Travel tips
  • Bring the kids
  • Escape over school break
  • Get outdoors
  • Ignite the flame
  • Know before you go
  • Plan the rest (specialty travel)
  • Wine and dine

Flying Standby

Stay calm when flying without a reservation

Many travelers are afraid to fly standby because it comes with high risks and no guarantees. People don’t always know the standby procedures or want to gamble being stuck at the airport, waiting for hours. But what are you supposed to do if your flight is at 8pm but you’re ready to go at noon? Head over to the airport to see if you can catch a flight that leaves a little earlier. Instead of focusing on all the bad that could come of it, try thinking about the reward: you’ll have extra time at your destination to do whatever you want. That’s priceless, if you ask us. Here are some tips for the brave souls willing to get in the ring with flying standby that’ll help you come out on top.

Know flight times and their loads

When flying standby, it’s important to remember that you’re not guaranteed a seat on any departing flight, so be flexible. You need to be conscious of when flights are leaving and how many empty seats are available. The earlier flight has to be identical to the flight you paid for, as you can’t fly standby on a non-direct flight if you paid for a direct one. Check first on the airline’s website to identify an earlier flight that works for your schedule, then check online or by simply calling the airline directly to ask if there are any empty seats.

Travel alone

You’ll have a better chance of getting a seat on a plane if you fly alone. Just ask the many families of five stranded at airports for hours at a time because just two seats are open on a plane at a time. Traveling in a large group is nothing but a hindrance if you’re trying to squeeze on. If you want to get the extra time at your destination that you’re aiming for, it’s best to travel with as few people as possible. If this isn’t possible, call the airline and ask them to split up your reservation into single-person itineraries, but be prepared to split up the group and meet up at your destination later.

Pack light, if you can

Try to travel with a carry-on only because when flying standby, you’re at the mercy of the airline. What flight you’ll get on is always a mystery. You can eliminate the possibility of your bags getting lost in the shuffle if you carry them with you wherever you go. You’ll also eliminate those darned baggage fees. If you do choose to check luggage, your chances of flying standby will drastically decrease. Passengers flying standby are usually called onto the plane at the last minute, leaving minimal time for airline workers to find the bag you checked and put it on the flight you’re on, and so – most of the time – they’ll opt out. Save yourself the frustration and increase your chances by just traveling with a carry-on.

Check your attitude

Not being able to fly when you want and leave when you want will definitely wear on your nerves. Make sure you don’t take that frustration out on anyone, especially airline workers, because that can hurt your chances of getting a seat on the next plane. Patience is key in a situation like this. Bring something to keep yourself busy; if you’re preoccupied, you’ll be less concerned that yet another plane is taking off without you. Perhaps some violent video games so you can take your anger out on characters instead of yelling at the airline workers at the gate who have your fate in their hands? Play nice and you could end up on the next flight.

Remember, you still have your reservation

Even though you were really looking forward to all the extra time sitting by the pool or hitting the blackjack table, there is always a chance that you won’t be able to catch an earlier flight. Don’t be discouraged. You still have your original reservation and if worse comes to worst, just fly out on the plane you were supposed to go on in the seat you paid for. You’ll still end up exactly where you wanted to be, at the time you originally planned to be there. Be happy at least about that – chances are that family of five is still stranded at the airport.

Melisse Hinkle
A New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has lived in four U.S. cities, spent a summer in Hawaii, made her way through wine-producing regions in Australia and New Zealand, and traveled around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Content Manager for the U.S. and Canada at Cheapflights.