What is a Standby Flight?

Published July 22, 2023

A “standby flight” refers to a seat that you take on a flight for which you don’t have a confirmed ticket. Instead, you’re waiting for a potential open seat due to a last-minute cancellation or no-show.

Why you might opt for flying standby:

man with woman check in counter airport standby discussion
  1. You’re early: If you arrive at the airport way ahead of your scheduled flight, you can request to be put on standby for an earlier flight.
  2. You’ve missed your flight: If you’ve missed your flight, the airline might put you on standby for the next one.
  3. Flight cancellations or overbookings: If your flight is cancelled or overbooked, you may be given the option to fly standby on another flight.
  4. Employee travel: Often airline employees or their family members travel standby, occupying any unclaimed seats.

Is flying standby cheap?

Back in the day, you used to be able to show up to the airport last minute and buy a cheap tickets if the planes had empty seats.

Unfortunately, those days are largely gone. Now, airlines usually charge above average prices for last minute tickets.

Today, most airlines offer standby options primarily for changes to already purchased tickets on the same day of your travel.

This means that if you already have a ticket and wish to take an earlier or later flight on the same day, you can request to fly standby on that flight instead.

Keep in mind that for most people, flying standby nowadays is less about getting a cheaper ticket and more about flexibility. It’s a great option if your plans are fluid or if you missed a connecting flight and need to get home.

Are there fees for flying standby?

There may be a fee associated with flying standby, and it’s usually around $75 for most airlines that charge one.

The fees are often waived for first/business class travelers, elite frequent flies, and military members. It is also usually waived if you missed your connection due to airline fault and they are rebooking you.

That leads us to the next big question:

What are the chances of getting on a standby flight?

airport line of people with bags

There is no exact mathematical probability for this. Your likelihood of snagging a standby seat depends on:

  1. The flight’s capacity: If a flight isn’t full, the odds of getting a standby seat increase.
  2. Standby hierarchy: Airlines usually follow a pecking order when distributing standby seats. Frequent flyers, business class passengers, elite points members, and airline employees often receive priority. Besides that, it’s generally a first come, first serve situation.
  3. Time of year: Securing a standby seat can be harder during peak travel seasons when flights tend to be at full capacity.

Now that we’ve unraveled what standby flights are and the facts that impact your chances, let’s dive into how you can best navigate this process:

The Best Chance

  1. Check the airline’s standby policy: Each airline has different rules. Some may allow you to list yourself for standby online or via their app, others might require you to call or make the request at the ticket counter.
  2. Arrive early: The early bird gets the worm, and in this case, possibly a standby seat. Arriving early can increase your chances.
  3. Pack light: If you’re on standby, you’re likely to be one of the last to board, meaning overhead storage may be limited. Packing light can make your transition onto the plane smoother.
  4. Keep your cool: Navigating standby status can be stressful, but remember that the airline employees are doing their best. A polite and patient demeanor can go a long way!

So, what is a standby flight?

It’s a potential opportunity to grab an earlier flight or maybe even rescue a missed flight.

However, it requires flexibility, patience, and a good understanding of the process.

If your plans are flexible and you want to arrive at your destination early, or if you missed a flight and need to get home as soon as possible, a standby flight can be a good option for you to discuss with your airline.

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