If you’ve ever found yourself dashing across the airport, your carry-on bumping along behind you as you try to reach the gate for your next flight, you might be wondering: “What happens if I miss my connecting flight?” While many travelers in this situation do make it on time to avoid a missed connecting flight, others aren’t so lucky. So what comes next for the unfortunate few?
As with most issues involving air travel, what happens if you miss a connecting flight depends on your specific situation.
Missed Connecting Flight Due to Airline
If the missed connection is the airline’s fault (a delayed initial flight due to mechanical problems, for example), the airline should rebook you on the next available flight. If the next outbound flight is the following morning, the airline should either book you on another airline or provide accommodations and meals. But these arrangements are voluntary on the airline’s part; they’re not mandated by any law or regulation.
The DOT, however, recently announced its intention to propose rules requiring airlines to provide compensation to passengers impacted by delays or cancellations within the airline’s control. These rules are expected to be outlined later this year and aim to alleviate the financial burden on the stranded passengers who must find alternative accommodations, meals, and transportation.
Missed Connecting Flight Due to Weather
If inclement weather leads to a missed connecting flight, the airline will help you rebook but likely won’t offer any compensation for meals or accommodations. (That said, it never hurts to ask.) Travel insurance can be very useful in this type of situation, as it will often pay for expenses that an airline won’t cover.
Missing Your Flight Because of Something Within Your Control
If something within your control causes you to miss your connecting flight, you’re essentially on your own. This could include mishaps like missing your first flight because you were sitting in traffic, booking too tight of a connection, or getting too distracted at the airport bookstore to hear your boarding announcement. The airline will almost certainly help you rebook, but it’s under no obligation to do so, and you may have to pay a change fee plus any applicable fare difference.
Keep in mind that airlines generally won’t assume responsibility for missed connections on two separate tickets. For example, if you book one leg of your trip on JetBlue and the second ticket on United, United will not take responsibility if JetBlue’s flight doesn’t get you to the connecting airport on time.
While bad weather and mechanical problems are obviously beyond your control, you can take steps to give yourself a better chance of making your connection. Be sure you have plenty of time between flights, particularly if you’re flying into a large or notoriously busy airport or if you’ll need to go through customs and immigration. If it’s cheaper to book two separate flights on different airlines, it’s particularly important to leave extra time for the connection.
For help figuring out how long your connection should be, see what you need to know about making a connecting flight.
The way I see it, spending a little more time waiting at the gate beats being stranded at the airport or running desperately from one terminal to another trying to make your flight.
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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