As an expat with family at home, I'm dreading the inevitability of a panicked phone call from a relative at 2am demanding I come home quickly because something very bad has happened to someone I care about.

I'm aware that many airlines offer family-emergency or bereavement fares - but I noticed that these airlines' FAQs explain them in the context of the fare discount - there's no mention of last minute ticketing.

It's a trope in fiction for the protagonist to whistle for a cab to the airport, run to the ticket desk and demand "the next flight to France!" and 8 hours later he's saved his girlfriend from his high-school nemesis...

...but the problem is that I just can't find "the ticket desk" at any airport I've been to in recent years (Sea-Tac, Chicago O'Hare, Heathrow and Manchester) - instead each airline has their own ticket desk. If one is in a mad-panic and distraught I would expect one would not be able or willing to go up to each airline's ticket desk and ask if they can fit you on a flight to your intended destination. I've also noticed that those airlines desks are not always open all-hours, even though the airport might feature their flights departing 24/7.

Granted, an option exists to check on a site like Kayak or Expedia that would search all available flights from many airlines, but those sites don't work for ultra short-notice travel - especially if you might need to get a jump-seat ticket - indeed, I have heard of cases where even a cargo airline made accommodations for emergency passenger travel.

So imagine it's 2am, I get the call - I arrive at Sea-Tac airport in my pyjamas at 2:30am and I absolutely have to be at MAN as soon as possible - what do I do?

  • I once tried to buy a ticket at Toronto Pearson Airport, I was told it wasn't possible, they don't sell tickets at the airport.
    – gerrit
    Mar 6, 2018 at 12:12
  • 3
    The movie version of this may disregard the name of the airline for the sake of drama, or not having permission to use a brand name, giving the impression of a general ticket desk but I have only ever seen ticket desks for specific airlines at airports.
    – user16259
    Mar 6, 2018 at 14:25
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    Lots of ticket desks at JFK—but all the ones I wanted didn't open till afternoon or even evening! At least one page I read about bereavement fare said you had to show them a certified copy of the death certificate. Which I took to be their way of NOT giving a bereavement fare while pretending to. How long does it take for the mortician to get the documents from the county, hand them to the next-of-kin, next-of-kin to send them fast as possible to you, you to take them to the ticket counter, etc. … ?
    – WGroleau
    Mar 6, 2018 at 14:59
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    Skyscanner seems happy to sell me tickets to a flight leaving a few hours from now.
    – djr
    Mar 6, 2018 at 18:21
  • I commonly just head to the airport, ( 2 ) en route glance at my phone to see the next airline departing to the destination in question, and then ( 3 ) just buy the ticket at the airline counter, or do it by fiddling on the phone. No problem!
    – Fattie
    Mar 6, 2018 at 21:55

3 Answers 3


This is not really a problem. Unless regular flight operation is interrupted on your way, e.g. due to bad weather and many flights are cancelled, it is on most routes not difficult to get a ticket on very short notice. Business travellers are doing this all the time.

Most search engines and airline websites allow you to book tickets until shortly before departure. If you arrive tonight at 2:30am at Seattle-Tacoma and want to go to Manchester as soon as possible, the soonest arrival in MAN would be with a flight 8:30am with transfer in Atlanta, arriving in Manchester 7:00am next day. A much cheaper alternative would be a departure 6:55 with transfers in Boston and Dublin, arriving in Manchester 7:40am. These flights will still be available for booking tonight at 2:30am and you can find them on any arbitrary flight search engine.

If you don't want to bother finding a flight yourself on the internet and you have a certain idea which airline might have a suitable flight, most airlines have a 24h ticket hotline, which you can call to order a ticket.


Couldn't be easier,

To determine which plane leaves next

  1. click to expedia on your phone. you'll instantly have the answer.

  2. alternately, go to the web site of the airport. They always show live departures about to happen. portseattle.org/Sea-Tac/Flights-Airlines/

  3. alternately, literally just in the google search bar, type the phrase "flight Paris to Tokyo" and just select "today" on the popup which appears. Google now has this totally built-in.

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You will now know which airline you are going on.

Then to purchase the ticket

  1. on expedia, pay with your credit card. Or very simply, telephone that airline's 800 number and pay them (over the phone) with your credit card.

or if you prefer to pay in person

  1. say the next flight is on "Emirates". At all large airports, the airlines in fact have a (small) "ticket sales desk". Walk over to it and buy a ticket.

Note that these days, many folks don't even realize there's a "ticket sales desk", for each airline, at airports! Because it's little used these days.

Note that you mention:

Kayak or Expedia .. don't work for ultra short-notice travel

This is wrong. I buy on the way to the airport all the time.

jump-seat ticket

They don't have those anymore.

cargo airline made accommodations for emergency passenger travel.

not for 40 years now.

If you are trying to get stand-by seats or similar - very simply phone the airline. Again, use expedia on your phone to determine "who's leaving next".

  • 1
    Expedia won't necessarily show you a flight that is sold out. Of course, your chance of getting on a sold out flight isn't great, especially if you don't have status with the airline. But if I was desperate and doing so didn't mean giving up a slower but available set of flights, I'd check flight schedules, then go to the airport and try to standby on that flight. Mar 6, 2018 at 19:35
  • hey @ZachLipton - I'm .. not sure about that on expedia. (For myself, I wouldn't want to know, if they're sold out! I'd want one that is not sold out.) But I think the point is the info is widely and easily available. You literally just type in your browser search bar Flights Seattle London, select "now", and you're done. My understanding is the OP thought it was "difficult" to (A) find (B) buy tickets at the last minute. In fact, it is totally commonplace to do so - no problem at all!
    – Fattie
    Mar 6, 2018 at 21:53

What I would do is check redemption availability on each airline that flies the route I need to be on. e.g. I checked BA and there is redemption availability on the 18:20 today from SEA-LHR and then on to MAN tomorrow. The cost of this is 16250 avios one way and £140, or 5700 avios + £220.

What happens if you don't have any airline miles? You can buy them. 6000 avios costs £111.

Then I'd compare this cost with the cheapest flight I could find on skyscanner (returns are often cheaper than one-way). In the BA case it's several thousand $ for the same flight.

  • All totally true, B.; I believe the nature of the OP's question was just that more basically OP thought it was "difficult" to (A) find (B) buy tickets at the last minute. Of course, it's commonplace, a non-issue.
    – Fattie
    Mar 6, 2018 at 21:55
  • @Fattie Hmm. I sort of assumed the underlying question was how do I buy a last minute ticket without having to sell my car? Maybe I was mistaken.
    – Berwyn
    Mar 6, 2018 at 23:03

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