Run To The Gate To Catch An Earlier Flight? Starting Tomorrow American Airlines Will Turn You Away

Time after time I’ve gotten home early when I’ve been willing to run. My connecting flight lands in Dallas a little bit early, I’m one of the first off the plane, and I book it to the gate of an earlier flight to Austin that hasn’t left yet. There’s still an open seat or two (or maybe someone doesn’t make the flight.) I walk up to the gate agent and ask to get added to the flight. For most customers, the answer from American Airlines is going to be “no” starting March 1, 2024.

As an Executive Platinum member I’m at the top of the standby list and squeak on. I even make it back for dinner with my wife and daughter, or at least get a better night’s sleep. It’s one of the sweetest victories in travel, and it’s a chance that American Airlines takes away from most passengers on March 1.

  • American Airlines is limiting free standby to members of the AAdvantage program, and requiring requests to be made via self-service channels for nearly all passengers.

  • What they haven’t shared publicly is that unless you are a Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, ConciergeKey or oneworld emerald member you will no longer be able to run up to the gate and make an earlier flight.

That’s because they’ve taken away airport standby requests from anyone that less than Platinum Pro AAdvantage status and because app and website requests must be made at least 45 minutes in advance. It’s only those customers with the highest status who will be able to be added to standby at the gate, up to 15 minutes prior to departure.

If you’re merely a lifetime AAdvantage Platinum member, and if you land early in Dallas and want to get on my flight home to Austin, you’re probably not at the gate 45 minutes prior to departure – 10 minutes before they begin boarding, even. You’ll just be turned away and stuck with dinner alone at Pappadeaux instead of with your family.

Little by little we keep peeling back the onion of these changes to learn more than American Airlines initially announced.

  • When they first said standby would be restricted to loyalty program members, that was a hoop but manageable. Although note that non-status program members cannot stand by if they’ve already checked a bag.

  • Then they dropped into a larger email that standby would have to be requested on a self-service basis (though, in fact, top elites would be exempted from this).

  • They haven’t even proactively told customers about the time restrictions that prevent running up to the gate to make an earlier flight.

Here’s American’s memo to reservations agents describing the changes:

More detailed rules regarding eligibility, timeframes, and ineligible tickets are here. Note that corporate PNRs are not eligible!

And note details on waived fees for same day confirmed changes – Alaska Airlines top tier members are not eligible for waived fees if traveling on a basic economy ticket.

I understand the drive to make passengers join AAdvantage, in order to market to them and try to convert them to a credit card. But telling them they can’t walk up to and earlier flight and get home for dinner isn’t a great sales pitch. Telling them that nobody will help them and they have to use self-service tools isn’t, either.

American has been driving towards staffing reductions, and has automated many of the functions that were handled by gate agents so that domestic flights that are less than 80% full now have just one agent managing boarding. That’s tough because it makes them less likely to process last minute upgrades, and makes them less able to monitor passengers for intoxication prior to boarding. But it saves money. And limiting the ability for customers to request stand by at the gate supports this goal as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Getting customers on their way earlier is good for the network. It frees up later-in-the-day inventory for displaced pax and misconnects. Denying standby seats to people who could otherwise be out of AA’s hair hours earlier is just bitchiness. In no way does it contribute to “Airport Excellence,” despite the memo title. It contributes to Airport Misery.

  2. Dumber than usual “enhancement”. What are they hoping to achieve? They can’t even force you to *pay them something*—- instead it’s just “FU”. Thanks, AA. Jesus.

  3. Am I able to do this in MIA as EP on connection from the Caribbean? I know not always allowed on int’l but from what I read Caribbean is ok and it’s the domestic leg.

  4. Isn’t it in the airline’s best interest to allow a customer with no checked bag to get on the earlier flight, if there is space available and there’s no time to have any reasonable chance to sell the seats? I’ve never understood this. It frees up space for a later flight that might have more demand for space due to some other irrops. This just seems like a move to be shitty for the sake of being shitty.

  5. What happens to your checked bags when you hop on an early flight? They won’t be there when you arrive.

  6. Gary – you are a drama queen!

    For you just open the app as you taxi to the gate and add yourself to the standby list. No problem and you surely know how to do that so nothing changes for you.

