What a subscriber learned flying standby

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the November 2013 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 453rd issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, the one YOU help write.

Michael J.E. Burge of Ventura, California, hopes that travelers might end up a little wiser by hearing his tale. Mechanical problems and acts of nature cannot be controlled, but certain decisions might be made differently to make things go a little more smoothly.

Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Palphug Monastery, upper Paro Valley, Bhutan. Photo: takepicsforfun/123RF

He wrote, “My wife, Evelyn, and I enjoyed a very interesting trip to Sri Lanka and southern India with Overseas Adventure Travel, Dec. 2-26, 2010, but our return trip home was harrowing.”

He ended his letter with this: “Between arising from bed in India and going to bed in Ventura, California, it took 106 hours.” (I’ll save you the math; that’s four days and 10 hours.)

In between, there was a traffic-clogged drive from Mysore to Bangalore airport, a 10-hour flight delay out of New Delhi (“Finding a chair to sleep on was next to impossible, so the floor was the next-best thing”) and a snowstorm in New York that slowed all operations at JFK Airport. After landing there, it took passengers 4½ hours to get to the gate and two more for luggage to reach the carousel.

They took a shuttle to the domestic terminal at JFK, where “… at 2 a.m. there were thousands of weary travelers with thousands of suitcases waiting in line for the agents to arrive at 7 a.m. Most of us lay down on the floor for the five hours — not the most comfortable when you are 70 years old.”

Michael continued: “We finally got to talk with an agent. Our original, confirmed ticket, JFK-LAX, was for 9:10 a.m. the previous day. It was Dec. 28, and she said she could get us on a confirmed flight on Dec. 31 or we could go standby. I said we would fly standby but asked that she give us the confirmed tickets as well, in case standby fell apart. The American Airlines agent issued us four tickets, two dated Dec. 28, for standby only, and two confirmed tickets for Dec. 31.

“She asked if we would like to check our 22-inch suitcases or take them on the plane with us. She said that if we didn’t make the plane, the suitcases would remain at the airport until we got a flight and they would accompany us. We checked the suitcases.

“We arrived at the gate for our first opportunity to fly standby. About 100 other people were also waiting for standby. A board with our names on it said we were numbers 46 and 47. When boarding was completed and the gate closed, we had to stay for roll call and our names were transferred to the next available flight. Any standby passengers who did not stay for roll call had their names taken off the list. 

“The next flight was about two hours later. We didn’t get on that flight either. Seeing that we were still numbers 46 and 47, I inquired why. I was told that all passengers are not equal. Some are ‘gold members’ and some are ‘platinum members’ and some are not airline club members at all. 

“It appeared that Evelyn and I had been leapfrogged over, and this happened time after time. The last flight that day was at 11 p.m. and we didn’t make it, either.

“We had to be back at the gate at 6:30 a.m. or lose our standby place. An agency at the airport said there was a room available for $192, and we decided to take it. We went looking for our suitcases and learned that they had gone out on the first flight to Los Angeles. At least we had our toothbrushes.

“We took the Airtrain and a shuttle to a hotel, where many people were lined up at the counter waving their vouchers, as I was. The hotel staff said the housekeepers had not arrived and we should just wait. Evelyn and I rode straight back to the hotel agency at the airport and received a full refund. 

“Now it was after midnight, all security personnel had gone home and the doors to the inner sanctum of the airport were locked. We had no alternative but to sleep on the floor behind the ticket agent’s counter.

“After 5 a.m. we got in the security line, presented our ticket and were told, ‘This ticket is no good. It’s dated yesterday.’

“It seems that our Dec. 28 standby tickets were good for only one day. New standby tickets needed to be issued for Dec. 29, with another set to be issued on Dec. 30 if we were still going to be at the airport the next day.

“I told the security agent that we had to get inside for the 6:30 a.m. standby. No way was she going to let us in with a wrongly dated ticket! However, she helped us by cutting into the line at the ticket counter and getting a new ticket printed.

“We didn’t get on the first flight or the second, but by then our numbers on the board were 1 and 2. At 10:20 a.m. our names were called for boarding. I have never been so happy to get on a plane in my life.

