Can I Go Into an Airport and Ask for a Ticket on the Next Flight Out?

Jun 30, 2017

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George Zaharoff:


One would immediately think (like I did), “Of course you can!” But then when you really think about it…”Well maybe you couldn’t.” I am going to take your question in the literal sense. The assumption is you’re a US citizen with a United States government-issued ID or passport. The question you’re asking — could one walk into any airport, go up to any ticket counter of any airline and say, “Hi there, could you please put me on the next flight that’s leaving.” The answer is yes and no. It’s like playing a slot machine that pays out more than not and there are a few variables here that may have an effect in assisting you making your random trip happen. Back in the day, there were a handful of times I just showed up at the British Airways counter at JFK and asked to be put on the next Concorde flight to London (and vice versa to get back) without any planning and all I needed was a credit card and my passport — easy breezy.


You need an ID, and if your random flight is domestic, a driver’s license or the equivalent will usually do the trick. If your random flight is international, though, you’ll need a passport.


How are you going to pay for it? Two ways: cash or miles, though some airlines let you do a combo of cash and miles. Most of the time, with last-minute tickets, you would pay top dollar, not always but most of the time. In the case of using miles, if there’s an award seat available for that flight, and you have the miles, it’s yours. If money or miles are not an issue, you’re almost good to go! (I’ve excluded any form of flight attendant buddy passes from the equation, when a relative works for the airline and you can go stand-by for free or very little money.


If the ticket agent responds to you with, “Well, let’s see here, the next flight I can get you on is a flight to Rio de Janeiro,” you would need a visa to visit Brazil, which requires you to send your passport to a consulate of Brazil to obtain one and takes about 14 business days. There are many countries where you would need a visa, like China, Russia or Tanzania, among others.

Last month I was in Bangkok having my morning coffee at the hotel and just decided I wanted to do something spontaneous. I went online on my phone and looked at all the flights. I booked a late afternoon flight to Sydney. I got to the Thai First Class counter in Bangkok and was told I didn’t have a visa to go to Australia. I had forgotten all about that, so I went on my phone at the airport and did a rush visa through the Australian visa website. I had a confirmation in 15 minutes. I was very lucky because had it been some other country, I wouldn’t have been allowed to go. Many countries also require you show documentation of vaccinations — like for yellow fever or malaria — that could take up to two weeks to get.


Again, you walk up to the counter and the ticket agent responds, “Well, let’s see here, the next flight I can get you on is a flight to Rio de Janeiro.” There have to be seats on the random flight you want to board, right? As mentioned in the beginning, it’s like playing a slot machine that pays out more often or not. It all depends on your timing and whether the random city aligns with all the tools needed.

Featured image courtesy of Ozan Kose via Getty Images.

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