How to Fly Standby on Delta Airlines

Is it an art form? A science? Or just a lot of good luck charms and mysticism?

Personally I believe in the last option…

It’s not shocking that I have far more experience regarding the logistics of flying down under than I do domestically in my own country. For domestic travel I’ve been flying Southwest Airlines exclusively for the last few years, mostly because of the flexibility in their booking and re-booking options. For overseas travel I’ve used Qantas and Air New Zealand, and Jetstar (a subsidiary of Qantas) for travel between and within Australia and New Zealand. I am planning to travel the rest of the world in coming years, especially Japan and Europe, and am looking at other options for affordable travel with flexible options.

Airlines such as Delta can not only get me to just about any city or country in the world, but also have rather luxurious First or Business class sections on most of their flights, especially those overseas. My grand fantasy was to be able to use a Delta Buddy Pass to fly a red-eye from Seattle to New York City, on any date that I wished, in a comfortable, fully-reclinable first class seat and get fantastic rest so I could greet the early morning sunshine and the hustle and bustle of a fresh new day in Manhattan. The world would be at my finger tips, and I would be right there ready to conquer it. Like a boss.

My good friend and fellow outdoor-enthusiast, Danielle, the one who procured said buddy pass, is by now very used to my fantastic and glamorous views regarding my life, but didn’t want to burst my bubble right away. Unfortunately the buddy pass was not Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket I had been dreaming of. Instead of being greeted with cocktails and red carpets, I barely got to New York at all that night. I got a window seat, but I forgot my pillow and how cold airplane walls get, so I slept horribly and felt miserable and stiff when I arrived. Since my father had driven out to Long Island the morning before (so much for flexibility with my travel plans), I had to spend another hour and a half alone in transit getting out to see my relatives instead of bursting with energy and romping around in the busiest city in the country like it was my playground. Oh, and it was raining.

On the way back to Seattle I wasn’t able to get on the 9:30am or the 12:30pm flights from Albany to Detroit, but fortunately I got the very last seat on my only option from Detroit to Seattle. I had never been so happy to sit in a middle seat for five hours straight in all my life. I suppose my travel plans weren’t as flexible as I originally thought. I just wanted to wait until the last minute to confirm them. I clearly went about this all wrong, and I intend to learn from my experiences and do it the right way next time!

Rules for Success Regarding Standby Delta Travel:

1. Obtain Buddy Pass from close friend who is willing to check standby lists any time between 5am and midnight to see if going to the airport is even worth your while.

2. Dress well, look presentable and be polite.

3. Do not carry excess luggage. If possible, try not to check bags.

4. Don’t fly to Atlanta, unless your final destination is Atlanta.

5. Do not fly out of any airport from which you can see cows and pastures – this normally is an indication of smaller planes, and thus fewer total seats leaving the airport on any given day.

6. Try to have several exit strategies before leaving your home airport, to avoid having to pay for a hotel in a hub city.

7. Carry a good luck charm at all times. Personally I use a good luck lady bug that my mom gave me before I went to New Zealand.

8. Always be flexible with travel dates and/or destinations. If all other flights are overbooked, be willing to fly to Brazil. Hey, life is an adventure.

Autumn in New York, Part IV

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The first weekend in October is a long weekend, Columbus Day weekend. It’s a perfect time to celebrate with craft beers, brats, and live music! Oktoberfests and Harvest Festivals are in the air!

We drove up to Gore Mountain for their Harvest Festival on Sunday afternoon. Grey autumn skies accompanied us on our journey but the afternoon brightened up and the sun shook away the chill of the impending winter.

The fall colors throughout the Adirodacks were best viewed from the skies. My mother and I ascended in a tiny little helicopter above the ski runs of Gore Mountain.

Although I’ve driven back and forth to Potsdam, where several of my friends went to college, many times over the years, I don’t believe I ever stopped in the town of North Creek, just off the main road. The railway still provides service between North Creek and Saratoga, Friday through Monday. Once upon a time, taking the trains to upstate NY and Vermont were a sign of affluence! The rustic ski towns still portray the antiquity of the era.

Trader Joe’s in the Capital District

After my jog today at The Crossings in Colonie I went to the capital district’s first Trader Joe’s location! Growing up we had local orchards and farm stands, the Troy Farmers’ Market and the Food Co-op in downtown Albany as our main sources for local and organic foods. Finally having a Trader Joe’s in our area is a big deal! Although I would rather eat local meats and produce any day, they certainly have a wide variety of health-oriented specialty foods and products at low prices in a convenient location right next to Colonie Center on Wolf Rd. Now if only we could have a solution to the traffic…

Autumn in New York, Part III

The adventure moves northward…

… through the perilous and infuriating traffic of Long Island, along the Belt Parkway towards JFK, around the Aqueduct Race Track, through the local streets of Queens, over the Throgs Neck Bridge, past the affluent northern suburbs…

Not long after leaving the boroughs of New York our course is set on the winding Taconic Parkway, a road designed for the enjoyment of the sights and sounds of the country, and maintained as such by state troopers every few miles. The fall colors become more pronounced as we drive north, and give visual texture to the haze of fog surrounding us. The day so far has taken what little energy I had out of me, but as we leave the thick, oppressive urban air behind us, my stress and anxiety melts away. My father and I settle in to our drive and ease our minds by doing what we do best: putting them to work planning our next trip to NYC.