“Our 6½-hour flight from New York to Los Angeles turned into an 8-hour flight when the captain decided to make an emergency landing in Saint Louis because a lady on board was having chest pains, but we finally landed at LAX and boarded the shuttle bus for the 2-hour ride home… and bed.”

May Michael and Evelyn’s experience help guide you in, heaven forbid, similar situations!


I filled most of last month’s column describing what happens to passengers’ luggage lost by airlines and airports. Our research was prompted by the question “Where do all those bags go?,” asked by Veronica Thighe of Aurora, Colorado, whose letter I shared.

Veronica had flown Delta Air Lines to New York’s JFK Airport and on to Dakar, Senegal, but her checked bag never arrived. She filled out all the paperwork and, after she returned, Delta processed her claim. 

I neglected to tell the end of Veronica’s story, however. Since I don’t like leaving loose ends, here’s the coda.

Veronica told ITN, “Delta reimbursed me $1,593 for the lost bag and $144 for some out-of-pocket expenses, i.e., for a few things I needed to tide me over. Apparently, they use a formula to calculate the amount they send you. I was sent a check. The bag never showed up.”

Veronica had her address and phone number on two tags outside the bag plus one inside. No telling why her bag went astray. Apparently, it just fell into the wrong hands.


Stephen O. Addison, Jr., of Charlotte, North Carolina, read my September ’13 column and wrote, “Regarding how readers save ITN articles for future reference, until about three years ago I kept articles, brochures and other travel information in files exactly like Nanci Alexander of Lexington, KY. Then I switched to scanning or downloading articles whenever possible and saving them in files on my PC. 

“These virtual files are organized in folders just like my hard-copy files. Anything not readily downloaded or scanned goes to my hard-copy file folders.

“When I retire, I plan to scan as many of my hard-copy files as possible and then recycle the paper documents. I’ve found the virtual files to be more readily searchable and convenient, not to mention less bulky.

“Before a trip, I copy relevant files to my smartphone so that they will be available to me during my travels.”


Those of you who travel “on a shoestring” — who pay dozens of dollars on a room each night instead of hundreds — tell us about someplace you found to be convenient or a surprising value on a recent stay.

If you don’t recall the name, tell us its approximate location and what it looks like or how you discovered it. When were you there? About how much did you pay, and what was included? What else might a like-minded traveler want to know about the place?

For super-budget travelers, these places are important to know about, especially if they’re hidden away, so we want to hear from you. It’s okay to be tight-fisted, but don’t be tight-lipped. If a place suited you just fine, tell us why. Share your finds.


We’re approaching the holiday season, when often it seems there isn’t enough time to get everything done. You can save a lot of time and running around by giving a couple of people on your list a gift subscription to ITN. Call 800/486-4968 and you can even specify when you want the gift card to go out. Alternatively, visit our website (printed at the bottom of every other page in the magazine) and click on “Subscribe.”

Whether it’s a 12-month, 2-year, 3-year or Lifetime subscription, it will be appreciated by anyone who loves international travel.

Dianna Sutherland of Annandale, Virginia, asked us to send a complimentary copy of ITN to a friend and wrote, regarding our sending out free sample copies of the next-printed issue upon request, “Thank you so much for this service. Several years ago someone asked that I be sent a complimentary copy, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  

ITN is, without a doubt, the BEST travel informational magazine, and I sit and read it cover to cover without exception. A huge ‘Thank you’ to the ITN staff and contributors!”

Joel Pollack of Denver, Colorado, emailed on Sept. 16, “I saved my September 2013 issue for my trip to Bhutan, where I am currently traveling. 

“The day after visiting the Dochula Pass, I was riding in a van with my tour group, showing my fellow travelers your outstanding and unique publication, when I got to the ‘Where in the World?’ page. Imagine my surprise at seeing the picture taken at the Dochula Pass! For the first time in the years I have been receiving ITN, I actually knew where the mystery photo was taken!

“Thanks again for how you enrich world travel.”    — DT