How to navigate standby flights

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Gone are the days of showing up at the airport and buying an astonishingly cheap “standby” ticket in exchange for waiting hours or days in the terminal.

Flying standby is still a thing, but it’s not the budget adventure it once was. Standby is reserved for folks who are involuntarily bumped from their original flights, passengers who, for one reason or another, want to get on an earlier or later flight on the same-day of their original scheduled flight and airline employees and their families and eligible companions who fly for free or near free.

Whether you missed your flight, need to get out of town early, want to extend your vacay, or are considering last-minute alternatives to your original flight (which you found on Cheapflights.com, of course), check out our tips for flying standby on airlines in the U.S. and Canada.

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Tips for flying standby

Airport
Flying standby? Get ready to roll. (Image: Robert Couse-Baker, Terminal 4 via Flickr CC BY 2.0)
  • Travel with carry-on luggage. Some airlines won’t let you fly standby if you have already checked your bags, and having only carry-on luggage means you don’t have to worry about your luggage getting delayed or lost. Check out our tips for flying with one carry-on.
  • Request standby as early as possible. Requests are generally handled in the order in which they are received.
  • Join airline loyalty reward programs and gain status. Not only will this bump you up the standby list, but you may also have a great lounge to enjoy while waiting to fly standby.
  • Avoid highly restrictive tickets. They may not allow standby travel, so always read the fine print.
  • Head to the departure gate for your chosen standby flight as early as possible. Similarly, be ready to respond when the gate agent calls your name. Failure to respond quickly may result in the next person on the standby list getting your seat.
  • Be patient and flexible. After all, you’re the one asking for the change in travel plans. Be prepared to do a lot of waiting around and potentially walking from gate to gate.

Standby policies by airline

Air Canada
Alaska Airlines
Allegiant Air
American Airlines
Delta Air Lines
Frontier
Hawaiian Airlines
JetBlue
Porter Airlines
Southwest Airlines
Spirit Airlines
United Airlines
Virgin America
WestJet

Air Canada


Air Canada’s same-day airport standby option allows customers flying on certain fares to standby 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.

Domestic flights: Passengers flying within Canada in Business Class (flexible), Premium Economy (flexible), or Latitude fares can standby free of charge. Passengers flying within Canada in Economy Tango, Economy Flex, or Business Class (lowest) can standby for free on Rapidair routes (express daily service offering hourly departures between Toronto and Montreal or Ottawa) and on flights between Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Passengers flying in Economy Latitude on Air Canada Rouge can also standby free of charge.

International flights to the United States: For passengers traveling from Canada to the U.S. in Business Class (flexible) and Economy Latitude can standby free of charge. Passengers flying in Economy Tango, Economy Flex, or Business Class (lowest) can fly standby for free on flights between Toronto Pearson International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia International Airport, or Newark Liberty International Airport.

International flights to “Sun Destinations”: Air Canada’s “Sun Destinations” are generally flights from Canada to select “sunny” destinations in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. Passengers traveling in Business Class (flexible), Business Class (lowest), or Economy Latitude can standby for free.

International – all other destinations: Passengers traveling on Air Canada internationally in Business Class (flexible), Business Class (lowest), Premium Economy (flexible), or Economy Latitude can standby for free.

Wait-listed upgrade requests may be displayed by order of priority in the “Flight Status” section of the Air Canada App; each passenger’s name is listed using the first three letters of the family name and the initial of the first name.

Alaska Airlines


Depending on the destination and ticket class purchased, passengers may be eligible to fly standby on Alaska Airlines. Eligible passengers must: be on a non-stop flight between Alaska Airlines’ shuttle markets (between Anchorage and Fairbanks, between Seattle and Portland, Ore. or Spokane, Wash., between San Jose, Calif. and San Diego, Calif. or Orange County, Calif.), have a refundable Main Cabin ticket in Y or Z classes of service or a First Class ticket in A, D, or F classes of service, or be an MVP Gold Mileage Plan member or traveling on the same reservation as one. The latter two options are eligible for complimentary same day confirmed flight change and, if no confirmed seats are available, then these ticket holders can request free same-day standby. All other passengers who want to make same-day flight changes must pay $25 and requests are subject to availability.

To fly standby, passengers can request to fly standby when checking in online or at the airport. Once requested, the airline advises passengers to head to the departure gate early; however, standby status won’t be known until 30 minutes prior to flight departure.

Allegiant Air


Budget airliner Allegiant Air, which offers only nonstop flights within the U.S., doesn’t fly every day and some of its routes are seasonal; therefore, traditional standby isn’t an option. However, passengers can purchase Trip Flex at the time of booking that allows passengers to change their itineraries once without incurring the $75 change fee each way. With Trip Flex, passengers can change the reservation date, flight, or destination for no additional fees up to one hour prior to flight departure; however, passengers are responsible for any change in airfare price.

