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. Airlines generally do not sell tickets designed for standby travel; most tickets specify a certain flight and date, and airlines expect passengers to travel on that flight. But circumstances can change, and travelers often want to change to a later flight or earlier flight at the last-minute and make new reservations. Taking an old style standby flight is available only to air travel industry workers or their friends and family members who hold buddy passes. Still, if you have sudden changes and need help, here are details on standby policies in general and some travel tips on how to fly standby.

Standby Airline Tickets

When ticketed passengers contact the airline to change their seat status or travel plans, their tickets effectively become standby seats. That means that the passengers wait until their desired seat or flight opens up. 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. Turning up at the airport without a ticket to fly same-day standby is likely to be the most expensive option. Be sure to check the restrictions and standby policies online before deciding to fly standby.

How to Buy a Standby Ticket

Check the desired flights for same-day standby availability. Enter the city-pair and flight time desired as though you are making a reservation. While online reservations systems will not tell you the actual number of seats available, flights that are full will appear to be sold-out. Be sure to review your schedule versus air travel seat availability. Often, early morning domestic flights have more basic economy and first class availability. In addition, early flights often have more “no shows” than flights later in the day due to same-day flight change. Call, email or speak to the airline's ticket agent or check-in personnel at the airport to get added to the standby list. For the best chance of getting on a different flight, switch to a midweek day when fewer passengers are flying, and turn up early at the airport. To enact same-day flight changes after passing through security, approach the gate agent before boarding.

Making a change to your original flight often attracts an additional change 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 from airlines like Delta or Jetblue or people who collect air miles via credit card purchases may be able to board a later or earlier flight without paying anything extra.

Flying Standby

As always, flying standby is often a waiting game. If there’s more seat availability, the airline might allocate it 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. Many airlines post the standby list on an electronic screen at the gate. Check to ensure your name is on the list; if not, contact the airline gate agent. If you do not see a screen, ask the agent if your name is on the list. If your name has not been called and the flight is full, request the agent to transfer your name to the next flight.

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.

While expensive full-fare tickets allow this change at no charge, most tickets sold today carry substantial restrictions that discourage such changes. Additional charges incurred may include special flight “change” fees and additional fare charges, which may more than double the price of the original ticket. But these costs may be substantially avoided if the customer opts to travel on the same day, but on a different flight by flying standby at no additional charge or for a minimal fee.


While many passengers believe the standby list priority is determined by arrival time at the airport, this is only partially true. Customers who missed a connecting flight usually are placed at the top of the standby list regardless of check-in time. Additionally, airline mileage frequent flyer program participants have priority according to their status. You may see frequent changes to your clearance number on the list as standbys with higher priorities are added. If you have any questions contact an airline employee about airfare.