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I got the possibility to give stand-by flying a try. That’s what airline employees and their families do to get from A to B.
It was my first time and there were a few aspects I didn't yet understand. But I got a better feel for it all during the time living on Munich airport, and messaging with my friends who offered me this opportunity, as well as getting infos from the friendly airport staff.

Here are my takeaways from 1.5 days at the airport and 4 tries to get on board.

(spoiler: I got onto the fourth one!) ;)

- - -

Here’s a tl;dr of a few things that I learned:

    1) Check in normally, get your boarding pass (it says STBY somewhere) and go to the gate at the time when boarding starts
    2) You’ll wait until everyone has boarded, and you’ll also wait for those scattered late-comers running to claim their places
    3) The remaining seats are given according to “seniority” of the STBY ticket holders - not primarily check-in time!
    4) If you get on - off you go! (meals included)
    5) If you don’t - get yourself booked on the next flight (app, or through family/friends), walk up to the airline personnel and get yourself a new boarding pass.
    6) Repeat from step 2)

IN GENERAL: Sometimes you’ll catch a flight swiftly, and sometimes it might take rather long.

- - -

Here are some more details:

The App (how to book):
Employees have apps that allow them to presumptively book seats on a flight. I haven’t used one myself, but seen others and had someone book for me.
After booking the seat you are potentially on the flight and can get a STBY boarding pass. However, if the flight fills up, you’re out.

Who gets on:
Seats for standbys are awarded according to "seniority " - which is probably a factor constituted by "years working at the airline" and probably "status therein”. What one of the employees told me (for United), it also depends on whether someone is on their annual free holiday flight. These people get priority too. Only if there are two or more people of the same ranking, then the check-in time is considered.

Since I was on a "friend's pass", I was very low in the pecking order. (E.g. for the flight I then actually got on, one other standby passenger showed me my ranking in the app - and I saw that I was #11/11) : )

- - -

And here’s for people who were wondering what what happens every time after you get on a flight with a normal ticket:

From the check-in personnel’s side:
    ⁃ Check-in personnel waits around
    ⁃ Calls through the loudspeakers for late-comers
    ⁃ They check arrival time of connection flights and weigh how long they will still wait for people potentially still arriving.
    ⁃ They phone to security and define a cut-off (e.g. “every one who hasn't passed until now stays behind”)
    ⁃ They wait still some more for late people to scurry in (some of those hurry, some don't)
    ⁃ In the meanwhile the ranks have thinned out and the people leftover sitting near the gate are most probably standby flyers : )
    ⁃ After the 3rd call for "now seriously, folks, we're closing!" They start calling a few names of the standby travelers- according to their seniority - and have them get on.
    ⁃ For the rest it's "sorry peeps", and then the personnel starts helping those who ask with printing a new boarding pass for another flight that the standby-person booked themselves on

From a standby's point of view:
    ⁃ you have an app (or a friend who has an app) that allows you to book yourself on a flight
    ⁃ You realize you might not get in
    ⁃ You go to the airport, check in, go through security and all that
    ⁃ Then the waiting starts
    ⁃ At boarding time you sit around and wait for classes A-E to get on
    ⁃ All the while you listen a little to the conversations of the personnel to figure out how are your chances for that flight
    ⁃ After boarding stopped, they might utter a number of leftover seats, but mainly they feverishly work on finding out who is still missing and why - are they off the list or still coming?
    ⁃ Usually they still come
    ⁃ That's a pity if you're hoping for a free spot
    ⁃ Basically, once the boarding groups A-E have gotten on, the tension increases
    ⁃ It holds until the very end (although each family hurrying along drops your chances significantly - they take up so many seats right away!)
    ⁃ At some point it is either over ("no standbys, sorry“) or some names get called (which is most likely not gonna be yours, if you're like me and there are some other people waiting), OR you're lucky.
    ⁃ And then you get on! : )

Getting on the first flight took me about 36 hours, getting on the second one took me not even 15 minutes. (That was a rush!)

So I have the feeling I got to see two very opposite aspects of how it can go.
Fun times.
Let me know if someone wants to know more.
Ah - good point!

It's actually not that cheap. Even though the ticket price was $0, with taxes and whoknowswhat I paid ~$300 for crossing the Atlantic (Europe to US).

If you're not bound by specific dates, you can get this way cheaper! I get newsletters from http://www.fly4free.com/ - a site that a friend of mine introduced me to - and there are generally low-cost fares for that distance for ~$150. Recently there was even one for $73(!)

- - -

So the advantage of the standby flight in terms of price is more that it allows you to fly also during times when ticket prices are high. E.g., when you need to go somewhere short-notice.

For many people on this forum it's probably not worth it. I know it isn't for me, because I usually don't have specific dates (or even places) I need to go to ;) - but it was worth it for the experience! :D

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