Flying standby (domestic and international)
August 10, 2005 3:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning to take a trip to Russia next summer and have some questions about flying using standby. What sort of discounts do you get? Many more questions inside.

Are standby flights commonly available for international flights? Is there a best type of flight to attempt (late night, weekend, mid-week, etc)?

If you're flying standby, how does it work? Do you buy a standby ticket and then wait inside the terminal and go up to the gate desks everytime a plane is boarding to see if there is room? If not, how do you get past security without a boarding past.

I've searched Ask.MeFi and the only thing that I can find related to it is that people gave advice saying that carry-on luggage is a good idea.

Sorry for so many questions. I'm going to attempt standby flying in the states first, but the more I know beforehand the better. General advice and experiences are welcome.
posted by lockle to Travel & Transportation around Russian Federation (7 answers total)
If you are an American citizen, I would think about booking flights for Russia. Their visa requirements, especially for Americans, are pretty strict, and as someone who got deported for an improperly issued visa, let's just say it isn't fun.
Also, I don't think you will find an American airline to Russia that will allow standby travel. You can check out AirHitch and see what they can do for you though. A bucket shop will probably be your best bet however.
posted by arruns at 4:33 PM on August 10, 2005

What's a bucket shop?
posted by filmgeek at 4:41 PM on August 10, 2005

Russian visa requirements are indeed strict, and on a tourist visa (which requires an invitation from a travel agency--mere formality, but costs about $40) you have to provide a specific itenerary and register with either OVIR (the tourist minders) or a hotel at any city you stay in longer than 72 hours. To my knowledge the only way to get around this is on a business visa, which is much more costly but probably worth it (if you can swing it--I'm not sure how). I'm not sure if you'd actually have any trouble arriving after the entry date your visa specifies, though in my experience, going through customs via an airport is a much bigger hassle than overland. It's probably not worth it to risk the wrath of Russian formalities.

Flying standby, also, as I understand it, is basically unavailable these days unless you're closely related to an airline employee. More info here. I've heard lots of bad things about Airhitch, and more positive stuff about AirTech.
posted by soviet sleepover at 5:04 PM on August 10, 2005

I agree with everything said above. Visas are strict and I would really recommend booking a flight. I think you might be OK arriving later than your visa indicates (I'm pretty sure I arrived a few days later than planned), but upon return, if you do not catch your flight, you can have serious problems exiting the country (I might think about carrying an extra $100 or upon exit, just in case - I didn't try it, but I've heard it works).

To get past all of this, you could ask for a visa with dates that span much longer than you plan to be there (like a week on both sides). As long as it's not too long, the cost is the same and you can be assured that you won't have problems.

As for standby in general, you were right about how it works (you get a ticket and go to the gate to get your name on a list). I would aim for middle-of-the-week flights and plan to leave early in the morning, like the first flight out. Those can be less crowded and you'll have all day in the airport to find a plane with room for you to board. Also, if there are connections, that could be VERY bad because you could make your first flight and not your second, which means you'll be stuck in a foreign city.
posted by Moral Animal at 5:18 PM on August 10, 2005

What's a bucket shop?

Airline Ticket Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ -- required reading if you're trying to plan cheap international flights.
posted by winston at 5:33 PM on August 10, 2005

To piggyback:

What about flying as a courier? Anyone done it? Reputable places to hook you up? Is it possible for two people to travel together this way?
posted by Vidiot at 3:38 AM on August 11, 2005

I've flown standby, but only when I was using my dad's airline employee number, and every time all other people in standby were also employees or related. I didn't think there was another way...
But the way it worked is: you have a ticket that is valid for a certain time (3 months, 6 months, it depends on your visa I suppose). You have to confirm your flight by calling the airline, just like you would when you buy a ticket. You tell them that you're on standby, and they might tell you if you have a good chance of getting or the flight (or they might not). Then you go to the airport in time, again, just as if it was not standby and you tell the check-in desk that you are standby. Here they will make you wait for a LONG time, BUT you still want to come early, before the other standby passengers. As soon as they know that there will be space, you will get a boarding pass. Usually this works fine: they only give you a boarding pass if they know there are spaces available. If you have luggage, they will check it in even before they know if you can get on the plane. Should you not be let on the plane, they're not sending your luggage either, but they need to have it before they give you your boarding pass, because YOU can run to the gate in 10 minutes, but it takes longer for luggage.
posted by easternblot at 10:47 PM on August 11, 2005

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