Missing your flight.
Probably a traveler’s worst nightmare.
I had a friend once message me, “Alex, what do I do? I just missed my flight.”
I asked her what happened, and she told me that she thought the flight was three hours ahead of the actual departure time.
But, listen. It happens to the best of us, even to experienced travelers. And according to this English study, apparently 3 in 5 people have missed or been late for a flight, at least in the UK.
So bookmark the hell out of this article, gritty adventurers. And keep reading on exactly what you need to do in any of the situations I’ve outlined below.
What To Do: If It’s The Airline’s Fault
Let’s say you’re flying from Miami International and you have a layover in JFK. Your flight from MIA took off one hour later than expected (damn delays!). You get to JFK pretty late, and you find out your connecting flight left.
This is clearly the airline’s fault because you got there on time, but the aircraft was encountering “mechanical problems.”
1. You’re in luck because your airline will cover this.
If your itinerary is part of the same airline, you will likely be placed on the next arriving flight along with the rest of the passengers who are in the same boat as you. This change doesn’t come at an extra cost to you.
2. If your connecting flight is part of a different airline, call that airline immediately.
Though the airline of your connecting flight will likely be aware of this delay, make sure to remind them by giving them a call. The chance that they can connect you to the next additional flight at no charge increases the more passengers have the same connection (they don’t want a bunch of unhappy customers, after all).
3. If the next available flight is next morning, ask what the airline can cover.
In the cases the flight they put you on is next morning, ask them what the airline can cover. Most often this includes meals and accommodation.
What To Do: If The Security Line Was Super Long / Annoying
Oh, TSA. How you tickle the hearts of passengers. Did you know around 70,000 American Airlines passengers missed their flights because of long security wait times in 2016? Holy smoking cow.
Have no fear. There are still a few things you can do if you’re ever in a situation like this. (Warning: involves some schmoozing skills. So get your best schmoozer on the line).
1. Call your airline immediately.
Sadly, no one wants to be held responsible in a situation like this, and the airport and TSA won’t be of much help to you. Be super nice with the agent on the line because even the airline isn’t responsible for this situation. I know this is a tricky situation for passengers, but here’s when you’ve gotta schmooze your way into a next flight without having to pay a fee.
2. Be extra polite with the customer service rep.
Politeness and calmness goes a long way. Even in this situation where you’d likely be pulling your hair out. Customer service reps at airline companies deal with huffy-puffy passengers all day; be the one that isn’t disgruntled so you can stick out – in a good way.
3. Explain the situation to them.
Tell them how it’s dire, and no one is helping you at the airport, not even TSA (#whatASurprise). You have about a 50/50 shot of getting on your next flight pro bono – just play your cards right with the rep!
4. Going forward, get yourself some TSA PreCheck.
I know. It’s absurd there’s a paid service that gets us through security faster even though efficiency should be TSA’s top priority, any way. I think it’s silly, too. But TSA PreCheck helps expedite that long wait time.
5. Get the MyTSA app.
It’s got average security wait times and notifications for flight delays, so it’s all-around super useful (unlike the TSA).
What To Do: If You’re Denied Boarding
Believe it or not, you have a ton of compensation options whether you’re denied boarding voluntarily or involuntarily.
1. Is it voluntary?
Simply put, there’s voluntary and involuntary denial to board.
You might be wondering how this can be voluntary. Well, if a flight’s overbooked, the agent at the counter will often call out for volunteers who’d like to skip the flight in return for some compensation (airline credit, cash, etc). If someone’s not in a rush to make it to their destination, you’d be surprised how many people take the agent up on the offer. Sometimes you can barter the benefits you receive in this situation.
In this case, the airline will usually offer you these options regarding your next flight:
- take the next flight out ASAP
- take the next flight at your earliest convenience (even if it’s at a later date)
- refund the cost of your ticket
2. Is it involuntary?
So this is when things get a bit trickier. Let’s say you have all your travel docs, you got to the gate on time, and you have a confirmed reservation for this flight. Meaning, you are well within your rights to board this flight. If a flight’s overbooked and no one’s volunteering to leave the flight, the airline will get desperate and ask you to leave.
They are responsible for getting you to your next destination, though, and will offer the same options regarding your next flight:
- take the next flight out ASAP
- take the next flight out at your earliest convenience (even if it’s at a later date)
- refund the cost of your ticket
3. Know your rights if it’s involuntarily denied booking.
- You have a right to your next destination. The airline must provide you a flight at no additional cost to you along with care and assistance before your next flight (hotel compensation, taxis, meals, phone calls).
- If they offer you a hotel voucher, it doesn’t expire. Yep. If you decide not to take them up on the hotel, you can use that voucher for another time.
