9

I haven't seen or heard of airlines selling ad-hoc tickets in a truly last-minute fashion. Rather last-minute typically refers to a time-window of less than 2 weeks in tourism.

What is the shortest time-span for an "ad-hoc traveler" to book a cheap flight before being able to board it?

  • At London City, you might be able to get away with as low as about 25 minutes. At a large airport it'll depend if you're already air-side or not – Gagravarr May 23 '15 at 14:13
  • @Gagravarr Directly over the counter? This would be interesting as long as the tickets are discounted and do not entailing a mark up/premium fee. – Lorenz Lo Sauer May 29 '15 at 5:41
  • 2
    @LoSauer. The discount tickets will not be available so it is an expensive option. – Calchas May 29 '15 at 10:09
9

Minutes. All airlines still sell walk-up tickets, where you simply rock up to the airport and ask "a ticket for the next flight, please", although you will usually pay through the nose for the privilege.

In the case of standby tickets, you may not even be able to purchase the ticket until check-in has closed, which may be as little as 30 minutes before flight departure. While these are increasingly rare, they still exist, particularly in Japan: for example, Solaseed's standby-only Visit Japan fares are only available at the airport counter if there's space left on the plane.

  • 1
    Second this. I've been on a plane 20 minutes after walking into the airport with no ticket or flight schedule. (Pre-9/11, family emergency, I knew there were a whole bunch of planes on the route I was flying so I just packed what I needed, headed for the airport and lucked out on the timing.) – Loren Pechtel May 23 '15 at 19:53
2

It depends on

  1. where you are
  2. where you want to go

But before that, keep in mind that check-in closes on average 30-40 minutes prior to the flight departure, luggage drop-off one hour before and security will take, in the best-case scenario, 15 minutes. (Although 30-40 is more likely.) You simply can't go through security before you board your flight!

So, if you are lucky enough that there is a flight departing within the next hour which isn't fully booked and you are not checking any luggage in and the security lane doesn't have any queue you could potentially complete the entire process in under an hour. That said, you'll also have to check that the country where you want to fly doesn't require you to obtain a visa prior to arrival.

  • I think you are being a bit pessimistic. It is rare for me to arrive at an airport more than 60 minutes before departure, and I still usually have time for a coffee. Admittedly there are times when this is cutting it fine, and I check in online, don't check bags and use the fast lanes; so maybe it isn't for everyone: but 95% of the time it is a positively generous amount of time. – Calchas May 23 '15 at 17:48
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    Depends a lot on the airport, @Calchas. – Alan Shutko May 23 '15 at 21:34
  • @Calchas that might work in smaller airports, but then again the chance of finding a flight leaving to your destination if you walk up randomly are rather slim. If you're in something like London Stansted, Paris CDG or Amsterdam you'll need 40 minutes just to walk from security to the gate. – MrD May 23 '15 at 23:06
  • I am surprised at this, from regular travellers too. I am a regular user of CDG, LHR and AMS, among other larger airports. There is a bit of walking especially at AMS with the lounge in the wrong place but it is not forty minutes. The only time in the past year I have (nearly) come unstuck with my sixty minutes rule is JFK T8 on a Sunday morning of all times. – Calchas May 24 '15 at 1:41
  • @max0005 That seems exaggerated and not like the average time spent. Plus in case of such passenger volume, there is usually the option to pay a little more for priority security checks. – Lorenz Lo Sauer May 29 '15 at 5:51

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