    As for me (lifetime Platinum) the few times I connect (live in AA hub so almost all are non-stop) I purposely book a long connection to avoid problems and have ZERO problem staying in a lounge or nice restaurant waiting on my flight. I’m retired now and in no rush so obviously have a different mindset than you – never in a rush to get back so this is a non-issue for me.

  7. Commenter Tom hit it on the head. If an airline can send pax through its network more efficiently than originally planned…that’s a good thing for all parties involved.

    Needlessly making it harder to do is an unforced error. I’m betting this policy gets repealed at some point, but not before ticking off and inconveniencing a bunch of people.

  8. They were like this in 2020. They only did this to get passengers to start buying from them again.

    Their flights are packed. Book accordingly.

    I’m for it!

  9. AC’s advice to “open the app as you taxi to the gate and add yourself to the standby list” captures my thought, but still won’t quite work if the desired earlier flight connection is going to be really tight: it could create a “no show” if you get on and (as often happens at DFW) there’s an unanticipated last-minute delay such as the dreaded no-gate-available-on-account-of-an-early-arrival situation. Still, AC’s advice is as good a workaround as there’s going to be, I suppose, and should work for me at least. In fact, I should be able to add myself to the list the night before if I’ve booked a bad connection (for example) to capture a better fare.

  10. America West ftw!

    Stupid policies is one thing. This is the next level.
    Imma cash out my points this summer and then it’s bye America West, credit card and all!

  11. I view this differently and see this as an operational improvement. The amount of things going on before departure creates a lot of complexity for staff and makes execution difficult.

    I now live overseas where most airlines have a hard 30 minute cutoff and the flight is “closed”. This creates a much more predictable, operationally sound process vs the traditional AA approach of everything is open until the door closes.

    Now some people love this perk, so AA is still allowing their best, most knowledgeable customers (in theory easier) to access the perk while hopefully reducing the operational load.

  12. Its all about reducing staffing (using one gate agent). Last month AA cut 600+ non-union customer service jobs. American Airlines goal is reduce jobs with the increase of technology and “sell” more advantage miles/credit cards.

  13. A workaround in some situations is list for the standby flight in the app the minute your first flight touches down on the runway. In most cases thats 15 -20 mins before you deplane. Might work once in a while.

  14. Logic seems to be in very short supply at AA HQ…there is no way that I can see how this benefits anyone, *including* AA….

  15. AC – congrats for living in a hub and having nowhere to be, I guess? For the rest of us, grabbing that shorter connect can make all the difference to our personal lives and physical health, especially compounded over many travels.

  16. Gosh… It’s as if @Gary forgets that AA has on-board wifi and accessing anything related to ones travel at AA is not blocked by the paid wifi service.

  17. I’ve got a 24 hour layover, international trip, entering LAX in the am and continuing to NY following day 6am. could i request a a same day day change for an earlier flight on the day I arrive? EXPAT if that helps. Thanks

  18. One more reason American is NOT my airline of choice unless absolutely necessary. Not an old grudge, just giving one more reason to choose The Other Guy whenever feasible!

  19. Now everyone living in an AA fortress hub who will leave the carrier due to this change, please stand up. Anyone? Anyone at all?

    Don’t let the fact that they’re government subsidized fool you – airlines are running a business. And as long as so few of you do what I do in bypassing non-stops for a better customer experience (with a layover), then they’ll keep pulling the Jenga bricks out from under you.

  20. Getting people on the tin and out of the airport early was always a goal. Especially if OSO was anticipated. One less body to rebook in the customer assistance line Rule 75 back when I was working was a godsend. Reticket for OSO/cancellations on almost any airline and reasonable routing even conex if necessary and revenue accounting would sort it out with the receiving carrier. Flying home on my honeymoon (paid f/c tix SFO MEM. ) Trip was cancelled which would mean an overnight. I suggested to the agent rule 75 thru ORD. TW SFO ORD and DL ORD MEM. We ended up getting in only 90 minutes later. Ahh the good old days.

  21. It not only degrades customer service it can lead to a domino effect. I worked for a major airline for years. Our philosophy was to keep people moving. If we could put a passenger into an empty seat on an earlier flight we would gladly do it. It not only allow us more time to sell the open seat on the later flight, but operationally if the later flight took an unexpected delay or cancelled it was one less passenger to process later. Everyone benefited by getting more passengers to their destination as quickly as possible.

