Life on Standby

How does standby work?

Before meeting Joe, I had no idea this parallel world of standby travel existed. The first time we connected, he told me he was going to Barbados for the weekend, and I thought “why/how are you going for just 3 days!?” – Laura

Standby travel is how most airline employees travel around the world.


When you want to travel standby, you get on the list of your desired flight. It basically ranks all the people (mostly employees and their family members, but also paying passengers who missed their flight or people who want to upgrade) who are hoping to make the flight.

When there are empty seats left on a flight, it’s easy. It goes by priority. They give out the empty seats in the order of the list until there are no more seats left.

But what happens if the flight is full? You can still list yourself on standby and you basically hope someone doesn’t make it to the airport or doesn’t make their connection (I know, isn’t that sad to hope for that? But you get used to it quickly!)

That’s also when the adrenaline kicks in. If the flight is tight (not a lot of empty seats or no empty seats at all) it all comes down to the last minute. Even on a flight with empty seats, it’s just a matter of a snowstorm and a few flight cancelled with passengers needing to be reassigned to new flights, and the board is all messed up!


When travelling on our airline, we get to see the ranking, but when travelling on other airlines we travel blind – we don’t have access to the standby list. But a bunch of apps and forums exist where people share the loads (how many seats left) of each flight! (I tell you, a parallel world)


Your rank on the list depends on what airline you work for (each airline will prioritize their own employees) and how many years of service you have.

Of course, all paying passengers are prioritize. So if you miss your connection and you are put on another flight’s standby list, you will get on that flight before anyone else on that list does.


We don’t travel for free, but we definitely pay less than what a regular flight would cost us.


We always travel with a carry-on. Since it’s difficult to know a 100% if we’re making the flight or not, we can’t check-in any luggage.


Other than being an airline employee or being buddy with one, you need to be:

1- flexible: we don’t always make the flight we wanted. That involves arriving later to destination, or even completely changing destinations!

2- patience: you might end up hanging out at the airport, waiting to get on another flight, or going back to your hotel and making your way back to the airport later that day or the next day! When in Australia, colleagues of Joe’s had been stuck in Brisbane for 3 days before they actually made it on a flight.

3- Good behaviour: whether you’re the employee or the employee’s spouse or buddy, you represent the company. Stay cool, dress the part and be polite with everyone.


If you watch our instagram stories, you saw that Joe got to flight in the flight deck, a bucket list item for him! On our flight back from Portland, the flight from YVR to YUL was full. There was only one seat left for one of us. In most cases, we often split up (never give up a seat! that’s our motto) and meet at destination – often Joe will stay behind as he has more experience maneuvering the standby lists and figuring his way out. But on occasion, they will offer us a jump seat (the flight attendant seats – like the one we had on our way back from Malta!) and rarely, employees only depending on their status in the company, can take the jump seat in the flight deck!

Hope this demystifies a few things for you! Did you know about standby travel? Do you have any questions? Ask below!

2 thoughts on “How does standby work?”

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