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. I have been retired for 15 years but early in my sales career late 70’s, I flew American all the time on my bi-monthly trips from PHL to DFW. For 10 to 12 years that was my routine.
    American shortly thereafter became very cavalier so I started flying UsAir who were very accommodating and had a very liberal Frequent Flyer program…Much easier to redeem awards. Then Sourhwest came into Phila and I started flying them to Tx. ….no nuisance fees, two bags free etc.
    Bottom line …I’m not surprised with American’s latest “MONEY GRAB”.
    I only fly 3 or 4 times a year now I don’t have deal with these issues.

  2. Nicole – Really? I can’t get my head around the ridiculousness of your comment. If commuting to your job is a hardship, then move to your domicile. Or find another job. But please do not weigh in to complain about the challenges of your very generous benefit, ie., the privilege of living in Paradise and commuting to your job in [wherever] using free passes. Jeesh! Signed: Retired Flight Attendant, AAdvantage Platinum Pro member…
    IOW, I’ve walked a million miles @ 36,000 feet in your shoes and now I contribute to your earnings.

  3. It’s a shame AA doesn’t spend more time thinking about on time flights and customer service and less time with inane frequent flyer changes and standby rules. There really is no reason to be a status member on American anymore.

  4. @Beverly Carter-Smith – because I do not have a duty of confidentiality to the airline? And because there’s a policy change that hasn’t been clearly explained to customers by the airline so I’m explaining it?

  5. AA after it was bought by US Air it ceased to really exist; it was once a great carrier. Now a name from the past.

  6. I can see where there might be a problem if too many customers do this. Upgrading passengers does not add weight but adding passengers does and may require adding fuel if enough passengers are added. Last minute adds could delay the flight. An airplane that averages 80 mpg per passenger would require 10 gallons of fuel for an 800 mile trip which would weigh 68 pounds at 6.8 pounds per gallon. This adds up for longer trips and more passengers.

  7. This is great news …. Free travel is a perk that comes with airline jobs … With the “free” flight changes it diminished the ability to utilize that perk! Passengers already have a seat! You should be able to just change it without charge … it got carried away…

  8. Maybe AA revenue managers got tired of watching passengers buying the cheapest ticket on the late night flight, then showing up and flying on the flight they actually wanted for no extra charge….

  9. I shake my head when airlines behave like this. An empty seat has no value the moment the boarding door is closed.

    While there are valid reasons for not allowing a passenger to take an empty seat on an earlier flight (checked bags, weight concerns), getting value out of that empty seat now by putting a passenger in it allows the airline to capture that value now and create an opportunity to possibly get additional value later. Maybe I’m crazy…

    My personal example: I was in Phoenix years ago and my meetings finished early. I had a personal item and that was it. There was an earlier flight that I had plenty of time to make, so I went to the airport and inquired about taking the earlier flight. The airline wanted a $200 change fee.

    I had plenty of work to do, so I declined and found a quiet spot to work for for hours. When it came time for my flight to leave, guess which flight was oversold? The airline’s attempt to extract an extra $200 from me failed and they ended up offering over $400 per person credit on the later oversold flight. That seat with no behind in it cost them more than my original fare.

  10. Is probably time to leave american as well some of the other airlines they are getting to strong to dictate the customers that pay their bills every week but they will when they want to is that. It time to say goodbye to them.

  11. I’m a 2 credit card ( Barclay’s & Citi)A/A holder, I have status and I’m a share holder. I’m starting to rethink my loyalty to this airline that I’ve been using for year’s. Profits before people is the A/A motto and they are constantly looking for a way to screw their customer base. In addition to it, they want to charge you to check your bag and then not cover the damage when my bag showed up being held together by bungie cords (Priority tags were on the bag) the desk told me it happens all the time. What customer wants to deal with this? Second time they’ve trashed my bag on connecting flight through MIA. On top of this, I just took a flight to Prague and had a connecting flight through LHR ( Booked the flight on A,/A) and as a status member, they placed me in group 9 boarding on British Airways, which is a codeshare partner and status should be honored. As a cardholder I board group 5, as a status member, it’s group 1-4, how the heck do you treat your loyal customers like this? I am seriously rethinking the loyalty. Do better A/A never forget it was the taxpayer who bailed you out during your financial meltdown.

  12. I just feel sorrow for you guys based at an AA hub. AA was once on par with United as a proper business-oriented carrier. Now AA is just a burnt out husk of its former glory, relegated to the list of budget carriers, hovering just slightly above the likes of Spirit and Frontier

  13. I always thought it was in the best interest of the airline to allow a passenger on a later flight to take a standby seat in an earlier flight. They certainly can’t fill that seat after the plane leaves the gate, and freeing up a seat in a later flight IS a seat that they MIGHT still be able to sell. So, why would they stop this practice??

