlines standby rules
Virgin America same day changes
(See page 15)
Westjet flight changes
Westjet changes are subject to fare increases, but you may not be otherwise charged a penalty depending on time of change.
Now that you know how to fly standby, have a great trip!
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