Standby Seat

Standby: What can you do without a confirmed seat?

To the point Avoid standby seating. Learn about overbooking, compensation rights, and securing confirmed seats as we delve into peak travel season.

Travel peak season is here, and you may have been lucky to have never seen the word standby or “SBY” appear on your boarding pass when you check in, but it can happen. Most of the time, this will be resolved at the latest at the gate when you are waiting to board.

Here are some explanations of why it can occur and what you can do to avoid being put in a standby situation.

Standby Seat

Standby - Why are you getting this?

It is important to note that receiving a standby seat on your confirmed flight is different from choosing to standby on an earlier flight (to try to avoid flight delays, for example). Indeed, the latter is from your own free will, and the former is the result of airline overbooking.

Overbooking is a strategy airlines employ to guarantee maximum seat occupancy during takeoff. In simple terms, it involves selling more tickets than the actual number of available seats on the aircraft. This approach is adopted to ensure the plane is filled to capacity before departure, as empty seats can lead to financial setbacks for the airlines.

Algorithms will determine how many seats can be sold for a flight even though that number can be greater than the capacity of the aircraft. The system will analyze information from past routes and demand to the probability of incoming connections being missed, etc.

Overbooking happens because, most of the time, the flight will depart fully booked with no one left behind. If it doesn’t, they will have a small price to pay when they do have to turn someone away. Is it legal? It’s definitely frowned upon by the public, but yes, airlines have the right to do it, as there are regulations in place in the event that you are involuntarily bumped or denied from your flight.

Therefore, if your flight is over capacity and you have not selected a seat yet, you will be put on the standby list. The list is also made according to priority.

When the flight closes and/or boarding starts, the gate agents will remove the passengers who didn’t check in and those who will most likely miss their connections (the no-shows). You will know if you were given a seat or not by a green checkmark next to your name.

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Indeed, the staff has a list of all the incoming passengers and their flight information. If they see one flight is severely delayed and there’s no way they will make it in time, they will free up those seats and start calling standby passengers. This generally happens between 30 and 60 minutes before departure, and it can sometimes be up to the last boarding call (some people do miss their flight because they fall asleep in the lounges).

Also, business class and first class are rarely subjected to overbooking compared to economy class. When a passenger is listed on the standby list for business class, it is usually because they are trying to upgrade, with eupgrade credits, for example.

Therefore, whenever economy class is overbooked, but the premium classes aren’t, the airline will upgrade some passengers to the front. The company will choose people who are ready to pay for an upgrade, people with status, or people who paid higher economy fares, etc.

Finally, you can also be put on standby because you’ve missed your previous flight or if you faced a cancellation. Alternatively, you can ask for a confirmed seat on another flight, but that may be at a later time or day, which might or might not be convenient for you compared to being on standby.

Standby - What can you do?

As you can probably guess, even if the prospect of being ultimately bumped from your confirmed flight is slim, you will want to avoid being put on standby because you might end up in an undesirable seat, such as the middle one in front of the lavatories or separated from your companions.

When possible, choose your seat in advance! When you are already allocated a seat, you will less likely to get a standby mention when you check in for your flight. Depending on your purchased fare, you may be able to reserve your seat without a fee. If there is one, you can employ some cards such as the World Elite Mastercard from National Bank to pay for the expense because it offers a 150$ travel credit you can use to cover the cost!

If you do not wish to buy a seat selection, make sure you check in as early as possible to choose it; the airline has a checked-in sequence list, so the late goers are most likely to get standby or bumped if the flight is overbooked.

Also, having a status with the airline or holding one of their premium credit cards can help. You can be proactive with the check-in or gate agent at the airport since they may already have the information about a 5-hour delayed flight with the 20 passengers who will miss the cut-off. Be kind to the agents, they are not the ones responsible for putting you on standby, and they are trying their best to give everyone a seat.

Standby - Your rights

When you are on standby and ultimately in a situation of denied boarding because the airline’s overbooking strategy didn’t work, it is a good thing to know your rights. You will be able to ask for compensation since this is within the company’s control.

The compensation amount varies based on the delay experienced by the passenger in reaching their destination compared to the originally scheduled arrival time on their ticket. You will also have to deal with the company for your compensation and losses (hotel nights, excursions, etc.) as this is not a matter of travel insurance but of airline regulations.

The specific amounts mandated are as follows:

  • If the passenger arrives less than six hours late, the airline must pay $900.
  • If the passenger arrives six hours or later but less than nine hours, the airline must pay $1,800.
  • If the passenger arrives nine hours or later, the airline must pay $2,400.

Also, be on the lookout for PA announcements; the airline occasionally makes public offers asking for volunteers to take a later or different flight. This can be very interesting when you are not in a hurry to get somewhere.

You can read all about the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) in Canada here and here.

Bottom Line

There will likely be more passengers put on the standby lists since flights are getting fuller and fuller. With such high demands, airlines want to maximize profit and avoid flying with empty seats at all costs. Ultimately, the probability of you being denied boarding because you were given a standby seat is slim.

To ensure that the odds are in your favour, reserve your seat in advance, check in early and know your rights if things go sour.

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Aline Nguyen
I'm Aline, an experienced traveller, a foodie at heart, an Avgeek, a photography enthusiast and an expert on credit card programs. I use Reward Points to travel on a budget and to save money on everyday life; writing about these topics allows me to share my passion and help you. ~ 7 continents and 75 countries ~

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