Standby – the Cursed Blessing

As a whole, standby has been a godsend. That is, a standby flight where you must wait until all ticketed passengers have boarded the plane, and then if there are any seats remaining, you can fill them, provided you’re positioned towards the top of the waiting list.

Now at first glance, this flight designation may seem a bit undesirable and uncertain. While it has its uncertainties, there’s one factor you can’t forget – price. A standby flight is about half the price of a normal ticket. Hence its desirability to me, an overseas English teacher in China who considers a 5-dollar dinner at a local restaurant a bit extravagant.

For the most part, standby has been kind to me. But there have been times when it has callously prevented me from coming home. Last summer I fully expected to leave Shanghai and return to the States on a Friday. Four days later, two spent in a hotel and the other two in the airport, I was able to leave Shanghai.

The first day the flight was totally booked, the second was the same, the third the flight was cancelled, and the fourth the flight was fully booked with passengers from the cancelled flight. Needless to say, if I couldn’t leave that fifth day, I may very well have donated one of my kidneys to get on the plane. But that would have been an unwelcome surprise to my mom and of some discomfort to me.

This time, standby had thwarted me again with a little twist, the international flight went fine, but the domestic flight had stonewalled me. Now I was stuck in Detroit. I had fleeting hopes I might board the flight until I heard the flight was overbooked and I was 21st on the standby queue. So I would be sleeping in the airport.

Sleeping in an airport is like preparing for a dissertation. It’s an unpleasant, arduous task that makes you more tired at the end than you were at the beginning. I had two options: sleep on a row of black leather seats divided by metal handrests or sleep on the Berber rug. I chose the latter. And it was more intermittent napping than prolonged sleeping.

Being the overly protective, obsessive person that I am, I decided to use my laptop bag as my pillow and my backpack as my footrest, and then wrap myself up in my electric blue, fleece-lined jacket. I neglected to include a soft down pillow and cotton comforter. But you got to tough it out once in a while. I think I managed to have about four hours of rest as the cleaners were sweeping through the area. At one point, I thought someone on the intercom said, “This is not a hotel.” But I’m sure that was just my imagination.

Now here I am this morning waiting to complete my last leg of the journey. According to my rough calculations, I will have spent over 40 hours in transit to my final destination – Tampa. While I can’t deny standby can be a bit frustrating at times, it did get me back to the States and you can’t beat a half-price discount on a ticket. So despite the occasional nuisance of standbys, I will continue to stand by my standby flights.

This entry was posted in Travel.

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