While my experiences of flying standby this summer were filled with many last minute decisions, changing of plans, and an overall change in traveling lifestyle, I never imagined anything crazier than having to fly through an extra city or two to get to my destination. But boy did I think wrong. This in itself showed I’m definitely an amateur.
While I briefly lived in St. Louis for the summer on an airline internship, I was privileged with flight benefits, and took advantage of them whenever I had the chance. Having the ability to visit my family back home in Ohio and New York, in addition to my friends at school down in Florida, was a special opportunity that I really enjoyed! As I dwelled back on my adventures getting through Chicago O’Hare to my various destinations, I realized my craziest experience of flying standby wasn’t yet shared. Being the total nerd that I am, I just HAVE to tell you!
Closer to the end of my internship, I wanted to go back and visit my friends in Florida. It was a late Thursday afternoon, and I was preparing to leave work. My boss thankfully gave me the next day off, so I had a three day weekend ahead of me. Soon after he told me, I rushed to the nearest computer in the office. I quickly logged onto the website, and started browsing flights. Through my excitement, I forgot that the Thursday night – Friday morning part of the week was the most hectic with business travelers. Flights were overbooked by a long shot, and I saw my chances of getting to Florida quickly slipping away. I was determined though. I looked at every possible option; from flying through Houston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, even Los Angeles, I looked everywhere in order to get to Jacksonville.
In the end, I did end up finding a workable option. It wasn’t going to be a fun leg, but my chances were looking pretty good on the standby lists. I ended up flying from St. Louis to Newark in New Jersey…and SPENT THE NIGHT! Yes, I spent the night at an airport for the first time in my life. Let me tell you, it wasn’t anywhere near to what I expected it to be.
I took the last evening flight from STL to EWR. It was about a two hour flight. I was exhausted from work that week, so I definitely relaxed on the plane. When it came time for our initial decent into Newark, I was mentally preparing for my night ahead. Once the plane landed and pulled into the gate, I then realized I had to take the train over to the next terminal where my flight was scheduled to depart from. As my train pulled up to the correct terminal, I saw security tape, barriers, and guards, telling us we had to re-enter airport security.
Since it was well past the evening rush, the airport closed down the quick and easy way to enter the next terminal. Since my whole trip was via standby, I had to go back to the kiosk and print off my next ticket. As annoying as the whole thing sounded, it went by rather fast. Since the airport was emptying out, there were no lines. I printed my ticket and went through security again in about fifteen minutes. It was about 10pm Eastern Time. Most of the restaurants were closed.
Luckily, I stocked up on snacks before I left St. Louis. Watching all the international flights take off was a pretty sight. I always loved walking throughout the international terminals and seeing all the destinations displayed on the board. I could go to Frankfurt, Dubai, London, Paris, Shanghai, etc… the world was at my disposal, until I realized I didn’t have my passport. Whoops!
What freaked me out the most was the terminal emptying out. At one point during the night, there wasn’t a soul in sight. This was Newark Liberty International Airport, a major gateway to Europe and there was absolutely nothing. I can’t lie, it was a bit creepy. Nonetheless, I had an entire airport to explore. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t sleep throughout the night like a normal person would. I was thinking the same thing too. I just can’t sleep while traveling on a plane or being at an airport. My system has been like that for as long as I can remember. So being wide awake, and having a backpack filled with snacks and clothes for the weekend, I plugged in my iPod and walked all over the airport.
I was booked for the 6:30am flight to Jacksonville that next morning, so the time went by pretty quickly. As about 4:30am rolled around, people started to filter back into the airport. I slowly started to make my way back to my terminal.
As the clock neared the six o’clock hour, I saw my gate start to fill up with people. My phone was ready with the standby list open and constantly being refreshed. About ten minutes before the boarding process, the gate agent came over the intercom and notified us that she would be going through the standby list in a few moments, seeing who would make the flight and who needed to rebook. As if I needed to hear that…I was nervous as it was.
Those next ten minutes couldn’t have gone any slower. I watched the agent type away on her keyboard, step away from the kiosk, go down the jet bridge, come back and talk with another employee, etc…everything that I didn’t want to see. After all of that, she finally came back on the intercom and said, “Will ALL standby passengers please come up to the desk and receive your seat assignments.” I wanted to jump up in the air! I was so excited, even for 6:30 in the morning. I quickly scanned my boarding pass and entered the aircraft.
My traveling adventure had ended. I got on the flight to Jacksonville, and was finally able to take a nice, long, deep breath. I even had a great view of New York during taxi and departure!
The “happily ever after” segment took place at that point. It was an enjoyable weekend in Florida seeing all of my friends. Luckily, I made both connecting flights through Chicago to get back to St. Louis a few days later.
I certainly had a love-hate relationship with flying standby this past summer. Having to change plans last minute, and often times watching them fall apart, was something I didn’t deal necessarily well with. On the other hand, not having to pay for my airfare was a serious money saver. There are pros and cons to everything in life! For me, I’ll take it as-is!