How to navigate stand-by flights

Gone are the days of showing up at the airport with a packed suitcase and buying a cheap “stand-by” ticket on whichever flight happens to have empty seats. Flying stand-by still exists, but the definition has changed. Now, it’s a term to describe waiting to see if you can get on a different flight (other than the one you actually booked) on the day of travel. Because let’s face it: No matter how much planning goes into a trip, sometimes you need to make travel changes on the fly, or get to a destination earlier than you anticipated.

When this happens, switching your flight is often the only option. This will either mean opting for a same-day flight change, or same-day stand-by. You can think of going on stand-by as being put on a waiting list, one that gives you the opportunity to change your departure time. Many airlines only offer a stand-by option if you can’t rebook using a same-day flight change.

So, what do you need to know when it comes to going on stand-by and snagging a different flight? We have you covered with our guide to the stand-by policies of 16 airlines across the U.S. and Canada.

United

If you’re booked on a United flight but you need to make a switch on your day of travel, you can start by seeing if you can use their same-day flight change option. The same-day flight change option is available within 24 hours before your originally scheduled flight, and the requested flight has to be departing within 24 hours from the time the request is made. It can include any fare class, although you may have to pay the difference in fare. For non-members, MileagePlus non–Premier members and MileagePlus Premier Silver members the fee for a same-day flight change is $75. There is no charge for MileagePlus Premier Gold or MileagePlus Premier Platinum and MileagePlus Premier 1K members

If there are no seats available in the fare class you originally purchased, you can opt for same-day stand-by. In these cases, the same-day change fee will apply, but you won’t be charged unless you actually get assigned a seat on your alternate flight.

You can request stand-by on the day of departure at an airport kiosk, or with a United representative at the airport. Once you’re added to the flight standby list, you can conveniently check your real-time standby status at united.com/flightstatus or on your mobile device at mobile.united.com/info.

Delta

With Delta, there are two options for making a flight change on your day of travel. The airline offers a same-day confirmed option, and same-day stand-by. Same-day stand-by is only offered if same-day confirmed is not available.

If you’ve tried and failed to change your flight with the same-day confirmed option, you can request a same-day stand-by flight change up to 24 hours before your original departure time. Silver Medallion members, general SkyMiles members and non-members can only fly same-day stand-by for a flight that is earlier than their original flight, whereas Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members can stand by for a flight any time on the same day as their original flight.

No routing changes are allowed when you fly stand-by, meaning you can’t stand by for a flight to Boston if you were originally supposed to fly to Detroit, and stand-by flights have to be on the same day as the original flight. You can use the same-day stand-by option for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Delta and Delta Connection flights, but stand-by isn’t an option on flights to and from Canada.

For Silver Medallion members, general SkyMiles members, and non-members there is a $50 fee, and for Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members that fee is waived.

The same-day confirmed option can be used for travel within the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Delta and Delta Connection® flights. You can request a change up to 24 hours before your original departure time, but your new departure time has to be on the same day as your originally scheduled departure.

American Airlines

Getting a seat on a different flight with America Airlines is an option if same-day flight change is offered for that flight. If same-day flight change isn’t available, the next option is to stand by for an earlier flight with same-day stand-by. The fee for each option is $75 as long as the alternate flight has the same origin and destination, is the same calendar day of departure, and has eligible seats available. You can make same-day flight changes or to set up same-day stand-by online at aa.com, over the phone, at a check-in kiosk, or at a ticket counter.

You can purchase same-day stand-by for eligible flights up to 24 hours before your original flight on aa.com. You’ll keep your original flight reservation until you are confirmed on the earlier flight. Unlike the same-day flight change option, same-day stand-by doesn’t guarantee a seat on a particular flight. If same-day stand-by isn’t available, you can remain on the flight you booked or pay the difference in fare for the flight you want along with any applicable charges for the change.

The stand-by policy applies to travel within and between the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean or Canada on American Airlines, American Eagle® and American Connection®.

Customers who can stand by for free on the day of travel, include AAdvantage® Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Gold, as well as oneworld® alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby members. There is also no stand-by fee for those who purchase tickets in First and Business Class as well as those who purchase unrestricted Economy Class fares (Y class of service), active U.S. Military personnel traveling on orders or personal travel and active U.S. Military dependents traveling on orders.

US Air

US Air allows customers to move up to an earlier flight on their day of departure, which they refer to as MoveUp. The MoveUp fee is $75 for flights within the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada, and $150 for flights to/from Europe, Israel and/or South America. The MoveUp fee is waived for Dividend Miles Preferred and AAdvantage elite status members.

