Living life on standby

Due to the generosity of one of my best friends who recently became a flight attendant, I can fly standby to anywhere in the world for the rest of 2016 for free. I’m what they like to call a “pass rider.”

Now exactly what does this new travel lifestyle of mine entail? Well here’s the rundown of it all…

For any flight that I book, I am not guaranteed a seat. Although I receive a ticket for that specific flight, my name remains on the standby list up until boarding time. If there are available seats, I receive a ticket with an actual seat that secures my spot on the flight. But if the flight is booked or only has a couple of seats available, depending on where I am on the standby list I am likely to get bumped to the next flight.

So you ask what happens if the next flight is full too? In this case, I continue to wait at the airport until I can get on a flight out.

Although the opportunity to be a pass rider is something to not take for granted because it essentially means free airfare, it requires a level of flexibility and patience. I like to consider myself flexible when it comes to traveling, but patience is not my strong suit.

Over spring break, I traveled to Washington D.C. and New York City to celebrate my birthday. After spending a few days in D.C. with my cousin, I headed to the airport to catch a flight to Newark, NJ. The only problem with flying from D.C. to Newark is that the airline only services ExpressJet between the two locations – which means very small planes with limited seating. I stood no chance against availability on the tiny plane but was hopeful for a seat on the next flight.

And when I say the next flight, it’s not like there is a next flight in 30 minutes (oh how I wish that were true). In this case, the next flight to Newark from D.C. was two hours after the first flight I missed. So there I was, sitting by myself in the airport munching on a McDonald’s hash brown at nine o’clock in the morning. And this was after I woke up at six to make it to the airport early enough hoping that would help with securing a seat on the first flight.

The second flight came and went with no available seat for me. It was safe to say I was losing my patience at this point. Before contacting my friend about my bump in travel plans, I started searching other means of transportation to Newark. I told myself that if I did not get on one of the next three flights, I was taking the Metro back into the city and catching an Amtrak train to Newark.

By this point, I was ready to pay the $80 train ticket. I was worried I would never be able to get on a flight out due to the tiny planes that were trying to ruin my life. Standby seating + tiny plane with barely any available seating = not a happy camper.

I just about had this entire plan all worked out in my head when my friend texted me saying “You are going to Cleveland. Your gate is C19 and the flight leaves in 20 minutes.”

I was up and out of my seat already heading to my new gate before I even finished reading his text. With Cleveland being a hub for the airline I am flying with, there was a better chance I would get on a flight out from Cleveland than from D.C. And sure enough it worked. After a couple hours spent in the Cleveland airport, I was able to get a seat on the first flight headed to Newark.

All in all, being a pass rider and flying standby is quite the experience. You have to be flexible and patient – one of which I am still working on. If you ever have the opportunity to be a pass rider and fly standby, just know that it might take you a couple flights to get to where you are going. Patience is key when it comes to standby travel (and the Cleveland airport was just an added bonus).


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