For the last leg of yesterday’s three-hop trip from Boise to Columbus, I was on “standby status.” My flight from Salt Lake City was to get in to Detroit at about 7:20 p.m., and there was a flight from Detroit to Columbus at 7:55 that was sold out. I was put on the standby list for that flight, and the ticket agent told me that I would be number two on the list. If I didn’t get on the standby flight, I was confirmed for a seat on a flight two hours later.
Standby status is weird. It’s by definition contingent, of course, but it immediately spurs analysis of the key factors that will affect whether you will make it on the standby flight, as well as lots of wishful thinking. I knew the Detroit airport is huge, and the 35-minute time period between landing and taking off was ludicrously tight, requiring the incoming flight to be on time and the standby gate to be within reasonable sprinting distance of the arrival gate. (Reasonable sprinting distance, that is, for a 61-year-old guy who doesn’t jog for exercise.) If I was going to make it, all of those factors, none of which were under my control, had to go my way.
But even if those dominoes fell, I still needed some confirmed passengers to not show up for their flight. Well, sure, that could happen, right? After all, I was only number two on the list. Maybe some incoming flight would be delayed by weather or mechanical issues, or a few of the confirmed passengers on the standby flight just wouldn’t show up. I found myself hoping that some of the faceless passengers on the confirmed flight would just miss their flight so I could get a seat. I was a bit ashamed of hoping that fellow travelers would experience such misfortune, but the urge to get home two hours earlier overwhelmed all basic instincts of human kindness and brotherhood.
When the pilot on the flight from Salt Lake City announced that we would arrive in Detroit early, it looked like the dominoes might just fall my way. But when I emerged at my gate, ready to run, I learned that the standby flight was itself delayed and wouldn’t be leaving until after my confirmed flight. Alas! I therefore immediately shucked off my standby status and strode forward into the Detroit airport as a confirmed passenger, wishing nothing but good for the world.