  14. So stupid. If there’s no checked luggage they should let any AAdvantage request earlier standby at the gate. From a capacity constraint, why not use a resource to move a few bodies earlier?

    Short sighted of someone in management.

  15. Most corrupt airline! They have been pulling this for a while! Change your gates so you run there only to find it was back where you already were! Then the SOB’s laugh in your face! Charlotte was the worst. I will never fly American Airlines ever again! !

  16. Two confidential/internal documents in two days? Gary has no shame. Removing this from my news feed. Amounts to not much more than the tabloid sites. Much more reputable sites out there that don’t need to bend over so much for clicks. Airlines are just building up a file until it’s worth enough to prosecute.

  17. Leave it to some liberal jerk from Austin to complain like a little girl. If you don’t like the schedule drive to Austin… I remember when that used to be a nice city, now just a bunch of woke sissies.

  18. What do you expect from an airline that gives their first class passengers $1 noodles? I’ve flown American airlines for the last 3 years down to South America and their service is just a step above Spirit airlines with double the prices of spirit. This year I’ve decided to spend a little bit more money and fly with Delta because American is absolutely the worst airline amongst the major carriers.

  19. How and when did we customers begin sliding backwards in service? Wont fly American because this happened to me recently. And last week my United flight went out with half of first cabin empty simply because the gate agent didn’t “feel” like processing the upgrades for no shows. FAA does nothing with our comments despite asking for them in mandated time periods. Yet they go after JSX. Fight with your purchasing power and choice!

  20. Well I learned one useful tidbit – there is a Pappadaux at DFW! That is honestly my favorite place to spend a long connection at IAH (even better than Polaris lounge).

    I used to always run for early connections and earlier flights being of the view that a bird in that hand is better than the later flight, which could be delayed or cancelled. But now I don’t sweat it, I would rather take my pre-selected E+ aisle seat than a middle E- and even worse arrive at the gate all sweaty to find that there are no standby seats left. The only exception is WN where there are no assigned seats.

  21. Book your flight for the time you want or need to get to your destination. Agents already have enough to do seating over solds. Now here comes some one who thinks they can just switch times? AA should charge if you want to change flights.

  22. American has turned into a real schlock airline. America West was not exactly stellar, and neither USAir but it wasn’t be surprising if today’s management of AA eventually drive the airline into bankruptcy. What exactly will they gain from this policy? Wrapping on their loyal high fare paying customers to accommodat a few non-revs or dispatch flights with more empty seats?

  23. NEVER take American Airlines if Southwest is an option! It will cost you every time in extra aggravation, dollars for for checked bags bag, and subjecting yourself to a management system and employees who simply do not care about your satisfaction!

  24. Calling yourself a “journalist” is a bit of a stretch there GAAry. You throw tomatoes at the broad side of a barn. Major airlines are easy targets for whiney folks like yourself. That’s capitalism, bud. Seats are a commodity. Sell them. Also, where’s this weird “80% full” thing coming from? You’re resorting to just making things up now? Oh dear..

  25. Take the flight you booked, you probably bought a cheap ticket anyway and want to get on the flight that costs double. If you want to have dinner with your family then book that ticket plain and simple. Airline staff are tired of people coming up at the last minute not only does it make extra work but think if 30 passengers all came up (like they do at Alaska) for 2 open seats then employees going on vacation get bumped. Charge the difference between what you paid and what the cost of the “convenience” flight costs.

  26. Instead of changing the standby policy, AA should look into changing their rude with full of attitude staff. Specially the check-in counter and gate agents. (LAX is the worst)
    Seems like AA doesn’t care to provide proper customer service training to their staff when hired. I don’t like to fly with AA anymore but once in a while I do just to get the AAadvantage points. I mostly fly with Southwest since their staff either ground or flight attendants for the most part are super friendly, fun and respectful.
    Even frontier and spirit are much cheaper and better than AA.

  27. Instead of changing the standby policy, AA should look into changing their rude with full of attitude staff. Specially the check-in counter and gate agents. (LAX is the worst)
    Seems like AA doesn’t care to provide proper customer service training to their staff when hired. I don’t like to fly with AA anymore but once in a while I do just to get the AAadvantage points. I mostly fly with Southwest since their staff either ground or flight attendants for the most part are super friendly, fun and respectful.
    Even frontier and spirit are much cheaper and better than AA.
    And yes AA should allow passengers to make changes at the gates if seats are available.

  28. AA stranded us all in Dallas AFTER they sent most of their employees home for weather issue. Granted it was unavoidable but was avoidable was the utter chaos; of 3 ticket agents trying to handle next day flights and overnight accomodations

  29. A business model based on irritating customers for no solid reason isn’t a good idea, yet AA seems to embrace that model.

