AirTran is back with its third year of AirTran U, a cheap standby program for college students with fares starting at $69. While the program is not new, it remains compelling and worth a mention each time AirTran renews it, as it did this January. The premise is simple: College-age students register with the program and show up two hours before their desired flight. If a seat is available after the final boarding call, it's theirs for either $69 or $99, depending on the length of the flight. Checked bags aren't permitted due to the nature of flying standby.
But the devil is always in the details, and in this case, AirTran U's usefulness gets a little fuzzy, mainly due to blackouts. AirTran doesn't permit AirTran U travel on the following dates: January 4; February 13, 16; April 3 to 5, 9 to 10, 19; May 22, 25; June 21, 26, 28; July 3, 5, 12; November 25, 28 to 30; or December 18 to 31. You probably don't need a calendar to figure out that major holidays are included here, notably Thanksgiving and Christmas (well, nearly the entire second half of December, which is particularly important because many colleges hold finals well into the month). But before you cry foul, keep in mind that these are high-demand travel periods, during which the odds of successfully flying standby are slim at best.
Note that while holidays are blacked out, other crucial travel periods, such as early September, mid- to late-January, spring break, and early to mid-May, are not. However, the checked-bag restriction makes AirTran U less appealing to students traveling at the beginning or end of a semester because there's no way a semester's worth of clothes fits in a carry-on.
That said, if you don't mind traveling standby, and don't need to check a bag, AirTran U can be a useful and economical option.