How to Successfully Fly Standby in 2022, Even at the Holidays

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A mother sits on a bench at an airport with her daughter. They are playing with a wooden model airplane and smiling.
Photo Credit: LightField Studios via Shutterstock

Traveling in 2021 and 2022 has been challenging and, like everything else, flying standby is getting more complicated. But it’s not impossible! Here, a SheBuysTravel who is a former flight attendant shares her tips for flying standby, even at the holidays, whether you are flying as a ticketed passenger or flying on an airline employee’s buddy pass.

With air travel still down in 2022, the options are reduced for passengers. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, August 2020 saw 70% fewer passengers with a monthly total of 24.4 million compared to August 2019’s total of 80.8 million passengers.

What does that mean for passengers? Fewer flights offered each day to most destinations. And some airlines have stopped flying to less profitable destinations altogether.

That means flying standby for an earlier flight might be more difficult. Airlines that offered hourly departures from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. to some destinations likely are offering only a handful of those options now.

The good news: Nearly all U.S. airlines eliminated the ticket change fee for domestic flights in 2020. In some cases, airlines charged as much as $200 to rebook a reservation for an earlier flight. If you’re flying with a family of four, paying $800 to get somewhere a little earlier likely would be enough to keep you from trying to catch that earlier flight.

Still, be sure to read the fine print on your ticket. The waived fees don’t always apply to the lowest-price basic economy seats (the reservations families often choose — the ones without any perks like seat assignments and access to overhead bin space).

Air Travel in 2022

kid wearing dinosaur backpack standing next to luggage at airport
Flying standby can be more of a challenge with kids. But getting to your destination sooner might be worth the effort. Photo credit: Grisell DeNapoles

According to the CDC, when traveling by air, everyone should wear a mask. (Pack additional masks for your trip). Carry sanitizing wipes to disinfect high-touch surfaces and wipe down the germiest spots on an airplane, such as the armrests and tray tables. Use hand sanitizer for in-between hand washings. TSA is allowing one 12-oz container of hand sanitizer in carry-on bags.

Consider using a touchless check-in via the airline’s mobile app. And put small personal items, like keys and your phone, inside of your carry-on instead of directly in the TSA security bin.

Most importantly, do not travel if you are feeling sick. And some airports are doing temperature checks, like Hawaii and LAX.

Types of Standby Tickets

There are two types of standby reservations.

Ticketed passengers hoping for an earlier departure. This is the standby option for most travelers. It means you have a confirmed reservation on, say, the 4pm flight home. But you get to the airport extra early and realize there is a 3pm flight. So you ask to be placed on the standby list. If that flight isn’t full, you get home an hour earlier!

However, this service isn’t always free. While most airlines have waived change fees temporarily, expect them to return once demand for air travel does. Check your airline’s website for details or ask the gate attendant.

Flying on a buddy pass. These are available to airline employees who can give them to friends and family. If you know and love someone who works for an airlines, here is everything you need to know about flying on a buddy pass.

Is My Ticket Eligible for Standby Travel?  

A family walks in an airport terminal near a window with an airplane taking off in the background. The sunset view shows them pulling their rolling luggage while a young girl points towards the airplane.
Flying standby can be more challenging when you’re flying with a family and need 3 seats on the plane. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Most ticketed fares allow for reservation changes in early 2022. Don’t expect this benefit to stick around once travel returns to normal.

Before you book a ticket for your next trip, keep in mind “wanna get away” fares on Southwest and “basic economy” tickets on other carriers usually don’t allow same day changes. This is especially important for business travelers who prefer flexibility.

How to Fly Standby for an Earlier Flight

That afternoon meeting just got cancelled and your mind starts to churn. How can you get home earlier? Grab a ride share and work on it on the way to the airport.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Many of these recommendations also work if your flight is delayed.

Elite Airline Status

Have you earned an elite status as a frequent flyer with the airline? That’s often the ticket to the front of the line, especially when you want to fly standby at the holidays. Here’s how to get same-day reservation changes:

1. Call the dedicated reservations number for elite mileage members to check on seat availability for an earlier flight or later flight.

