I am traveling to Santa Barbara, CA. I have flights booked to Los Angeles scheduled to land at 10:05 pm; then I plan to rent a car and drive the remaining 2 hours or so to SB.

However, there is a flight from LAX to SBA that departs at 10:35 pm. If it so happened that my LA flight got in early, and the gates were near each other, would it be possible to book a seat on that flight right at the gate, half an hour before departure, and save myself the drive?

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    Note that most flights start boarding by half an hour before departure and United requires passengers to be ready to board by 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, so your half-hour is really more like 15 minutes. If you are not at the gate by then, you might not be allowed to board, even if you were able to get a ticket. Additionally, remember to factor in time required to deplane, especially if it's a larger single-aisle aircraft (e.g. 757 or A321) and you're near the back. Finally, it appears that UA requires check-in 30 minutes before departure at LAX.
    – reirab
    Oct 8, 2017 at 6:55
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    This being a VERY short hop, with low ridership... this may not be United proper, but rather Skywest flying as United Express, they fly the little rubber-band-powered prop planes, ATRs, Embraers and the like. That may affect things at the gate. Oct 9, 2017 at 3:31

5 Answers 5


That probably depends on the airport. In general, they're not equipped at the gate to sell you a ticket, but it might be possible.

If you got in early enough you could leave the secure area, go to the ticket desk, book a ticket (likely expensive) and then come back.

The simplest answer might be to try to buy a ticket online, if it will let you, as soon as you arrive at the airport. You can then check in online, or if not possible, go to the podium for the flight's gate, explain what you did and they can print you a boarding pass.

This, of course, assumes you have no checked bags.

  • Are there no ticket counters in the secure area at LAX? Oct 8, 2017 at 9:42
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    Not all airports even have ticket desks at all.
    – gerrit
    Oct 8, 2017 at 10:25
  • Tor-Einar Jambjo - in general, no. Ticket counters are usually on ground side. At most one might find self-service kiosks on air side. Gate agents may or may not be privileged to sell tickets, and the reasons you couldn't depend on purchasing from them have been enumerated by others already. Oct 8, 2017 at 12:13
  • @user1329482 That doesn't really answer my question. Does your 'in general' apply to the US? Not that I often need it, but I have over the last few years at least been to air-side ticket counters in Berlin, Munich and Oslo. Oct 8, 2017 at 12:44

(I've been working adjunct to the airline industry for 20 years--those check-in kiosks you see? That--along with some other team members, of course--was I, starting in 1996, with the first fully successful kiosks fielded for NorthWest Airlines in February of 1997.)

So, for this: the numbers won't work. In general, check-ins (never mind purchases) are limited to X minutes before the scheduled departure time. The usual minimum is 30 minutes before departure. You won't be able to get off the plane and over to the next counter in time--because the arrival and departure times are already separated by 30 minutes. Even if you get in early, deplaning and getting yourself to the next gate is going to eat that time pad. No matter the privileges assigned to the gate agent sine code, the GDS (reservation system) will likely reject the new reservation because of time constraints. Even if overridden and you somehow board the plane, your luggage will already be on the way to baggage pick-up when you board and won't be available in SBA when you land.

Can't you just rebook online now to add the LAX->SBA segment (assuming it's the same airline)? That saves you the time spent getting to the gate agent, getting the flight paid for, and so on--and your luggage ends up in the right place. Even if it's not the same airline--you could book now and save the extra effort.

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    What's the minimum connection time for UA at LAX? If it's more than 30 minutes, then presumably you can't add the LAX-SBA segment on the same reservation. Oct 8, 2017 at 15:02

You may or may not be able to buy at the gate and it's hard to predict whether you can or not. Your best bet would be to try buy one directly on the United App and you can also check in there. United is in terminal 7 and 8 at LAX. Most Santa Barbara flights leave from terminal 8. A 30 minute connection is doable, if you have no checked luggage and the incoming flight is on time, especially if it also gets in at Terminal 8.

United minimum check in time is 30 minutes for LAX. You must also be at the gate at least 15 minutes before departure. See https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/airport/process/default.aspx#minimum-reqd-times

EDIT: edited ticket availability at the gate.

  • Does the United app let you buy a ticket 30 mins before departure?
    – JonathanReez
    Oct 8, 2017 at 6:27
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    Why can't you buy a ticket from a gate agent? I've had a Southwest gate agent offer to sell me a ticket before. I ended up not doing it because of the price, though, and just stuck with my horribly-delayed flight on another airline.
    – reirab
    Oct 8, 2017 at 6:46
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    Normally gate check-in staff do not have access to conduct purchases. For example, they may not have a point of sale terminal to swipe cards; or a cash secure desk to accept payments. Oct 8, 2017 at 9:09
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    @reirab Half an hour before departure, the gate staff are probably busy with other stuff. Oct 8, 2017 at 11:50
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    @reirab: Highly unlikely. Gate agents or only assigned to active gates and most cases they will refer you to the customer service desk near gate 71B at LAX. That's always staffed and supposed to handle these type of request.
    – Hilmar
    Oct 9, 2017 at 13:16

Yes, Gate Agents can book new tickets (no cash though) but this wouldn't be my first plan because:

  • They have a lot to do otherwise.
  • You still have to comply with the 30-45 min purchase requirement and 2005-2035 is not enough time.

If you have cabin luggage only and the cost is not significant to you or whoever is paying, you can either:

  • Book a cheap ticket and risk losing the change fee.
  • Buy a refundable ticket likely at a higher price.
  • Change your inbound to an earlier flight
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    Note that if the inbound flight is late, you would probably no-show for the connecting flight, unless you can cancel while in the air (assuming there is working wi-fi). In that case you might be out not only the change fee but the entire cost of the ticket, depending on the airline policy. Likewise, for a refundable ticket, you'd have to check you would get a refund even if you no-show. Oct 8, 2017 at 15:05
  • @NateEldredge you can also ask someone to cancel the ticket if you don't call back by a certain time.
    – JonathanReez
    Oct 8, 2017 at 20:08

My experience is yes. But you pay double or more for it. At the gate. If a seat is to be had. Not sure of America. Normally you are ahead upgrading seats at the gate.

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