Buying an ultra-cheap standby ticket at the last minute and snagging an empty seat on the next flight is an appealing idea, but, sadly, for the general public those days are gone. Nowadays, passengers who travel standby already hold a ticket but want to upgrade their seat, switch to an earlier or later flight or change their destination. Old style standby flying is available only to airline industry workers or their relatives or friends who hold "buddy passes."

Standby Airline Tickets

When passengers contact the airline to change their seat status or travel plans, their tickets effectively become standby tickets. What that means is, the passengers wait until their desired seats or flights to become available. If there's a cancellation or no-show, or if there's a seat the airline doesn't manage to fill, the standby passenger can take it. Though spare seats on planes are rarer than they used to be because airlines often overbook flights, a patient traveler can sometimes make the switch. For last-minute deals on flights, check airline and travel websites, but bear in mind that no changes may be allowed on these tickets. Doing it the old-fashioned way and turning up at the airport without a ticket is likely to be the most expensive option.

How to Buy a Standby Ticket

As soon as passengers know they want to change their flying plans, they should contact the airline. Call, email or speak to the airline's desk agent or check-in personnel at the airport. For the best chance of success in changing flights, switch to a midweek day when fewer passengers are flying, and turn up early at the airport. To change a flight schedule after passing through security, approach the airline employees at the gate.

Standby Ticket Costs

Making a change to a flying plan often attracts an additional fee. The terms and conditions of the plane ticket usually state the fee the airline charges to change the flight. What's more, if the new seat is more expensive, passengers usually pay the difference but if the seat is cheaper, the airline isn't likely to refund the difference. However, certain passengers can sometimes escape the transfer fees. Travelers who belong to airline privilege groups like frequent flyer clubs or people who collect air miles via credit card purchases may be able to board an earlier or later flight without paying anything extra.

Flying Standby

As always, flying standby is often a waiting game. If the flight isn't full, the airline might allocate a seat right away, but if the flight is fully booked, the standby traveler has to wait and hope that fewer passengers than expected turn up. Sometimes, standby passengers must wait at the gate until the very last minute when the flight crew is about to close the doors before they know they're flying. For a pleasant standby experience, make the request as early as possible, travel with carry on luggage and arrive at the departure gate early.

Buddy Passes

Friends and relations of airline employees can use buddy passes to travel on available seats within the airline's network at heavily discounted prices. Buddy pass holders can turn up to the airport and take any empty seat on their desired flight. The pass itself costs a small fee, but it also allows the holder to upgrade to business or first class, providing a seat is free.