Seattle, WA

The Pros & Cons of Flying Standby

Jordan Mendiola
Photo by Danila Hamsterman on Unsplash

“Pack your bags! We’re going to Seattle!”, I said to myself on Friday. I was going to see my four-day old baby cousin, my grandma, aunt, and uncle.

The plan was to travel at 2 pm and get there at 6 pm.

I ended up spending my entire afternoon and evening in around an airport from 1 pm and 1 am. The reason?

Flying standby.

If you have a friend or family member who works or retired for an airline that puts you on their flying “buddies” list, you get to fly for free.

But there’s one caveat.

Your Seat is Not Confirmed

No matter how much planning you did on your trip, it doesn’t matter unless you get a confirmed seat.

A ranking system of 1, 2, 3,4, etc. is utilized by the standby passengers who have the most seniority (whether they’ve been with the airline for 2 years versus 20 years).

An Example of a Standby List:

  1. Smith, W

2. Wilson, R

3. Davidson, P

4. Grande, A

5. Mendiola, J

This was an almost accurate portrayal of my recent flight to Seattle. I checked the seat map and noticed that there were only six seats available prior to boarding.

One guy was running late and he made it before final boarding call before his seat was given to a standby passenger.

Here’s a real example of a standby list I was on:

Since the gentleman showed up, I lost my opportunity for a seat. (I was next up too.)

I ended up waiting nine hours and getting on a flight with 15 seats open with ease.

Domestic Travel — $0 / International Travel — $100

Traveling domestically keeps your plane ticket expenses to $0.

It’s phenomenal.

The only expenses you have to worry about are

  • Have a ride to the airport
  • Have a place to stay when you land
  • Pay for food when you get it
  • Spending money for your vacation
  • Time

The last one here is critical.
Photo by Jay Wen on Unsplash

I’ve Spent Nights in Several Airports

New York (at a cafe table , Seattle (in the USO), San Francisco (on the floor)

If you’re in the military, most airports have a USO center that gives you free food, drinks, comfortable couches, and even showers. They’re typically located in the section prior to security lines.

  • Stand-by can affect your promptness to something like a wedding (I would not recommend flying standby unless the load is low for something like this).
  • Stand-by can make you so tired you force yourself to go to work on the Monday after the trip (literally me).
  • Stand-by can make you feel like you wasted entire days simply because flights are at maximum capacity.

My Final Advice to Anyone Traveling Stand-By

  • Always be sure to give yourself enough time and have a plan B, C, D, and E.
  • If there’s not another direct flight to your destination, you’ll need to start mapping out connecting flights through other cities.
  • It’s not for everyone. Flying free is a great perk, but it comes with meticulous planning and luck.
  • Be aware of the loads and if possible, avoid traveling on Friday or Sunday (These tend to be the busier days).
  • You may want to see your friends in Vegas, but it happens to be the weekend of the NFL draft and everyone’s flying out for it so you may not want to travel
  • Be aware of the loads and if possible, avoid traveling on Friday or Sunday (These tend to be the busier days).

To anyone interested in flying standby, my hope is that you feel more confident or you enjoyed learning about this flying process!

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Creative entrepreneur, U.S. Army Engineer, and dedicated runner. Committed to sharing ideas that lead to more fulfillment in all areas of life. Email:

Chicago, IL

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