This blog post was updated on December 9, 2021.

It’s not as easy as the old days, that’s for sure! Today, flying standby is always a roll of the dice. There are many different scenarios to having or choosing to fly this way, one, for example, is when a traveler misses a flight and they’re in a hurry, the passenger is usually left with little to no option than to wait on a standby list. While you don’t know if you’ll board the flight you’re waiting around for, sometimes it’s worth the chance. Before making the decision, you think to yourself, “If I could get on this flight, my trip can start much sooner!” You decide to take the gamble, wait for the last flight out, and then coincidentally your boss lets you out early for vacation. PERFECT!

Waiting on standby can mean a much better flight schedule than you had originally booked and can even save you a nice chunk of money, but unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out. If you want to make the attempt, you must know how to increase your chances to succeed. Luckily, we’ve outlined just some of the steps for you to try to increase your chances of success when attempting to catch a last-minute flight.

Do Your Homework on the Best Times to Fly

How to fly standby

Before you even book an unfavorable schedule on the notion that you will just try to fly standby earlier in the day, you need to do your research if that day and time will lend you the highest standby success rate. Your rate of success generally boils down to when and where you’re flying. If you think this is the route you want to take, make sure it isn’t a high airport traffic day. Long weekends and holidays tend to have the fullest flights with no room for last-minute passengers. It often comes down to timing. If you can depart beyond the holiday weekends, you’ll have a better chance of flying last-minute. Also, if you are taking a popular route with loads of flights in one day, your chances should swing more in your favor as opposed to a route with just three flights a day.

Have Status with the Airline

Sometimes your best bet at snagging a seat is rooted in what you do prior to arriving at the airport. Most airlines prioritize their standby lists by how loyal the customer is to the airline. Full-fare-paying passengers along with elite status passengers are generally awarded the first seats available. Before you decide, it never hurts to sign up for the airline’s mileage program so that you’ll be looked at as a rewards member and not just an average passenger. If you do have elite status already with an airline, be sure the gate agent is aware before you start asking if there are any seats up for grabs.

Pack Light

How to fly standby

If you arrive at the airport and have several pieces of checked luggage, you can pretty much kiss your plan bon voyage. It’s very likely that you won’t be able to get on a flight that you don’t already have a ticket for if you have a bag to check. You often need to be flexible, racing off to a gate across the airport to get that last seat on the plane. If you have a lot of baggage, your chances are too weighed down. Also, if you arrive to the airport and can’t get on a standby list until you reach the gate, your checked bag could end up lost or extremely delayed.

Know Your Airline’s Standby Policies

Flying standby can vary from airline to airline. You’re probably not going to make it on that flight if you don’t read up on your airline’s policies. Some will restrict certain fare classes while others will charge a fee. You may not even be given the option based on the airline’s flight offerings to that destination. If there’s only one flight a day, many airlines won’t welcome additional passengers. You may discover you have a leg up thanks to your elite status or you won’t be shocked at the airport when you’re asked to pay $75 just to fly standby.

Get to the Airport Early

how to fly standby

To increase your odds of boarding the flight, you need to get to the airport early. Make your way to a ticket counter before going through security to speak with an agent. You should be able to receive information if you’ll be able to get a seat on the flight that day and you’ll be adding your name to the list first thing in the morning. If the route you are trying to fly has early morning flights, you might just snag a seat on that 6 a.m. to Buffalo. Early flights tend to have more no-shows than flights later in the day.

Don’t Wander Away from the Gate

How to fly standby

It sounds simple enough. If you want to fly standby, you need to stay near the gate. However, all too often standby passengers turn a shade of red when they find out their seat was given away to the next guy down the list because they decided to go for a stroll before boarding. Standby tickets are dished out just before the flight is set to take off. If you’re not in the gate area when your name is called, you will generally miss your opportunity. You don’t want to stray away even when you think the flight is completely full. If the plane hasn’t pulled out of the gate yet, don’t leave the area. Seat miscounts can happen and sometimes seats are given out at the last minute. When all other potential passengers have lost hope and walk away, you’ll be there ready.

Have any other tips to share? Tell us your tips and tricks in the comments below!

About The Author

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at