You can use the MoveUp option if the flight you want to switch to is within six hours of your originally scheduled departure, on the same day with the same number of stops, and all flights have open seats (if you have connecting flights). Note that flights that depart after midnight and before 3 a.m. count as the previous day.

If there isn’t an open seat on an earlier US Airways flight that departs within six hours of your originally scheduled departure, you can stand by for a same-day earlier flight at no charge. But unlike a confirmed reservation, flying stand-by doesn’t guarantee you’ll get on the particular flight you want, and you might end up waiting for two or more flights before a seat becomes available.

AirTran

If you’re flying AirTran you have two options for changing to a different flight on your day of travel. Based on availability, you can reserve a confirmed seat on an earlier flight to the same destination for $50 per person per segment. Or, you have the option to stand by for another flight to the same destination at no charge. These options are only available at the airport on your departure date.

Alaska Airlines

If you need to, and there are seats available, you can get a confirmed seat for a same-day flight change with Alaska Airlines for $25. You can request an alternate flight up to six hours before the new flight you want to take.

To qualify for the $25 same day confirmed change you need to have confirmed reservations and tickets for flights operated by Alaska Airlines. The routing needs to be the same, and the new flight you want to take has to depart on the same day as your originally scheduled flight.

There is no same-day flight change fee if you’re booked in F, D, A (First) and Y, Z (Coach) classes of service, or you have refundable Coach (Y) or Refundable First Class (F) tickets.

If a seat can’t be confirmed on the new flight you want to take, you can request free same day stand-by. You can also request stand-by if you’re booked on nonstop flights between Seattle and Portland, or Seattle and Spokane. You won’t know if there will be a seat available for same day stand-by travel until 30 minutes before departure, so make sure you’re in the boarding area when your name is called.

Allegiant Air

Since most of Allegiant’s routes are only flown a couple of times per week, it’s extremely rare that their schedule ever has a route being operated more than once in the same day. For this reason, the airline doesn’t have a same day stand-by system for paying passengers.

Frontier

Frontier offers two options for same-day flight changes: stand-by travel and same-day confirmed alternate flight changes.

If you’re traveling on a Classic Plus ticket, or you’re an *Ascent and Summit level member of EarlyReturns® traveling on any fare, you’re eligible to stand by for an earlier or later flight on your day of travel for no fee. Economy ticket-holders are out of luck when it comes to stand-by travel. If you are eligible for stand-by travel, you can request to fly stand-by on another flight on your day of travel at the airport ticket counter or applicable gate.

Keep in mind that when you request to fly stand-by, you need to follow the original ticketed itinerary, meaning if you were booked on a nonstop flight you can’t add a connection to the itinerary or vice versa.

In addition to the option to stand-by for an earlier or later flight, you have the option of same-day confirmed flight changes. If you want or need to change to an earlier or later flight on your day of travel, Frontier can confirm a seat for you for a flat fee as long as there are seats available. You can confirm a seat on another flight at the airport ticket counter or by calling Frontier Reservations at 800-432-1FLY (1359). The non-refundable fee for sam- day confirmed alternate flight changes varies based on the fare option you purchased.

Hawaiian Airlines

Depending on the fare you purchased with Hawaiian Airlines, you have the option of standing by for an earlier flight at no cost at the airport, but only if you’re traveling to a neighbor island. Hawaiian Airlines Pualani Platinum members, Pualani Gold members, customers who have purchased Hawaiian Coach Plus fares and corporate customers who have booked their ticket through the corporate web portal or the corporate desk are all eligible to stand by for an earlier flight on the same route and day of departure, as long as they have an existing reservation. Customers who purchased a ticket in booking class O and those who purchased the Interisland Web special fares “OWEB” and “OXOWEB” are not eligible for same-day stand-by.

In order to stand by for an earlier flight, start by checking in for your scheduled flight either online or at the airport kiosks. After checking in, but before security, let an agent at a service podium know you want to stand by for a different flight. Do this at least 30 minutes before the departure of the new flight you want to take, and have the flight number for your desired departure with you to give to the agent.

The agent at the airport will keep your original confirmed reservation intact, but will add your name on a standby basis to the flight you’re hoping to take.

JetBlue

In order to travel stand-by with JetBlue, you have to have already purchased a seat on one of their flights. There is no additional charge for this option, but stand-by travel is based on seat availability and isn’t guaranteed.

You can request to fly stand-by one flight prior to your confirmed scheduled departure, but you need to do it at the airport – you can’t stand by over the phone. When you choose stand-by you also have to travel between the same city pairs (i.e. you can be confirmed on a nonstop and travel standby on a connecting flight or vice versa as long as the origin and destination cities remain the same).

