Standby flights used to be a lot more common. In days gone by, you could book a standby ticket with an airline at a greatly reduced cost. In exchange, though, you had to wait around at the airport until a seat opened up to your destination. For budget travelers, it was a dream come true. But that's not how standby works today. There are only a few ways to get a standby ticket from today's airlines:

  • You get bumped from your original flight. You might give up your seat to another passenger who needs it on an earlier flight. The airline will put you on standby for the next flight and usually comp you with some discounts or free drinks, too. You may get bumped because the airline oversold the flight, too.
  • You want to fly out early. Some airlines will allow ticketed passengers to get on the standby list for an earlier flight. That's a handy option if you get done with meetings early and want to fly home sooner, for example.
  • You work for the airlines or know someone who does. Airline employees and their friends and family may be eligible for a standby ticket.

If you find yourself on the standby list, the key thing to remember is to be patient. You might get on the first flight that you try, and you might find yourself waiting in the airport for hours (or even overnight). But there are a few things you can do to help get you off the standby list and onto the plane.

Get on the List Early

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Standby priority works differently from airline to airline. Some airlines place a priority on customers first and then on the seniority of airline staff members. Others simply go with a first-come, first-served rule. Delta offers priority based on your membership level in their mileage club. In any case, the early bird often gets the seat.

Start by getting to the airport as early as possible. If you aren't already on the standby list, talk to a gate agent about getting you on there. As soon as you know what gate the flight is leaving from, get there. If it's quiet, you can introduce yourself to the agents, letting them know you are there trying to fly standby. If they are busy, though, it's best to stay out of their way. Interrupting them when they are dealing with passengers who paid full price for their ticket could harm your standby odds.

Dress the Part

A lot of passengers choose to wear their most comfortable lounge-wear on the airplane. That makes sense, especially for long haul flights. But seasoned standby passengers know that dressing to impress is critical. Wearing business casual clothing will make you stand out at the gate. That way, when gate agents are looking for someone to fill those seats, their eyes will find you first. No need to go overboard; you can leave the three-piece tux and ballgown at home. If you are flying as the guest of an employee, remember that you are representing their workplace, so nice clothes are a must.

Stay Close to the Gate

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When you are on standby, you'll be anxiously waiting to hear your name called. Don't wander off to the bookstore for a new novel or trek across the terminal for a coffee. Stay close to the gate and most importantly, stay aware. If the gate agent calls your name to put you on the plane, they aren't going to hold that seat for long if you aren't there to claim it. Sometimes agents move through the standby list at lightning speed to get the plane off the ground as soon as possible. That means they may call your name and then move on in a matter of seconds if they don't get a response. So stay close to the counter and stay aware the entire time. Don't let your phone distract you and end up ruining your chances at the last remaining seat.

Have a Positive Attitude

It's easy to get frustrated when you are waiting. But keep the frustration to yourself. Gate agents will do their best to accommodate as many standby passengers as possible. The fact is, you are on the list because you either need a favor, are paying significantly less for your flight, or you were doing something nice for another passenger. So try to keep the positive vibes going. Gate agents are handling a lot right before a plane leaves, and the standby list is just one of them. Give them a chance to do their job and don't make it any harder on them. A smile will go a long way on standby. It might even get a gate agent to pull a few strings and find you that elusive seat.

Don't Leave Until the Plane Does

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The most important rule of standby: don't give up. It's not over until the plane pushes back from the gate. The standby waiting game is one that goes down to the final seconds. Some standby passengers end up on the flight minutes before the plane leaves, either because passengers don't show up or they choose to get off the plane at the final second (stranger things have happened). So until you see the airplane leave, stick close to the counter and wait to hear your name. Only then can you go get that next cup of coffee.

What to Do If You Don't Get On Your Flight

Despite your best efforts (and those of the airlines), you might not make it onto the plane. If that happens, there are a couple of things you should do. First, make sure your name rolls over to the standby list for the next flight of the day. You can check with the gate agent once the flight leaves to make sure you are on the list. Then take a break and grab some refreshments before heading to the next gate. Once you are there, you can repeat the process above until you get that coveted boarding pass.

Patience is the name of the game, and eventually, you will get on a flight. Business Insider says that flying standby is worth it, and can ultimately result in less time at the airport and more time at home if you are lucky. After all, no one sits on the standby list forever.