The days of getting to the airport early and simply jumping on an earlier flight are just about gone, at least if you like doing so for free.
American Airlines announced today that they are “streamlining” their airport processes which is a nice way of saying they are eliminating the free stand-by option for most passengers.
Currently, American passengers are permitted to fly stand-by on an alternate flight departing the same day, for the same destination. This means that they can put themselves on a waiting list and if a seat is available, they can have it, for no additional charge. Effective with tickets purchased on or after February 22, however, stand-by travel will no longer be permitted. Instead, passengers wishing to make same-day changes will have to pay a $50 fee to confirm the change.
There are a few exceptions: Aadvantage Gold members (and higher), first/business class passengers, and passengers paying full coach fares will still be entitled to a free stand-by option.
Note, the $50 Confirmed Flight Change fee only applies for flight changes made the day of travel for an alternate flight on the same day. Other types of changes will be subject to regular change penalties, which are usually much higher.
In fairness to American, they are not the first airline to eliminate free stand-by travel. US Airways and Continental already have similar policies in place and Southwest does not allow stand-by without an upgrade to a full fare ticket, which can be expensive if you purchased a really cheap discount seat.