Standby Rules and Strategies for International Flights
What can you do if you need to take an earlier flight to get to your destination on time? Can you switch from an international connecting flight to a non-stop to your destination? Standby rules are pretty clear for domestic flights, but can get murky when traveling internationally. Read on to learn more about the policies of major domestic airlines for international standby travel.
According to their page on Same-day Flight Change and Standby Options, these options are only available for flights in the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and the Caribbean.
Delta's web page regarding same-day travel changes is very clear: you can use the same-day standby option for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Delta and Delta Connection flights, and no routing changes are allowed.
One small silver lining in United's switch over to the SHARES program in March of 2012 was its adoption of same-day standbys on international flights. There is no language in its page on same-day flight changes that excludes international flights. The price is $75 for Premier Silver and non-Premier members, and free for those with higher status.
US Airways same-day standby policy, known as MoveUp, allows for a flight within six hours of your original departure time, on the same day or before 3AM the following day. The routing has to be the same.
According to the US Airways website, the fee for MoveUp is $75 for flights within the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada, and $150 for flights to/from Europe, Israel, and/or South America. Thankfully, the fee is waived for Dividend Miles Preferred and AAdvantage elite status members.
Beyond the rules
According to their posted rules, United and US Airways offer international standby, and American and Delta do not. Yet I have observed that ticketing and gate agents can grant same-day standby requests under certain circumstances:
- Oversell situations. If a later flight is oversold, ticketing agents will be happy to accept volunteers to fly on a different flight.
- Irregular Operations (IRROPS). When a flight has been cancelled or delayed due to weather, maintenance, or for any other reason, check-in and gate agents are empowered to re-book passengers to their final destinations on earlier or more direct flights.
The fact is that airline staff can break the rules if they choose to. When you check in for your flight at the airport, the ticket falls under the control of the airline operating that flight. Knowing this has recently helped members of my immediate family to get put on earlier flights with non-stop routing on both Delta and United, without paying any fees.
In one instance this year, a traveler in my family needed an earlier flight on the original day of departure on United from Newark to Tel Aviv to attend a funeral, and was granted permission. More recently, another family member was able to change three award tickets from Madrid to Atlanta via JFK to a non-stop itinerary to Atlanta.
Here is some advice to help you benefit from some "agent discretion":
1. Check availability. Search your carrier's website to see if they're still selling seats in the class of service you need. If so, you can mention this to the representatives you meet. If they aren't even selling any seats, you have very little chance of standing by, but if you don't mind the bad karma, you can always hope that other travelers will miss their connections.
2. Call first. It can't hurt to call the airline within 24 hours of your flight to request a different itinerary. You may be offered standby for a fee, or you may learn that your ticket can easily be changed. For example, American does allow free changes to its award tickets so long as the origin and destination are unchanged. In other circumstances you might discover that there's a weather waiver or some other event that qualifies you for a free change.
3. Check in early. Not only will there be greater likelihood that any unsold seats are still available, but the check-in staff may be less rushed and more likely to assist you.
4. Be extremely nice. You are relying on the good will of an airline employee to re-ticket you for your convenience, so give him or her a reason to do so. Some factors are beyond your control, but being kind isn't one of them.
5. Ask for an appeal. On the way back from Madrid, my family member's request to be re-ticketed on the non-stop flight was initially denied. They humbly pleaded with the agent to see if there was anyone else that might be able to help, and a supervisor ultimately changed their flights. After trying your luck with a ticketing supervisor, you can also plead your case to staff in the business lounge, and finally to the gate agents.
6. Don't check luggage. One of the obstacles to international standby can be the security requirement to match bags. When my family member was traveling to Tel Aviv, he was able to pack everything he needed in just a carry-on, which enabled the gate agent to eventually clear him for the earlier flight. Had his bags been checked, the gate agent may have been unable to help, or may have not bothered to avoid a security hassle.
7. Have some documentation. My family member needed to be on the earlier flight to Israel in order to attend a funeral, and he even had an image of the deceased's death certificate on his mobile phone. If your need to travel is due to some emergency or unusual event, it can help to have some sort of documentation with you, even if only to elicit sympathy.