The Travails of Standby Travel

I once read that the word travel was derived from the French word travail which literally means “engage in laborious or painful effort”. Apparently, centuries ago travel was a synonym for torment. Fast forward to the present day and direct your attention to the commuting airline pilot who is trying desperately to catch a flight home or to his stubborn travel-loving wife who came along and is now silently wishing she hadn’t, for they are too familiar with the travails of traveling standby.

It was April of 2010 and the Captain and I were at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) trying to get on a flight to Chicago. We had spent the night in Detroit, Michigan because we arrived late from NYC and missed our flight home. The husband and I already spent several hours at the airport and since it was the Captain’s day off he was peeved that he was spending it there. Unsurprisingly, pilots spend a remarkable amount of time at airports and dread wasting their days off waiting for a flight home. There is really no way of getting around this inconvenience especially for commuting pilots.

All of the flights to Chicago were jammed packed with passengers and the flight that we were trying to board had over twenty standbys. Needless to say we did not make it on that flight.  As we watched the flight after that depart without us, I felt a little guilty for coming along. As an active-duty pilot, my husband could have gotten on any of these flights by utilizing an extra seat in the cockpit known as the jumpseat. But due to more than a dose of chivalry (and perhaps not wanting to have an annoyed wife!), he stayed behind with me, even though it was his day off. We go together or not at all he told me. As a contingency plan we were considering taking a flight to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and from there take a bus to Chicago, Illinois. After purchasing bus tickets we did not make it on that flight either. Disappointed and slightly annoyed we grabbed a bite to eat and looked for other options of getting home.

After researching our next plan of action it was decided that we would try for the flight to South Bend, Indiana and from there take a train to Chicago. The Captain and I knew that if we made it on this flight we would only have a few minutes to catch our train (the last train of the day, of course) or else be stuck in Indiana.

This time we were fortunate and got seats on the Saab 340 en route to South Bend, Indiana. I felt a twinge of guilt as I took my seat in the front row. Just two days before, the Captain had an overnight in the Big Apple and since I am practically in love with New York City I invited myself along.

Upon landing we quickly gathered our belongings and sprinted toward the train station. No one likes being rushed but with standby travel you will find yourself running around often. We barely made it on…but did. The two hour train ride was quite pleasant and it was nice to finally be on our way to Chicago.

By the time we got home it was late and we were too exhausted to do anything else other than sleep. It’s times like these that my husband and I wished we lived in base. We have several stories like this where we spend hours of our day trying to go from point A to point B only to end up at point C. You will surely hear about these stories. I’ve decided to share these unpleasant experiences not to discourage people from using their benefits, but to simply inform them of what they may be getting themselves into.

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