Flying standby was at one time the cheapest way to travel for those who didn’t mind the possibility of constantly being bumped, but it is not as rosy and cost-effective as it once was.

Many airlines that have projections that they won’t sell all seats on a given route will issue special fare ‘standby tickets’ at a knockdown price, with the idea that those that purchased them would not be guaranteed the flight. If the flight turns out to be fully booked by normal reservations, holders of standby tickets may be bumped until the next available flight, whereas if there are available seats you can fly.

Why fly standby

The main goal is to save money, although you could also have a legitimate ticket and ask to fly standby in order to get on an earlier flight. Say you arrive at the airport early, and rather than wait around you ask to be put on standby for the next available flight. If the flight is not full, you may be allowed to fly earlier, but if not, you retain your original flight.

People who miss flights on traditional airlines may be lucky enough to be put on standby for the next available flight, although this is at the discretion of the airline and nowadays you may find you have to forfeit if you turn up late. This is certainly the case with the majority of discount airlines.

Airlines that purposely overbook seats and have all reservations turning up will have to start bumping people. They will first ump those with standby tickets and will then ask for volunteers to be bumped if need be. If you volunteer, you will typically be offered accommodation (with transfers), free flights elsewhere, and even a cash/voucher reward, plus you will also be put on standby for the next available flight.

How to fly standby

You get yourself on standby by typically speaking to the airline in person at the airport, or indeed a ticket or gate agent when at the airport. If there are any unclaimed seats after boarding, you will be called to an available seat but will need to give way to those who have been on the standby list longer than you.

Other criteria on standby tickets:

  • Those on the airline’s frequent flyer program will be given priority on standby tickets over regular fliers on standby.
  • Full fare paying passengers have the highest priority.
  • Having carry-on luggage only will also help with getting on standby.
  • Most low-cost airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, will only allow standby tickets to full fare paying passengers.

Flying standby requirements

The main requirement for those with standby flight tickets is that they must have a ticket for the same routing on a given date and time. If you were traveling from LA to New York for 15:00, for instance, you may be given a seat on the 18:00 flight.