If you have an Even More® Space seat and choose to travel stand-by, you’ll unfortunately forfeit the seat fee and not be eligible for a refund.

JetBlue also offers a same day change for $50. This option would confirm you on the flight of choice and can be requested at the airport or by calling 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583). There would need to be availability on the flight selected, but there would be no increase in fare.

Southwest

For Southwest customers, stand-by travel depends on the fare that was purchased. For Business Select fares stand-by travel between the same city pairs and on the original date of travel is permitted with no change in fare, but you might lose the privilege of boarding in the first portion of the “A” group.

For Anytime fares, stand-by travel between the same city pairs and on the original date of travel is permitted with no change in fare.

For Wanna Get Away, Senior, and DING! Fares stand-by travel is permitted but requires you to pay the difference between the original fare and the “Anytime” fare.

Spirit

Spirit offers flight modifications for a charge, including same-day stand-by for an earlier flight. Either call the airline reservations desk, or ask about making a flight change and any applicable fees at a Spirit check-in desk.

Virgin America

Early or late for your flight with Virgin America? You have two options: You can purchase a confirmed seat on another flight, or travel on a stand-by basis, which is free. To travel on stand-by, simply let the person you speak with at check-in know that you want to fly stand-by and they’ll issue you a stand-by boarding pass. Once you go through security and onto your departure gate your name will appear on the flight screen list. If there’s a seat available, a Virgin America teammate will issue you a confirmed boarding pass to board the flight.

If there are no seats available, a Virgin America teammate at the departure gate can reissue you another boarding pass for the next flight.

Note that you can only make a stand-by request at the airport on the day of the departure of the originally ticketed flight, and you can only travel stand-by on the first flight prior to or after your original flight. Stand-by seats are subject to availability on a first-come, first-served basis, and travel needs to be between the originally scheduled origin and destination and through the same airports.

WestJet

If you need to take a flight that is earlier or later than the one you originally booked with WestJet, you can make a same-day airport change. This refers to taking a flight that leaves before the originally scheduled flight or taking a later flight after a flight has been missed. Same-day airport changes are available upon request for flights departing on the same day to the same destination, but only if space is available and your flight qualifies. If you need to take a later flight because you missed the one you were originally scheduled for, WestJet requires that you notify them within two hours of the missed flight. The best way to make a same-day airport change is to make your request at the airport at a WestJet desk, or call WestJet at 1-888-937-8538 (1-888-WESTJET).

Air Canada

Air Canada’s same-day airport stand-by option allows customers flying on certain fares to stand by for an earlier flight on their day of departure. This option is subject to availability, and not available if you’ve already checked your bags.

If you’re flying within Canada, same-day airport stand-by is available for all fares except Tango. For Flex, Premium Economy (lowest) and Business Class (lowest) fares, the same-day airport stand-by option is only available on flights between Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, and on Rapidair routes. Rapid Air routes are direct Air Canada flights or Air Canada Express flights operated by Jazz between Toronto and Montreal and Toronto and Ottawa.

If you are flying within the U.S., same-day airport stand-by is available on Tango, Flex, Business Class (lowest) and Business Class (flexible) fares. For Tango, Flex and Business Class (lowest) fares the option is only available on flights between Toronto Pearson and JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports.

For sun destinations, same-day airport stand-by is available on Latitude, Business Class (lowest) and Business Class (flexible) fares.

If you’re taking an international flight, same-day airport stand-by is available on Latitude, Premium Economy (flexible), Business Class (lowest) and Business Class (flexible) fares.

Porter

If you need to take a flight that’s different than the one you’re booked on with Porter, they offer same-day changes for a fee, depending on availability. The fee depends on the type of fare.

For Firm fares, you can make same-day changes at the airport for $150 per direction plus applicable taxes. If you’re traveling between Toronto and Montréal or Ottawa, you can make a same-day change for $75 per direction plus applicable taxes. Complimentary changes are permitted at the airport for travel on an earlier flight for travel between Toronto and Newark.

For Flexible fares, same-day changes can be made at the airport for $75 per direction plus applicable taxes. There is no charge for changes made at the airport for travel on an earlier flight between Toronto and Montréal, Ottawa or Newark.

For Freedom fares, complimentary same-day changes are permitted at the airport, subject to availability.

(Featured image: huangjiahui used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Article by Jessica Padykula (203 posts)

Jessica Padykula is a Toronto-based writer and editor who regularly covers travel and lifestyle trends. When she’s not writing or researching a story she can be found planning trips to places near and far in a never-ending quest to travel the world.