We make a quick stop at Taconic State Park. I put my feet in the cool water of the lake and squish them into the soft brown sand. Across the water is a hillside with an impressive display of fall foliage, and in the distance the lake continues to the north.

On our way back to Albany we take the scenic route, the ‘motorcycle route’ as I call it, through Valatie and stop at Golden Valley Farms. The expansive display of apples in crates and buckets can only be compared to a perfume section of the department store. Each varietal has its own texture and flavor, many of which are crosses of each other, with their own unique charm. I wade past classic New York varieties and finally arrive at my objective, the macintosh apple, the grandest of all apples, tart and sweet, like the personality of the New Yorker enjoying it. When I reach the counter I can’t resist a sugar cider donut fresh from the oven. It and my apple strudel, cold cider and two apples are my first meal of the day. Well worth the wait.

We continue our drive through the gentle upstate New York rain storm towards Guilderland. As it is approximately 4:30pm, we hit ‘Albany rush hour’ on I-90, a slight delay of about 2-10 minutes, depending on time of day, where your car may go below 25mph, but most likely not, unless you are merging onto I-87.

Still in a bit of a mental haze, I arrive at my mother’s house and get myself sorted. I make my bed upstairs and have a slice of my mother’s apple pie, fresh out of the oven. I’m home.

Autumn in New York, Part II

Later that day, the plot thickens…

Visits with family that you love very much and don’t get to see very often can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. My experience is more like an emotional bullet train. My family does not beat around the bush: they want me to become a school teacher. Both of my parents descend from families who value education and refinement above most other things.

I thoroughly enjoyed the long father-daughter chat this morning as we navigated Continue reading

Autumn in New York, Part I

The first exciting installment of my New York adventures…

…began at the Seattle airport, where odds had so far been in my favor of getting a seat… just any seat… on Monday night’s red-eye to JFK. I took my time getting through security and perused the magazine rack at the news stand. It’s a good thing there aren’t more exotic car magazines in print, otherwise I could have very well missed the flight altogether. Eventually I moseyed along to the train to terminal S, clearly the party terminal, from the huge plastic balloons and bright LED lights along the escalators on the way up to the foyer.

The airport was quiet at 10pm, but not completely desolate. After a quick stop into the restrooms, in attempt to kill even more time, I checked the monitors at gate S8. They were calling for passengers to check carry-on bags in anticipation of a completely full flight. I saw the upgrade list… 20 names… That didn’t bode well for my ambitious dreams of fame, fortune, and a reclining seat on a red-eye, but it meant some economy seats may be freed up. I was still third on the list, however. Just as Danielle promised, there I was, BAT/A, up on the monitor. Somehow that makes me feel important.

I had dressed up a bit, to make myself look business-class-worthy. As a frequent traveler, I generally have a few tricks up my sleeve for getting the seats that I want on a plane. Though I knew I would have to accept whatever seat was free as my name came to the top of the list, I politely waited in line at the gate and requested a window seat. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, after all. In reality, I was relying on all sorts of superstitious luck, and the kindness of strangers, who conveniently don’t get on a flight that is almost impossible to miss.

Second on the list… and the main cabin was already boarding. That’s alright… they were still calling names for upgrades. There’s still a chance, still a chance. For a split second I saw my name at the top of the list. There were only about 5 or 6 people yet to walk through the gate. It may have been me sitting there all alone, waiting for a chance to fly to MSP at 12:55am, with another stand-by card and a prayer. When it came down to it, I am fairly certain I managed to get on the plane because I had forgotten to bring my travel pillow. I texted this to Danielle as they called my name up to the desk.

When they handed me my seat assignment, 27F, I was fairly certain it was a window seat. Yes, a window seat. I love my life. Some people gamble, others take drugs, I get a high off of flying last-minute and getting fantastic seats on long flights. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

We sailed through the clouds just as my eyes were focusing on the city-scape of Bellevue, and when we turned east and emerged above the cloud cover all I could see of my new home was the top of Mt Rainier. I went to the back to change my clothes and get myself ready to sleep. The clouds thinned out over the eastern part of the state, where I knew one day I would find future adventures. Interstate 90 is one of the few main highways I haven’t taken across the country, and I think it deserves a voyage one day, especially to Glacier National Park, and of course, North Dakota, the last of the 50 US states I will visit.

Time went quickly as I dozed in and out of fitful rest. Over Wisconsin… Pennsylvania… We arrived 20 minutes early to a red-orange sunrise and overcast skies. I changed out of my pajamas and took my time getting to the baggage claim. Since I was one of the last people on the plane I had to check my small roller bag, but contrary to normal New York mayhem, I really wasn’t in a hurry. I am now on the Long Island Rail Road, one stop from Farmingdale, excited to see my family and take a trip to the Atlantic Ocean. The adventure continues…