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How to Fly Standby on Last-Minute Cheap Flights
Flying standby requires familiarization with your preferred airline’s policies. (Photo: Hamish Blair/Getty Images News/Getty Images )
The contraction of the airline industry means that most flights fly almost full and airlines have largely rolled back programs that allow you to jump on a cheap flight at the last minute. Despite capacity cuts, you can still find an airline or two that gives you a chance to get where you want to go affordably with little notice and strategies on how to fly standby with your existing cheap ticket.
Pack everything you plan to take in a carryon bag or small daypack so that you receive priority among the standby candidates, as checked baggage creates more snags for the airline.
Target flights earlier than your confirmed reservation if you already hold a cheap ticket. That way, you can fly using your confirmed reservation if you don’t get on an earlier flight.
Check online for empty seats on the flight you want or call the airline, asking for your preferred flight and alternatives, as well as details on how full flights are through to the day to your destination. Avoid checking on third-party vendors such as Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak or others, which won’t have the most current information. Purchase the cheapest ticket you see so that you have the ticket to show security at the airport and can proceed to the gate of the earlier flight you want to fly on standby.
Research AirTran Airways for potential seats if you are from 18 to 22 years old; at time of publication, it was the only U.S. airline adopting a policy designed to allowing students and non-students alike to find cheap standby seats. The program, called Air Tran U, allows young adults to fly on standby for $49 to $99 each way not including fees.
Ask your airline about relaxed standby rules if an impending blizzard is predicted for your departure city. Airlines, such as Southwest, USAir and Airtran, that take passengers from the Midwest and Northeast to Florida winter getaways may allow you to leave the night before based on your ticket for travel on the day the blizzard arrives; they make the policy decision in the late afternoon. Discuss this option with a customer service representative at the airline’s toll-free number.
Travel to the airport as early as you can to get on a flight. Proceed to the gate and request to be placed on the standby list. Stay by the gate listening for your name or look for it listed on a gate display and reconfirm that you are on the list as boarding begins if you have been overlooked.
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