One of the things that I like least about traveling is the uncertainty that seems to come standard with any flight. Consider, for example, that your flight may be delayed or cancelled for reasons as varied as weather, crew MIA, mechanical difficulties (a favorite, I assure you). However, from time to time travelers volunteer for more uncertainty – in the hopes that this uncertainty will yield some reward. In particular, if you miraculously make it to the airport before your flight, there is that outside possibility that you can successfully go “standby” on an earlier flight.
As a Platinum-level member (woohoo!) on American Airlines, when I arrive early enough to go standby on an earlier flight I don’t have to pay for this luxury. At least, I don’t have to pay with cash. I do, however, have to pay in the universal currency of anxiety. I take myself from the “hey I’m early! no worries about making my flight” mode to the “oh no! there are other people the list, will I make it on”. This new flight, which isn’t really mine, suddenly feels like it’s mine! One of the reasons for this nervousness and the anxious rush to the gate is that the standby process is relatively opaque.
It’s opaque in that you can’t see the actual list and your position on it until the gate agents arrive. It’s opaque because there are somewhat complex rules that control the order of names. According to the airline, the order is determined based on customer disruption status (were you bumped from another flight?), your AAdvantage status (are you Gold? or Platinum? Or EXECUTIVE Platinum?), and the time that you put your name on the list.
While I don’t think it would solve all my anxieties – I mean, at the end of the day, I still might not get on the plane – making the standby list more transparent would at least allow me to be obsessive over something tangible. If I could find out by phone or by internet the length of the list, my position on it, etc, I would at least feel like I had some control over my situation. If I saw that there were 35 people on the list, but only 3 of them were ahead of me – it might be worth expending some hope on the situation. However, if there were 35 people on the list and all of them would need to be accommodated before me, then I probably wouldn’t even bother going to find the gate for the earlier flight. Instead, I would just go to my gate or to get some food and relax for an extra 30 minutes or hour!
I am sure there would be all kinds of issues implementing this request that might make it impossible, but put me down as a potential user if the AA development team ever considers it!