2. Check in at the ticketing kiosk, or the ticketing agent, to get a new standby boarding pass and proceed to security.

3. Head to the gate to check the standby list, usually posted on the departure board over the gate agents.

4. Sit close by and wait for your name to be called.

Tickets with Few or No Restrictions

If you’re traveling and you’re not a member of that airline’s frequent flyer program, check the restrictions on your original ticket. See if there’s a hefty change fee, standby fee, or if there are restrictions on same-day reservation changes.

If it’s all good, then:

1. Head to the airline’s app or website and do some research. Check on seat availability by selecting an earlier flight as if you’re purchasing another ticket. If the flight is sold out, it will be noted. Then you know there are no available seats on the earlier flight. Keep your original reservation and settle in at the airport. If you’re flying with kids, try these activities to entertain the kiddos.

2. If the flight has seats for sale, then call the reservations number and ask for a same-day reservation change. You may be able to make the change yourself within the airline’s app. But I prefer talking to a human in this case. I don’t want to risk a mistake or computer glitch that could leave me with no reservation at all.

3. Alternatively, wait until you get to the airport to make the change. Head to the ticket agent and ask to be put on the earlier flight’s standby list, or use the ticketing kiosk. A new boarding pass will be issued in most cases to clear security.

4. Head to the gate. Most airlines post the standby list on the departure board at the gate. Verify your name is on the list. Then find a seat close by and wait for your name to be called.

5. If your name doesn’t get called, ask the gate attendant to roll over your standby reservation to the next flight.

Travel Tips for Flying Standby During the Holidays 

Weather can affect flying standby.
Be aware that weather can severely affect your ability to fly standby. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Though flying standby during the holiday season offers some complications with full flights, it can be done.

  • If possible, start early in the day. Flights tend to be less affected by weather and have more no-shows. This works best if you’re flying out of a big, busy airport that has lots of daily departures to your planned destinations. Smaller airports have fewer options and can be more affected by weather-related delays. Here’s our complete guide to managing flight delays.
  • Mid-week travel favors flying standby since the flight load tends to be lighter.
  • Flying on the actual holiday — Christmas and Thanksgiving days — generally means less-full planes, so you may have a better chance at snagging enough standby seats for the family.

How to Use a Buddy Pass

Flying standby can help you escape to an island.
Wanna escape to an island then reach out to airline employee for buddy pass. Photo Credit: Pixabay

For 2022, many airline employees have lost their jobs or been furloughed, so they no longer have buddy passes. And some airlines are capping the number of “non-revenue” reservations on flights to sell those seats to paying passengers who wish to fly on a flight with less passengers.

So 2022 might still be a hard year to use a buddy pass, if one is available.

If you’re lucky enough to have one, here are the basics on how to use it. Remember, each airline has different procedures, so know the rules for your carrier.

1. Do your research before reaching out to your friend to ask for a buddy pass. Sometimes the “free” flight will require you to take multiple connecting flights to reach your final destination. It can mean that the travel will eat up a lot of your vacation time.

2. Ask your friend, the airline employee. Be prepared: that person might say no. Since airline employees only get a certain number of passes per year, they might not have any.

3. Book a non-rev or standby reservation. The airline employee can make one for you or you can call the airline’s toll-free reservations number.

4. Check the weather before your flight. Weather in one part of the country can and will affect the weather throughout the system.

5. After arriving at the airport, check in at the ticketing kiosk or with the ticket agent to get a standby boarding pass. Then proceed to the TSA security checkpoint.

6. After clearing security, head to the departure gate. Stay close enough to hear the gate agent announcements but you don’t typically have to check in again.

7. Don’t bother the gate agents during the boarding procedure. They know you are on the standby list since you checked in. They will get you a seat if there’s one available. Just be patient.

8. If a seat is available, the gate agent will call your name. When your name is called, be ready to board the aircraft quickly. So keep your belongings organized and your boarding pass in hand.

9. Stay at the gate until the boarding door is closed. Boarding passes can be distributed in the last minutes before the boarding door closes, due to missed connections from in-bound passengers on other planes that arrive late.

