Remember the good old days when you could get on an earlier flight than the one you booked just by walking up to the gate and asking? That was before airlines started slapping fees on that process, as they have with so many other things.
But it might still be possible to pull it off without paying a fee (around $75 for domestic flights), even if you’re not an elite-level frequent flyer or a full-fare ticket holder. The key is to be able to show the gate agent that it is in the airline’s best interest to accommodate you on an earlier flight.
- If you get to the airport in time to grab an earlier departure, check the arrival status of the inbound aircraft that will become the outbound flight you’ve booked. (Instead of looking at the airline’s arrivals board, use FlightAware’s mobile app for greater accuracy.) If it’s coming in late, it means your departure will likely be delayed – and you might miss a connection downline. That makes it in the airline’s interest to put you on an earlier departure, especially if your connecting flight is overbooked or the last one of the day.
- If you’re flying out of a connecting hub and have a chance for an earlier departure than the one you’ve booked, ask the gate agent about the likelihood of “miss-connects” on that earlier flight. These are connecting passengers whose inbound flights are coming in late enough that they might miss the next segment (i.e., the one you want to get on). If the airline will accommodate your request, it will not only make you a happy passenger, but will also open up a seat on the later flight for someone who missed their connection.
- Remember that your attitude in talking to the gate agent can make all the difference – and gate agents have all the power in these situations, especially when it comes to waiving fees. These employees are busy and frequently abused by irate travelers – so taking a high-handed approach won’t get you anywhere. Don’t be overbearing, but don’t be obsequious either. Just be pleasant and seem like you’re trying to be helpful rather than demanding or annoying.
- If you have a good reason for wanting to get home earlier, it might be worth mentioning – especially if it involves your family. Would an earlier flight get you back in time to attend your kid’s Little League game or recital? Gate agents have families, too, and it could make them a little more sympathetic to your request.
How do YOU avoid paying airline fees like this? Leave your tips below!
A similar version of this post written by Bob Cowen appeared previously on TravelSkills.
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