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And until recently, freight forwarders or large multinational corporations could save several hour's leisure by taking an actual individual's documentation or luggage with them and having it picked up by custom - rather than treating it as freight. Most typically, supplier firms contracted couriers to inspect and provide for those who perform the towing.
Travellers who are interested in really cheap journeys would register with these agents to either be alerted for further journeys or to declare their willingness to undertake an already published journey. The price of tickets was a question of the equilibrium between offer and request. Messenger fares for pre-bookings on favourite itineraries were only a few bucks cheaper than the lowest available discounted tickets; last-minute tours on less favourite itineraries were much cheaper and sometimes free.
Nearly all express services were global, and most of them came from a few US Gateway cities - notably New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco - to some important commercial and finance centres in Europe and Asia. During one of these journeys, the courier's task was easy. Shortly before the scheduled departures, the deliverer gave the carrier a purse or some kind of plastic bags containing a selection of papers and parcels.
Upon arriving, the carrier would hand over the luggage as his or her own luggage and pick it up where he or she would hand it over to the carrier's agent and be on his or her happy way. The majority of messenger tickets were round trips, with a one- or two-week sojourn. Sometimes the traveller was expecting to act as a messenger on the way back, sometimes there was no obligation to take them back.
Some years ago I regularly saw a large selection of appealing messenger flights and fares to Europe, Asia and South America. But as far as I can tell, large multi-national carriers like FedEx, UPS and DHL have set up their own aircraft fleet and elaborate dispatchers.
Consequently, hardly anybody needs to fly a messenger anymore. The self-proclaimed Kurier sites still have credentials in some of the titles that convey the benefits of Kurierfahrten. The former leader of the messenger journey, Kelly Monaghan, doesn't even list his once beloved work. Already in the prime of curier flights, the big curier companies diversified into non curable rebate tickets - usually unreleased consolidation dealers.
Well, despite the fall in the number of messenger flights, several on-line messenger companies continued to encourage their services: Former market leaders Jupiter Air-Courier still seem to offer only a few legal air couriers, but only on two routes: She did not hypendize any other cheap flights and showed no concrete availability or tariffs from mid-August.
You can apply on-line if you are interested. The Affordable Trip website is charged a $39 per year subscription; it offers a lot of "free" trips and "discounts up to 70 percent", but the punch is surprisingly powerful and flashy. The Air Courier Association looks like a slightly different gate to the same business.
Overall, I would say that messenger flights are a small relic of what used to be an important part of the low-fare travelling world. However, be very cautious of anything that seems exaggerated and never buy a good deal without first reviewing the rates in a few other, more traditional stores.
Some travellers ask for "the way to the aerodrome for a cheap stand-by flight". When Freddie Laker's Skytrain collapsed about 30 years ago, the last really important cheap stand-by programme die. Now travellers who drive to the airports and look for a last-minute seating are paying top dollars. Through the only formal cheap stand-by programme I currently know of, the "AirTran U" Stand-by Programme is the AirTran Stand-by Agreement, which is restricted to travellers between the ages of 18 and 22.
When you really need a low last minute fare, don't worry about publishing your fare and go to some specialist providers instead: Some smaller carriers are offering last-minute tickets through third-party agents such as the above and AirHitch. A number of on-line travel agents, such as travelocity, are offering good last-minute rates as part of air-and-hotel package holidays.
Sometimes you can get good last-minute rates via Hotwire or Priceline. However, don't worry about the cheap stand-by at a big air carrier at the airports. A few travellers still suggest that you can get yourself updated on the lowest priced economic fare by getting dressed up and asking polite questions at the boarding gates. Today, carriers report updates, if any, to (1) travellers with costly economies, (2) high-ranking freight travellers, or (3) persons paying for a stand-by update at the gates.
My own personal wisdom is that most of today's departure flights have far more angry, upgraded travellers in the livestock section than in first grade.