10. Most gate agents will announce if the flight is full and how they will deal with the standby list after the boarding door closes.

11. If you don’t get on this flight, move to the next departure gate or call reservations for other options.

Non-Rev Standby Status

Flying standby opens up lots of destinations.
Standby travel opens up lots of destinations. Photo Credit: Pixabay

This is where “status” comes in to airline boarding. Just like regular passengers board in order of their status — first class passengers, “premier” frequent fliers, and boarding groups 1 through 5 (or more), passengers flying standby also have “status” that determines who snags the available seats first.

Here’s the order:

  • Airline employees traveling on company business
  • Current and retired airline employees and their spouses
  • Parents and children of airline employees
  • People flying on a buddy pass

Best Times to Fly on a Non-Rev Ticket

If your schedule is flexible, then using a buddy pass is an exciting way to start your getaway. Start by using some common sense and common courtesy while flying standby.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are the best days to fly. The flights are usually filled with business travelers on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays.

Start with the first flight of the day to your chosen destination. Most people don’t like to wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning to be at the airport for a 5 a.m. flight so the flights are less full. And the weather issues aren’t as big of a problem with earlier flights.

Fall is an excellent time to travel since it’s off-season for many destinations. So try September (after Labor Day), October and early November for your next getaway.

Winter offers another off-season. So January and February (except for the three-day weekend holidays) is good time to time with a buddy pass.

Destinations to Forget

Wanna go to Hawaii? So does everyone else. It’s a magical destination and the flights are full of passengers flying on miles.

Don’t even think about flying on a non-rev ticket to Hawaii. Though lots of U.S. carriers now operate flights to Hawaii, which helps keep the cost down when you have to pay for a plane ticket.

Europe can be another destination that might be tricky, depending on the final destination.

Flying standby during the holidays can be stressful but these tips can ease some of that anxiety. Read more travel tips about standby airline travel over the holiday season. #SheBuysTravel #AirTravel #TravelTips | SheBuysTravel | Holiday Travel Tips
Photo Credit: Comstock from Photo Images

Dos and Don’ts of Flying on a Buddy Pass

Do be very polite to every employee. You are representing the airline and the employee. And while your good behavior won’t be rewarded, your poor behavior will be noted. If an airline employee reports bad behavior, the employee can loose their flying benefits.

Don’t bother the gate agent. Getting to your destination isn’t their responsibility. Calling your name to hand you a boarding pass or rolling your name to the next flight if you miss the current one is all they have to do.

Do know the toll-free reservations number. Call the 800 number and ask (politely) if the reservation agent has time to do a non-rev reservation or check some flights for you.

Don’t over pack. You will be a carry-on only passenger. So pack smartly with one rolling suitcase and one personal item, like a backpack. Here’s how to pack a carryon in 29 minutes and have everything you need for your trip.

Do pack comfort items for a long layover.  Odds are you will be spending some time hanging out in the airport. So pack a water bottle, a book or two, phone plus charging cords and earbuds, earplugs, eye mask, inflatable pillow and a travel scarf or extra layer. (We LOVE this inflatable travel foot rest pillow!)

Don’t check luggage. If you check your luggage, it goes no matter what. It might be OK if you’re returning from a trip, but don’t do it if you’re headed to your destination.

Do be prepared to gate check your carry-on luggage. Since you will be one of the last people on the aircraft, chances are the overhead space will be full. The gate agent will take your larger bag and it will immediately be put on the aircraft.

Don’t complain about your seat. You got a seat. Don’t complain it’s the middle seat of the last row.

Do know the airline’s hubs. These cities offer the most selection in destinations along with more flights those destinations.

Don’t brag to other passengers about your non-rev seat. This is an employee benefit, so be respectful.

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4 responses

  1. Great tips! Before going to the airport, you might also want to check the flight loads on StaffTraveler. There are always alternative ways to get to your destination. Knowing which options have the best odds of getting a seat is helpful and might save you a lot of time.

  2. 5

  3. 4.5

  4. Great tips – thanks!

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