• When you see an empty ticket counter, don’t panic

    You may encounter a counter where nobody is accountable. (Photo courtesy Grant Wickes)

    You may encounter a counter with nobody you can count on. If so, you still may be able to avoid disaster.
    (Photo courtesy Grant Wickes)

    “Sir, I’m sorry. There’s literally nothing I can do.”

    Matt Pekarek
    In any situation, these words can cause your heart to drop like a lead balloon. Hearing them when you’re trying to catch a flight, and that balloon feels like it’s filled with sand and ball bearings. Unfortunately, that’s what my friend and I heard as we ran up to a regional airline ticket counter recently for a flight departing from JFK.

    A few hours before, I was at a hotel in Soho, leisurely getting ready for a late morning flight back home. Blissfully unaware of, well, everything, I naively calculated that an hour and a half would be more than enough time to get from the heart of Manhattan to the East of Queens via subway, check in, float through security and land safely in our seats.

    I was wrong. So very wrong.

    After an hour-long subway ride, as well as a mega-sprint from the AirTrain to the terminal, we had 30 minutes to spare. Unfortunately, as a small, yet vocal crowd of deserted travelers discovered with us, we were too late. The regional airline’s counter was closed, with one increasingly exasperated JFK rep left to withstand the verbal abuse.

    If you’ve flown with a regional airline that doesn’t have multiple destinations flying from one airport, or if you’ve tried to fly on a larger airline from a smaller regional airport, you might have met this same situation. The empty ticket counter can be devastating, but it doesn’t necessarily mean disaster. So, what can you do?

    The empty ticket counter can be devastating, but it doesn’t necessarily mean disaster.

    First, don’t panic. More to the point, don’t verbally abuse airport employees, don’t ask for their manager, and DON’T throw your baggage or kick the counter. Unfortunately, as the crowd did that (I’m not exaggerating, unfortunately), my friend and I got to work.

    Second, call the airline immediately. It’s true, if the ticket counter is empty, there really is nothing you can do to get on that flight. So, get your phone and call customer service. Even on a weekend, you should be able to reach an airline representative who can make things happen. Even better, most will understand and not charge you a change fee. Within five minutes, we were switched around with a flight out that evening.

    Third, make friends with other airlines. While we may have had a Plan B for the flight, we didn’t have one for an extra eight hours in Queens. Mobile check-in wasn’t an option (again, regional airline), so my friend had the idea to explain our plight to an agent from the gigantic international airline a few feet away. Being awesome, they understood our plight and printed out our booking passes—allowing us to get on the other side of security and chill out at the airport bar. (That’s an experience that the seething crowd didn’t get to have for six hours.)

    Fourth, don’t make the mistake in the first place. If you’re traveling with a smaller airline and/or to a smaller airport, take a look at the ticket counter when you arrive and see how it’s staffed. Check with the right people to see how early you need to check in. Then, give yourself plenty of transport time to arrive to the airport well in advance.

    Have you encountered the dreaded empty ticket counter? If so, what did you do? Let us know in the comments!