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Why Can't I Fly Standby Anymore?


Welcome to the Today in Travel Question of the Week. As always, you can submit a query below or via email.

Dear Carl,

I had an experience on Saturday unlike any I have ever had. I have not found anyone who has written about it and I wonder if you would like to cover it.

I had a ticket for the 2 p.m. shuttle from NY to DC on US Airways. When I purchased the ticket (on United.com as a codeshare), I read the Fare Rules very carefully. The fare rules said there was no charge for flying standby on the same day. I arrived at the airport around 11 a.m. and asked to fly standby on the noon flight. The agent said I could not fly standby because the noon flight was not full. According to US Airways, the definition of "standby" is a status available only for travel on a full flight, if it turns out there is a seat that comes available. If the flight isn't full, that isn't standby. They charged me $50 to fly on the earlier flight.

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I told them I had flown standby on American as recently as last month, and it was no problem. I got to the airport earlier and they put me on the standby list and the gate cleared me for a seat on the earlier flight. There were plenty of seats and there was no issue of paying extra because the flight wasn't full.

I have flown standby (as I understand that term) frequently. This is the first time I have run into this definition. I believe readers should be alerted to this and I would love to have you cover this issue in a column.

Thanks,

Nancy

Nancy,

US Airways eliminated traditional standby back in 2005. In its place, the airline installed its Move Up program, which is exactly what you dealt with at the airport. The program charges a $50 fee for passengers making a same-day change to an earlier flight with available seats. You can only standby for free if your targeted flight is full, in which case you go through the normal standby procedure.

Standby rules vary quite a bit from carrier to carrier, as you know. American allows traditional standby, but also offers day-of-flight changes with a confirmed seat for a $50 fee. Continental charges a $50 fee whether you confirm in advance or get aboard via old-fashioned standby. JetBlue's standby policy is simple: You can grab the flight before your departure for free. Southwest allows full-fare passengers (Anytime, Business Select) to standby for free, but others must pay the difference in fare.

Simply put, standby travel isn't what it used to be. Carriers have been steadily adding fees for years, stripping away most options for travelers looking to slip onto an earlier flight. Even worse, a standby renaissance isn't likely any time soon, if at all. Airlines need all the revenue they can get right now, and won't likely give it up if they find themselves flush with cash in the future. In the meantime, capacity cuts have airlines flying full, meaning open seats are few and far between. Dark times for the standby set, to be sure.

Readers, any tips for flying standby, or personal experiences that Nancy might find useful? Any questions for future entries? Leave a comment below, and thanks!

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