Despite my screed against obligatory small talk, organic small talk got me the opportunity to volunteer and get a voucher for a free flight.

There is a lot of human drama in flying standby and being in the gate after the mass of people have boarded. The hunger, as people hope for their name to be called and calculate the numbers of people paged by name against their position on the list. The disappointment, as the paged no-shows arrive after the door has closed but before the plane has left, to find they missed their flight. The optimism, as the same people sit at the next gate, hoping this will be the flight they get on.

Unfortunately, for most of them, it wouldn’t be. I was at the gate for three flights on the same route this afternoon. The standby list (shown on shiny monitors) went from about 10, to 16, to 33 people, as the backup just kept getting worse with every flight, and only 4 or 5 people were coming off the list each flight.