American Airlines


Complimentary same-day standby on American Airlines is available for passengers with Unrestricted Economy Class (Y fare), Business, or First Class tickets. It’s also available for passengers who have American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro, Platinum, or Gold status or oneworld Emerald, Sapphire, or Ruby status and up to eight companions in the same record. Passengers with AirPass membership, First and Business Class MileSAAver award tickets and AAnytime award tickets may also fly standby. Complimentary standby is also available for active U.S. military personnel traveling on orders or personal travel and active U.S. military dependents traveling on orders.

Other passengers can standby on an earlier flight (AAdvantage elite members may standby for both earlier or later flights) for a $75 fee on flights between the 50 United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as long as the alternate flight has the same origin and destination, is for the same calendar day of departure and is marketed and operated by American Airlines or American Eagle. Passengers cannot change their itineraries to a city with multiple airports or to a different connecting city.

Delta Air Lines


Complimentary (and voluntary) standby is available to Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members (family members and travel companions are not eligible) when there are no confirmed seats in the original ticketed paid cabin available via the same day confirmed flight change on Delta and Delta Connection flights within the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The option doesn’t guarantee seat availability. Passengers who cannot be accommodated on their standby flights may confirm seats on the next available flight. SkyTeam Elite and Elite Plus members are ineligible for standby. Same-day flight changes must be requested within 24 hours prior to departure of the original flight.

Frontier


Passengers who are Elite members of EarlyReturns, the airline’s frequent flyer program, are eligible to fly standby at no additional cost on an earlier or later flight on the same day of travel. Travelers can request to fly standby at the airport ticket counter or gate. Before passengers opt to standby, travelers understand that if they are unable to get on the desired flight and miss the flight for which they were scheduled to fly, no additional transportation will be provided by Frontier. All other passengers can make a same-day confirmed flight change to an earlier or later flight on the same day of travel for a $99 fee. Travelers can request to fly standby at the airport ticket counter or by calling Frontier reservations.

All passengers who fly standby or on a same-day confirmed flight change must follow the original ticketed itinerary. The airline has some destinations in “groups,” allowing passengers booked to fly to/from an airport in a “group” destination to request a same-day confirmed alternative flight change or standby travel to/from another airport in the group. The following “groups” are considered same cities for standby and same-day confirmed flight changes: Washington Dulles Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National AirportChicago-O’Hare International Airport and Milwaukee International Airport, Fort Lauderdale International Airport and West Palm Beach International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Orange County/Santa Ana Airport, Madison International Airport and Milwaukee International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Trenton Airport, and Philadelphia International Airport, Orange County/Santa Ana Airport and San Diego Airport, Orlando International Airport and Tampa International Airport and Orlando International Airport and St. Augustine Airport.

Hawaiian Airlines


Passengers who are Pualani Platinum or Pualani Gold members or who have booked a flight through Hawaiian Airlines’ Corporate Web Portal can standby for an earlier Neighbor Island Flight for free. Passengers must not have already checked in their baggage, and the desired standby flight cannot be departing in less than 30 minutes. Passengers without luggage to be checked can check-in for their flights via web check-in, at self-service kiosks at the airport, or with a customer service agent at the airport. Then, before going through security, passengers should speak to a customer service agent about standing by for an earlier flight. Passengers who have luggage to check must check-in with a customer service agent at the airport and request to fly standby. Once the standby request is in, the airline will keep the original confirmed flight reservation in case there are no seats available on the standby flights.

JetBlue


Standby is available one flight prior to confirmed scheduled departure, based on availability, for free; however, it’s not guaranteed. Passengers can request standby at the airport (it cannot be done over the phone) for the same day only (if traveling out of a city with only one daily flight, passengers can standby on the last flight one-day prior). Passengers must travel standby between the same origin and destination cities as the original confirmed seat; however, passengers can travel standby on a connecting or nonstop flight. Passengers traveling on an Even More space seat who choose to travel standby forfeit the seat fee and are not eligible for a refund. Mint customers may travel standby one flight prior to their confirmed scheduled departure, but the Mint experience will not be guaranteed and will be forfeited if unavailable on the new flight.

Passengers who miss their flights can travel stan-by, based on seat availability, but it is not guaranteed. Depending on the fare, there may be an additional fee. Passengers can request standby at the airport (it cannot be done over the phone) for the same day only (if traveling out of a city with only one daily flight, passengers can standby for the next day). Passengers must travel stan-by between the same origin and destination cities as the original confirmed seat; however, passengers can travel standby on a connecting or nonstop flight. Passengers traveling on an Even More space seat who choose to travel standby forfeit the seat fee and are not eligible for a refund. Mint customers may travel standby one flight prior to their confirmed scheduled departure, but the Mint experience will not be guaranteed and will be forfeited if unavailable on the new flight.

JetBlue also offers a same-day change option; however, fees may apply (there is no increase in fare). This option confirms passengers on the flight of their choice and can be requested at the airport or by calling 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583).

Porter Airlines


Porter Airlines does not offer standby; however, depending on the type of ticket purchased, passengers may be able to change flights for free or for a fee. Passengers flying on Freedom fares can request a ticket refund up to one hour prior to departure. Passengers flying on Flexible and Freedom fares can make same-day changes up to one hour prior to departure for free. Passengers flying on Firm fares can make same-day changes that range from $150 to $172.50 per ticket. Same-day changes and cancellations can be made online, through the Porter Call Centre at 1-888-619-8622, and at the airport.