  30. Many a time I have requested to standby on an earlier flight at the gate or the AA lounges. Restricting my ability to do that by subjecting me to a “do it earlier on the app/website” would have meant ending up waiting at the airport longer and increase the chances that a customer on my originally-scheduled flight ends up bumped due to “oversold” situations. So I don’t welcome this change, as nothing good is likely to come of it for me.

  31. Gary,

    Beverly Carter-Smith sounds like one of those bizarre moderators on Flyertalk who think that site users should assume there is a duty of confidentiality when info about what is going on and off the site lands in their lap. People don’t understand what a duty of confidentiality means and so they spout off in ways that are irrelevant to try to silence commentary they don’t like, especially if it comes from people whom they don’t like. What they don’t get is that it doesn’t apply to information that lands in the hands of consumers who never sought the info but get it anyway and aren’t in an agency relationship with the party or parties involved in producing the information that creates such a duty. But maybe one day AA will try to punish you for what you say on VFTW “without authorization” or claim you are some super-hacker who has accessed “off-limit” areas of AA’s systems or AA’s authorized system users. In order to prevent airlines from abusing consumers and thinking critics in this world where information gets around like it does and then we discuss it, I say it is long overdue that US airline loyalty programs don’t get the protections provided the airlines under President Carter’s Airline Deregulation Act and all that followed from that in insulating airlines from liability when harming users of the airline loyalty programs.

  32. AA is a second tier U.S. Based Airline at best! Corporate Greed, Desire to squeeze every penny from paying customers, no customer service to speak of! That’s why Delta and also United ( to a certain extent) are head and shoulders above AA! I vote with my dollars and choose Delta whenever possible!

  33. Sick of these major airlines and how t g ey treat their rewards members. I fly American and United alot for work and it’s disgusting how we get treated like 3rd class steerage.. if it wasn’t for us they would be out of business. They nickel and dime you to death with their baggage fees and the quality of their service shows how far they have fallen. Do many delays and cancelations. I prefer to fly southwest when I can . They are not perfect but way better on how they treat t g e customer and can’t beat their fees.

  34. @GUWonder – “maybe one day AA will try to punish you for what you say on VFTW “without authorization” or claim you are some super-hacker who has accessed “off-limit” areas of AA’s systems or AA’s authorized system users.”

    For avoidance of doubt (not that you’ve suggested otherwise) I have never accessed a password-protected portion of American Airlines systems, nor have I ever asked someone to do so on my behalf. Not that doing so is illegal – U.S. courts have fortunately backed off of the most extreme interpretations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. However I have taken the position for myself that I don’t ever ask anyone to violate any confidentiality obligations even. If they choose to do so unprompted I am comfortable with this.

  35. Good. Fly your booked flight and stop bxtching. And don’t give the gate agents & flight attendants a hard time. They not there for your privilege or complaints.

  36. I don’t get why airlines allow SDS, for the most part…customers are purchasing the later flight to save $$$ knowing you’re going to standby for the earlier flight. Unlike the guy in this article, he runs up to a flight – if his earlier flight arrives on-time. If majority of customers are going to “game the system”, then the airline should make changes. That’s the problem with our culture today, I want something free and they owe this to me. BS.

  37. This is really good news!
    These people trying to catch earlier flights screw up the ability of airline employees to get empty seats. We make our plans depending on what the bookings and the seat map shows.
    Having self important guys showing up at the last second leaves us at the gate and we miss our hoped for connection, much less get an earlier flight.

  38. OMG, arrowspace, God forbid the needs of the people paying your salary come before yours. Or did you forget the /s ?

    CW McCall, take a long walk off a short pier and your right-wing garbage with you.

  39. The policy changes don’t really matter – you will still end up with some gate agent who wants to be a jerk and tell you no. American Airlines customer service is the absolute worst.

  40. So many lazy AA employees litered throughout the comments. High school was obviously hard for them hence why they’re working at AA for $17 an hr.

    “It makes us have to work more”

    oh you have to move your fingers more on the keyboard more? Spoken like a true high school dropout

  41. I’m very happy to see AA implementing this rule. It stops passengers from purchasing cheaper tickets at the end of the day and scam their way to catching a morning flight, which is more expensive, and denying passengers their opportunity to catch their flight! Good job AA!!!

  42. It’s such a dumb move. Full up your earlier place to the last seat so that you get another seat on a later flight that you can either sell or make a different customer happy with. It’s just incompetent marketing people that you run in everywhere.

  43. I’m not defending American Airlines, or saying that they’re wonderful , but comparing them to Southwest, or any other discount carrier is a bit misleading. Southwest is essentially a public bus with wings! There are no seat assignments, no onboard services, and it’s a wonder you even need a reservation and boarding pass to get onboard. They are more proud of their policy of accommodating pack rat’s luggage than providing passenger services. “Free” checked luggage is a ridiculous thing to hang their hats on. Their seats being replaced with what are essentially lawn chairs too. No thanks

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