- You can get cash back even if they rebook you (not airline credit, remember!). The numbers are as follows:
- you’ll get 200% of your one-way fare back for a maximum of $675 USD if you get to your destination 2 hours later than expected
- you’ll get 400% of your one-way fare back for a maximum of $1350 USD if you get to your destination 4 hours later than expected
- (These numbers are correct as per el government so they’re legit.)
- Do not take the airline credit they offer you. It isn’t worth much and has expiry conditions!
- You can receive up to $3,500 USD for delayed baggage. That’s right. If you’re denied boarding but your bags fly ahead of you, you can receive $3,500 USD as per the Department of Transportation.
- You can receive up to $3,500 USD for completely, utterly, not-coming-back-to-you lost luggage. There’s a ton of forms involving this, and airlines tend to do everything they can not to give you the full amount. But, hey. It’s still compensation moolah.
- Lost your bag internationally? You can receive up to $1,750 USD for it. Strangely enough, this is less than what you would get compensated if your bag was lost in the States.
- You’re entitled to some sugar momma money if your baggage is on the next flight. Yes, the airline wants to be your sugar momma but they don’t really spread this fact around. Every day that you can’t catch a next flight out, you’ve got to live off something, right? Airlines can pick up the tab on much, as long as it’s a reasonable amount (nothing over $200 USD per day).
What To Do: If You’re Running Late + Cutting It Close
Ok. So maybe you decided to pack super last-minute.
Or maybe you got carried away…sleeping.
Maybe your dog at your homework.
Whatever the reason, don’t feel bad if you end up in the situation where you’re running late to your flight…on your own behalf (just trust me and spare yourself the guilt trip).
1. Be aware of the “flat-tire rule.”
This is a goodie that the airlines don’t really like to disclose. If there were circumstances beyond your control when getting to the airport (like mechanical failures, hence “flat tire”), then the airlines will work with you to put you on the next available flight without an additional charge. If your fight was the last flight of the day, there’s a much slimmer chance you can use this rule (some airlines specifically outline last-day flights aren’t included). Regardless, I’d still try my best if I were you.
2. Make sure to be at the airport within two hours from your scheduled departure time.
If you’re running late, don’t get to the airport later than 2 hours after your flight is scheduled to leave. This “flat-tire rule” mainly applies to these situations, and the details vary from carrier to carrier.
3. Immediately call your airline.
Call your airline especially before your flight departs (most of us know if we’re going to miss a flight). Be polite when you’re speaking to the customer service rep and explain to them that you are running late due to “circumstances beyond my control.”
4. If you’re departing from a major hub, ask for same-day confirmed seats.
Major hubs can get pretty busy. So there’s no guarantee that your customer service agent can get you onto a next flight. Most major carriers have the option to pay a small fee in order to confirm your seat for the next flight (usually under $100). This is not the same as a change fee. It’s simply reserving your seat in case of overcrowding. If there’s a bunch of seats available, you don’t have to do this.
5. If the rep asks to pay a change fee, use the flat-tire rule.
Yeah, this is your last resort. In my experience, agents have always been pretty accommodating (remember, art of the schmooze!). But if yours isn’t being flexible, tell them about the flat-tire rule and ask to speak to their supervisor (though I hope you won’t have to get to this point).
What To Do: If The Weather Sucks
Hurricanes. Tornados. Hail. Shitstorms.
Anything can happen, and Mother Nature is an unpredictable force to deal with especially if an aircraft wants to take off into the skies.
What exactly can you do if inclement weather is the reason you miss your flight?
1. Enjoy the cozy blanket waiver.
“Waiver” is always a good sign, right? Good thing the airlines are pretty forgiving when it comes to spooky weather situations. During major regional disruptions because of weather, airlines will normally issue a waiver for any passenger to change their flight at no additional charge.
2. Don’t stand in line, call the airline’s customer service immediately.
You’ll probably see a throng of people at the airline desk trying to change their flights. Don’t follow suit. Just call the airline directly, and I guarantee that’ll be faster than waiting in line in person.
3. Get an app like Flight Tracker to check the status of your flight.
Being in the know with a tracking app can get you ahead of the game so you can change your flights with a customer service rep.
4. Know your rights ahead of time for specific airlines.
Here’s a handy list of the different contracts for several airlines. Check it out to see the specifics of what your airline can – and can’t do – for you.
How can I use this ultimate guide for my travel planning?
Feel free to refer back to this guide if you want to brush up on what you can do in these situations.
You can also get a downloadable version of this guide below, with all your rights as an airline passenger clearly outlined.
Happy travels, gritty adventurers!