Flying Standby

By Natalie

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There  once was a time when Brandon and I had the silly notion that flying standby on a weekend in August would be an adventure. Do you know what it’s like to open your eyes and stretch your arms out with a yawn while you look out airport windows? To look out at the sunrise while you rub your sore side from laying out on airport gate seating. I do. All too well.

I have this love for airports. The second you step inside you’ve submerged yourself into a melting pot of people. The air drips with foreign languages, and people. I still share a love of airports, but there was a time where that love was tested.

August 9th 2012

We rubbed our tired eyes and carried our bags from the metro to Reagan National Airport. Here’s how our itinerary began:

  • Reagan, D.C. → Phoenix, AZ
  • Phoenix, AZ → Salt Lake City, UT

We sat anxiously awaiting to find out if the first flight to Phoenix held open seats. After boarding each class the attendant informed us that we were out of luck. Brandon quickly ran over to customer service to find out what our options were. Now imagine the equivalent to a rude DMV employee at the end of their shift who has no desire to help you. This woman told us that we were crazy for trying to fly standby during such a busy time which we were already realizing. But what was a young broke couple to do when there was a small family reunion on the other side of the country?

“Here’s your options.” She said.

  • Reagan, D.C. → Charlotte, NC → Phoenix, AZ
  • Reagan, D.C. → Philadelphia, PA → Phoenix, AZ

The two men standing next to us in line where trying to accomplish the same thing, and were choosing Charlotte. So we said “We’ll take Philadelphia.” Granting us better odds of making a flight out of Reagan. The woman mentioned that the gate was on the other side of the airport, and we would need to exit, and reenter security. Brandon looked at the tickets in his hand, then the time. “This flight leaves in less than 10 minutes.” he said. “Are we going to make it?”

This woman’s eyes rolled so far, I didn’t think they were coming back around. Her lips pursed as she rudely responded. “You’re going to have to run.”

If I remember correctly I thought “Oh she can’t be serious. I’m not running.” But before I could even gather my thoughts Brandon grabbed my arm, and pulled me into a brisk walk, which broke out into a full on movie-esque run through the airport. Luckily for us Brandon’s peripherals spotted a shuttle bus that was boarding, and about to head to the other side of the airport. Allowing us to bypass going through security again.

We made it to the gate with minutes to spare, and even made it onto that very flight to Philly. This was a point where we still had smiles on our faces. Unfortunately for us that was just the beginning.

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When we landed in Philly we rushed over to our next flight. The gate was packed and it was apparent that the chances of there being two open seats were slim. To save ourselves some time Brandon approached the attendant at the gate simply to ask where we stood on the list. The woman put her hand up in a flustered manner, and in a sharp tone spit, “Sir, you need to step back.”

Taken by surprise Brandon said “Forget it.” And pulled me once again this time in the direction of customer service to change our flight. Our updated itinerary read:

  • Philadelphia, PA → Houston, TX
  • Houston, TX → Phoenix, AZ
  • Phoenix, AZ → Salt Lake City UT

We were reassured that to keep moving was the best bet. So we flew to Houston, grabbed as quick of a lunch as possible, scarfed it down, and rushed to the gate. Can you guess? No two available seats. Back to customer service we went to find another flight to Phoenix. The further west we got the kinder the employees were. Just an observation. Thoroughly disappointed that we swallowed our lunch and now had hours to kill we sat at a bench in the center of the Houston airport. Brandon ventured off to purchase an overpriced phone charger, because amateur standby flyer Natalie packed them in the checked bag. Rookie mistake. I sat for I don’t know how long watching a cheery shoe shine man coaxing business men to his chair for a shoe shine. A shoe shine, somewhat of a lost art, but goodness what a luxury. Could it be compared to the male equivalent of a pedicure?

Sometime that afternoon we were the last ones to make it onto the last flight to Phoenix. Leaving behind a young man with nothing but his backpack. Two of the four flights we took on this trip B and I sat separately. “Look.” B held up the boarding passes to me. “These are both middle seats. One is in the front, one is toward the back. You walk ahead of me, and see if you want the first choice. If not then you can take your chances in the back.” I boarded the plane not liking the sound of taking chances, but the first middle seat was in between two larger nerdy looking younger guys. I looked back toward B and shook my head… He slipped into the seat, as I continued my way toward the back of the plane. The very back. The last row to be exact. My shoulders dropped, my eyes looked droopily downward and I sighed a deep sigh as if I thought that this was a trip of positive encounters. I pointed to the center seat, “Scuse me.” I managed to get out. “That’s my lucky seat there.” I wanted to say. These two large older men thought they had it made with tons of leg room, until I showed up. There I sat for the next few hours arms squished inward, and knees pressed together, feeling rather short, and small. We made it to Phoenix. Almost there right? WRONG! Have you learned nothing from this story?

We were seconds away from the attendant letting us on the flight. Seconds! Until some chump came running out of nowhere with a death grip on his boarding pass. “You’ll need to get to the gate earlier next time.” The attendant said. “I almost gave your seat away.” Then he looked over at us while they shut the door and said “I’m sorry, that was the last flight to Salt Lake City for the night.”

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My eyes wandered over to the window as the plane pulled away. The sun began to lower itself behind the Arizona mountains. The clock read around 7:30pm. “Well that’s it I guess.” B said. He plopped down in a seat, and phoned his family to inform them we wouldn’t make it until the next day. It took me a minute to process. “But where will we sleep? We’ve been up since 4am, and we’re exhausted. What about my toothbrush in the checked bag? What about pjs and a blanket? I was wearing a tank top with leggings, and flip flops, and Phoenix likes it cold indoors. The answers were that we’d be sleeping right there on the gate seats, using Brandon’s T-shirts he had packed in his carry on to keep warm. Sleep is well… not quite the right word. It was more like drifting in and out of half hour naps. Until about 5am when a man stormed through with a painfully loud vacuum cleaner attached to his back. He shoved the floor hose in between each individual seat, not minding that he was knocking into each leg of the seats startling a bunch of sleeping weirdos awake.

Then he went to empty out the vacuum and a giant dust cloud spilled out all over the floor. haha. Misery loves company, and we were miserable. So yes, B and I may or may not have looked at each other and shamefully chuckled at the man who awoke us from our joke of a night’s sleep.


To keep up with our poor airport diet we began the day with giant rolls from Cinnabon. We set our bags down to wait for the first flight out to Salt Lake City. The airport was deserted, and peaceful as we watched the sunrise. “What a story to tell.” We thought, as we finally sat on our last flight.


2 Comments on Flying Standby

  1. Nicole
    September 11, 2014 at 10:29 pm (6 years ago)

    Funny how these things are horrible at the time and then horribly funny in retrospect ;). I got stuck at Midway for 19 hours once due to weather. Fun times!

    • Natalie
      September 12, 2014 at 1:29 pm (6 years ago)

      Yes! So true, they’re only funny after the fact.


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