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Crewed Talk

The Saga Of A Standby Flyer

The Saga Of A Standby Flyer
Amanda Pleva

As most people do, I take the summer to spend time with family. I had to take a break from that time to fly home to New York so I could work the next day. Forgetting the fact that this was a holiday weekend, I decided to document the drama of what it’s like for crew to get from point A to point B on standby.

Denver to New York City, July 1st, 2017

6:02 a.m. – Arrive at airport. Trying for a 7:45am flight, since people always miss the morning flights.

6:16 – Frantic woman in workout gear asks me if I know which terminal her airline uses. I feel her lose patience as I look it up in my flight tracking app, and wonder why she doesn’t just do this herself. “My flight leaves in 15 minutes,” she announces as we board the train. I tell her she is two terminals away. I feel bad for hoping there are more like her, but people like her are how people like me get places. “Good luck,” I tell her, uselessly.

6:35 – Arrive at my gate to find a maudlin young family watch their plane to Atlanta pull away. Mother is devastated to hear that her car seat and luggage, unlike them, have made the flight. Her three year old boy asks, “Mommy, are we going on a plane today?” After a pregnant pause, she says, “I don’t know.” She helplessly watches the plane exit our sight as she stands motionless with her baby in a stroller, and her curly headed son bops around the boarding area without a care in the world.

7:45 – After agonizing my way through the boarding process, awaiting my name to be called to collect my boarding pass, I hear the Dot Matrix Printer of Doom rattle off the flight manifest. I am not on it.

8:17 – List myself on another flight to Newark instead of JFK, as it’s the next option to the New York metro area. A dad and two kids, who are likely using buddy passes, are told by the customer service agent that there are no flights with room on them to catch their Tokyo flight today. The daughter, about age 5, quietly cries. It kills me inside, partly because my son and I are to make the same journey next week. I list for my Newark flight, which has no room on it, and check on my Tokyo flight…which I now learn also has no room on it.

8:51 – At the Newark gate now. Fretting as I look around at all the telltale Travelpro suitcases, just like mine – standard crew issue. People who can and probably will take my seat.

9:26 – Person next to me starts a long conversation with a polite yet uninterested stranger, asking if she has a sister named Becky. She does not, but continues on anyway. I now know all about San Diego Becky’s life as I anxiously await a possible seat assignment.

9:32 – The printer sound tells me all I need to know. The gate closes. I stand in front of the monitors finding the next option. I feel like I’m in a slow motion, depressing episode of The Amazing Race, where the only prize is decent sleep and retained employment.

9:36 – Walk up to the LaGuardia gate. It’s delayed until nearly the same time as the next Newark flight, which had room on it earlier today. I ask, “Should I bother?” Gate agent says, “Well…” Enough said.

10:07 – Losing morale. I need ice cream or alcohol. I decide it’s too early for ice cream. I order a drink, because somehow that is more acceptable to me at this hour.

11:30 – I’ve now seen an otherwise normal looking girl with a tattoo with an evil clown that says “Juggalo” on it. I’m almost glad to have missed all those flights just to have seen this.

11:42 – List for the next JFK flight. It looked good earlier, but now the gate agent says it is carrying cargo so is now weight-restricted. On to the Newark flight I was told looked good.

12:10 – I see the list for this supposedly good flight. I am now 26th and last on the list for a seat. Always last, because it’s not my airline. Behind me, a motorized cart can not pull through the group of “gate lice”. No one budges as the cart stops and the group stares at it like a herd of cows. Someone seated near me loudly declares, while watching the scene, that she can’t believe how stupid people are. He gets through after everyone shifts no more than one inch, glued to a non-moving line to board. This literally takes nearly two full minutes.

12:13 – The boarding stops and reverses course. Delayed two hours. I walk to the LaGuardia gate.

12:43 – My name is called nearly immediately after listing! I am handed a boarding pass, as is the retired older flight attendant who’d sat next to me at the Newark flight. We laugh a bit too hard when we see each other – clearly the release of tension from a tough day standing by.

1:35 – After another sudden delay, rather than being annoyed, myself, the retired flight attendant and our other fellow passengers are slap happy. I’m somehow in an aisle seat in the exit row, ready to go home. That wasn’t so bad.

3:17 – Finally take off, after an extended delay. I’m signing off now to take a deep nap and drool unapologetically.

View Comments (10)


  1. TMOliver

    July 5, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Ahhh, the travails of today’s “Stand By” flyer…. Back in the darker era, 1962 (when I went on active duty) until the mid80s (as my retirement from the reserves approached), standing by for flights was a a regular occurrence, when going on/returning from “leave” or traveling to/fm “Active Duty for Training”. Over the 25+ years, I spent long hours in more than a few airports. Other than once, dressed in “Service Dress Blue” with modest non-hero ribbons, being spat upon in SFO, folks across the US were kind to and respectful of those who traveled in uniform. Nowhere was more familiar than the long wings of old ATL (at which every DL flight seemed to start/end.

    I suspect that almost as many military folk have spent the night at ATL than served in Vietnam.

  2. blackavar

    July 6, 2017 at 4:09 am

    The evil clown tattoo with the word Juggalo is likely a reference to the musical group Insane Clown Posse. Their fans are known as Jugalos or Jugalettes and often are into tattoos.

  3. Lewis Watson

    July 6, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Sorry don’t mean to be rude but I imagine you got your flight considerably cheaper than most if those who were on the plane with you.

  4. MCI777

    July 6, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I fly Non-Rev on AA and I can relate to this story. Luckily, I have an App that shows loads at any given second so I can plan my alternatives (which sometimes include double connections or traveling out of my way to get to my destination). I can certainly feel for you (especially on a holiday weekend) because watching those flights leave without you is definitely no fun at all.

  5. kelix

    July 6, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    “gate lice” no wonder PAX are beginning to push back… what a derogatory term for people (albeit who are annoying sometimes) who keep you in a job. I know of almost no other profession where the customers are seen as an “issue”

  6. bigbuy

    July 8, 2017 at 12:40 am

    I am with you on this. In the customer facing businesses that I have owned, Customers come first, employees come second, and I was last.
    In the airline business, this is totally reversed. Airline management comes first, employees come second and the customer is dead last. Notice the author got an exit row seat, something that could have been given at the last minute to a high frequency customer.

  7. mcwobby

    July 8, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    kelix – in every other service related job, customers are seen as an “issue”. Never stepped behind the kitchen doors at a restaurant or the service corridors at a hotel? The things that are said about guests are bordeline psychopathic. Every job has codewords and in-jokes for difficult/annoying/entitled/stupid customers.

  8. CA1900

    July 8, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    kelix, “Gate lice” specifically refer to people who stand up and clog the boarding area long, long before their boarding group is called. It slows the whole process down significantly.

  9. rjburns

    July 9, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    I’m with kelix. Gate lice? These are the people who allow you to work part time and jet around for free. Flying sucks, we get it. If you want a seat, buy a damn ticket like the rest of us. Enjoy Tokyo.

  10. htb

    July 11, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Gate lice? Come on, people! That’s the standard term for annoying PEOPLE clogging the boarding area, being an annoyance to everyone else. It’s a term used most often by fellow travelers.

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