Plane wing taking off over sunset | Family on Standby

Flying Standby to Europe: How Does Standby Work?

Flying standby, non-revenue, space available, or staff travel. However you hear it talked about, it basically means one thing: an airline employee, spouse, parent, or “buddy” traveling on an unconfirmed ticket. That is to say – passengers showing up at the airport with no tickets and hoping to get on a flight with an open seat. In its purest form, flying standby requires pass-riders to have the ultimate in travel flexibility: open dates, open destinations, or sometimes both!

In a lot of ways, flying standby is the ultimate fantasy of travel: just deciding on a whim to go to the airport and catching the next flight out. It’s serendipitous travel in its purest form. Flying standby, however, can have its less-than-pleasant side. And if you’re not mentally prepared for it, it can be downright terrible. Stuck in Honolulu’s airport for two days. Leaving the O’hare three days in a row without getting out. Flying three legs when there are three directs a day. As they say when you’re flying standby, “you get what you pay for.”

You get what you pay for!

-Every non-rev traveller ever

How Flying Standby Works

Which brings us to this journey. We wanted to visit Athens as a little pre-baby getaway. Sure, we could have flown direct. From O’hare. But where would the fun in that be? Nah, we like a challenge. Not really, flights just started selling out! Our process is generally as follows:

  • Two Weeks Out: Get together a list of 4-5 places we’d like to visit and keep an eye on the loads.
  • One Week Out: Realize all but two or three will be too close to chance. Pick a sure-thing back up.
  • Three Days Out: Things start to even out, so we can pick our #1 and #2, and then have a couple alternate ways to get there.
  • Night Before: Plan the time we need to leave for the airport, but know we might have to take that 6am.
  • Travel Day: See that everything is starting to fill up and react accordingly.

Our trip for our babymoon in Athens was no different. Our original intention was to fly from Chicago to Brussels or Frankfurt to Athens. One quick stop in Europe and hop on either Lufthansa or Aegean. The night before, the flight to both BRU and FRA sold a lot of seats! And by the time we woke up in the morning, those simply weren’t options.

Flying Standby to Europe: How Does Standby Work?
ORD > EWR > BRU > ATH

Time for an audible. We’re headed to Newark! EWR has a ton of other European flights, so we knew that even if we didn’t catch the BRU or FRA flight, we could at minimum get to somewhere in Europe and strategize again from there. So luckily, we were able to leave at 11am instead of 6pm and snagged a couple seats to Newark.

Flying Standby to Europe: How Does Standby Work?

Where to Go?

Newark’s seat situation looked much better for us. Which presents it’s own problems! How do you choose which flight to take? Literally a roll of the dice because we had no idea the seat count for the final leg to Athens. Choose wrong and we were stuck in whatever city we picked. After much debate and a couple hours sitting in the United Club, we finally settled on Brussels.

Landing in Brussels, after a day and night, we then have to find out if we’re making it to Athens. No idea of the seat situation, we try to find an Aegean desk. Oh. There are none? No one from Aegean? No gate? And the gate agents only work for SwissPort? Crap. More waiting.

This Ought to be Interesting…

After catching a shower with our Priority Pass (man, this is essential when you have no idea how long you might be marooned in a given airport) we went down to the gate that the flight is “normally” departing from. Between the language barrier and no insight to availability, we were flying as blind as we ever have. Luckily, we got an email with boarding passes on a whim and we knew we finally had seats.

The flight, at this point, is going to board any minute. And we don’t have a hotel yet. So time to confirm one of the handful we had looked at and hope it’s still available!

That’s Flying Standby in a Nutshell

This one certainly worked out for us, albeit longer than we’d planned. But at the end of it all, it’s normally a super fun experience. For our take, it’s really taught us (and our daughter!) flexibility and adaptability.

Sometimes…. It Doesn’t Work

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Would You Enjoy Flying Standby?

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