  22. Just add yourself to the standby list on the flight before as soon as possible rather than wait to see if you can run to the gate. So if you make it, you make it, if you don’t, you don’t, no harm done

  23. If it’s something they value, a smart traveller would book with an airline that allows at the gate standby requests.

  24. @ VibePilot

    You are missing the entire point. If you want to reward top level elite than allow it and charge $50 to Platinum and below.

  25. Came here to echo what Tom and Mantis said. This is mind boggling. I wonder if it will really save money in the long run. Gary- would love it if you could do a follow-up story after enough time has passed!

  26. I’m my 59 years on the planet I have never done this. Good news is that my platinum pro status means this doesn’t apply to me. Just gotta spend enough money.. lol

  27. It’s not change fees…but this will do. Commuting pilots and FAs will finally be able to actually get to and from work again

  28. Folks suggesting adding yourself to standby when you touch down, or earlier – A couple of questions since I don’t fly AA as often as I used to.

    1. If you request standby and clear, and then miss the connection, do you still have your seat on the original flight?
    2. Will the app let you request standby if the published connection is below MCT?

  29. I do this frequently on United through O’Hare. I won’t book a 45 minute connection but if I land on time or early, I’m racing to the gate to get added to the list for that earlier flight. I wouldn’t want to do it through the app after landing on the off chance we end up with a 60 minute taxi and it screws up the rest of my reservation.

  30. I just don’t understand what they will do with elderly passengers who might not have access and/or the ability to figure out the app.
    It seems kind of cruel to me.

  31. Just a stupid policy. Once that seat flies vacant, the lost revenue can never be recovered. Moving the empty seat to the last available flight is always the smartest move

  32. Yes, best thing airport agents can do is get people out of there sooner and free up a seat later. Half the time that I’ve done standby for an earlier flight with AA, they were asking for volunteers for my original flight. I get nothing for going on the earlier flight other than less time shoving all the shelf stable snacks I can into my bag in the CLT Admirals Club, and AA reduces likelihood of paying out compensation for an oversale… and at least 60% of the time I’m in First on a later flight already and taking the downgrade to coach, so opens up another seat for upgrade.

    But let’s not do that.

    Or, one could see that standby lists get longer and longer with people who don’t show up… always list that earlier flight as standby and then the agent has more reconciliation to do at the last minute.

  33. What can I say that hasn’t been covered by those before me. At this point I define a successful flight if the plane arrives. But yes, one of the nicest things about AA used to be if you arrived at a gate really early and there were seats available they changed my ticket with a smile. Now even the latter is in short supply.

  34. It’s hilarious to read articles (and their comments) by entitled people complaining about not getting their way. It’s very obvious none here complaining have ever worked at an airline or have even the slightest idea of how an airline works.
    Complain away but know you’re making more people angry, which will result in airline employees being harassed and battered (even more than they already are) and a worse experience for everyone. You only care about you and how things will affect you. You don’t give a single damn how it will affect the airline employees or even your fellow passengers. Y’all are disgusting.

  35. I can’t imagine anyone at AA getting an award for this idea. Gate agents would rather send you on your way as soon as possible than have you waiting around and finding some way to dispatch you with the rest of the throng when the next flight cancels.

  36. Too many non-revvers complaining about no seats because revenue flights are taking them all… or the high status members are complaining that the low status peons are beating them to the seats…

  37. Passengers are just a product to be monetized, customer happiness doesn’t enter into this equation.
    On the upside for employees that are trying to non-rev it will increase the odds that they get on a flight.

  38. Textbook example of why people hate airlines.
    “You’re closing the gate in 1 minute and I know there is a basic economy seat open. I paid for premium economy, but I’m happy to take the lesser seat to get home early. Can I have it?
    “Why not.”
    “Management is galactically stupid.”
    “Oh, ok.”
    *refuses to book said airline for at least 6 months in retaliation.

  39. @j Around 2009-10, AA started charging $50 to be added to the standby list. It was to cover the cost of labor. After the merger, they allowed elites to add their name for free. The current update has zero to do with nonrevs.

    The truth is all first class seats are nearly sold out and rarely does anyone get upgraded. Some stand by list have 100 names. The new rule is not good business for elites.

  40. I can’t believe it has taken Bobby and his bean counters this long to discover this is a huge money loser. I’ve been buying the cheap ticket and using it for the flight with no cheap seats left. It was good while it lasted!!!

  41. So can you explain how and why you are publishing information that is clearly marked as “Internal Use Only”?

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