Southwest Airlines


Passengers flying on Business Select and Anytime fares can standby for travel between the same city pairs on the original date of travel for no change in fare. Passengers must pay applicable taxes and fees for flying stan-by. Business Select passengers flying standby lose the privilege of boarding in the first portion of the “A” group.

Passengers flying on Wanna Get Away and Senior fares must upgrade to an Anytime fare in order to fly standby.

Passengers who miss their flights should cancel their reservations at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of their flight. Business Select and Anytime passengers who do not cancel their reservations will have any unused funds converted to reusable travel funds for the originally ticketed passenger only. Unused Wanna Get Away passengers’ unused funds are forfeited.

Spirit Airlines


Spirit Airlines allows its passengers to travel standby on an earlier flight, on the same day of the scheduled flight, for a $99 fee per person. Passengers wishing to opt for standby can choose this option at the airport.

United Airlines


United passengers can standby for free when the ticket fare does not have any penalties for making changes or when standing by involuntarily due to a flight irregularity. Changes in routing are not allowed when standing by. Standby may be requested on the day of departure at a United Airlines airport kiosk or with a United representative at the airport. MileagePlus Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members may request a complimentary same-day change. Passengers with restricted tickets can make same-day flight changes for a discounted fee. MileagePlus Premier Silver members and MileagePlus non–Premier members are charged $75 for ticket changes. Basic Economy (N) fares are not eligible for flight changes. Standby may be requested at an airport kiosk or with a United representative at the airport.

Virgin America


Virgin America passengers have several standby options. Passengers can buy a Plans Change Pass for $25 when booking tickets that allows for changes to be made as often as passengers wish (passengers just pay the fare difference). Reservations can be changed online or over the phone via the Contact Center at 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (1.877.359.8474).

Passengers who have confirmed tickets, but did not buy a Plans Change Pass, may make a same-day change on the day of departure, if there are seats available on an earlier or later flight departing that same day for the originally scheduled origin and destination airports for a fee that ranges from $25 to $50 per ticket. Same-day changes can be requested at the airport or through the Contact Center.

If there are seats available on the flight immediately before the originally scheduled flight, passengers can fly standby free of charge, but this is not a confirmed changed and does not guarantee a seat.

Passengers who miss their scheduled flight and report to the airport within two hours of the flight’s scheduled departure can fly standby on the next scheduled flight at no additional charge. If that flight is fully booked, the passenger may go standby on a “rollover” status on the succeeding flights. If space is available on the next scheduled flight, passengers may elect to pay the same-day travel change fee and fly confirmed on the flight. If the scheduled flight is the last flight of the day and the ticket counter is closed, passengers must call the Contact Center, and the passenger can fly standby or pay the same-day travel change fee to confirm a seat on the first flight the following day.

WestJet


WestJet allows complimentary, same-day flight changes for Plus and WestJet Rewards Gold members looking to change to an earlier flight or who want to be re-accommodated for a missed flight (if requested within two hours of the missed flight). Requests can be made online, via mobile, or self-service kiosk starting five hours before the original flight’s estimated time of departure and are based on availability. Change requests must be for the same day, same origin, and same destination, and passengers must not have already checked their baggage. Passengers who have missed their flight may be accommodated for a fee on the next available flight, to the same destination, on the same calendar day if a seat is available (In some cases, the next available flight may be the next day or later, depending on the destination involved).

Passengers traveling with Econo and Flex fares booked prior to Jan. 17, 2017 have the option to make same-day flight changes for fees that range from $75 to $88.50 for Econo and $50 to $59 for Flex. For passengers traveling with Econo, Flex and Member Exclusive (travel to or from all destinations in North America, including Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America) and Econo, Flex and Member Exclusive (travel to or from destinations outside North America) fares booked between Jan. 17, 2017 to May 10, 2017 have the option to make same-day flight changes for fees that range from $100 to $118 for Econo, Flex and Member Exclusive (travel to or from all destinations in North America, including Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America) and $150 to $177 for Econo, Flex and Member Exclusive (travel to or from destinations outside North America). For passengers traveling with Econo, Flex, Plus Lowest and Member Exclusive (travel to or from all destinations in North America, including Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America) and Econo, Flex, Plus Lowest and Member Exclusive (travel to or from destinations outside North America) fares booked May 11, 2017 onward have the option to make same-day flight changes for fees that range from $100 to $118 for Econo, Flex, Plus Lowest and Member Exclusive (travel to or from all destinations in North America, including Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America) and $150 to $177 for Econo, Flex, Plus Lowest and Member Exclusive (travel to or from destinations outside North America).

Have you ever flown standby? Share your own tips and tricks in the comments and start your flight search on Cheapflights.com.

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Editor’s note: Hello, travelers. We do our best to bring you the most timely information, but until superhuman speed is perfected, we can only move so fast. This information is subject to change, so please always double check current policies with your airline or agent before you book.

How to navigate standby flights was last modified: June 29th, 2017 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (270 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.