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Silhouette of woman staring down at her phone, stressed, in an airport terminal
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What to Do if You Miss Your Flight

SmarterTravel

We’ve all been there before. Standing in line to go through security or passport control and wondering if you’ll make it to the gate before the airplane door closes. Or, maybe you’ve slept through an alarm and realized there is no way you’re making it to the airport in time for your flight. While it’s perfectly normal to panic in these situations, it’s best to stay calm and act quickly to ensure you get booked on the best possible solution to get to your destination. Here’s what to do if you miss your flight.

What to Do if You Miss Your Flight: When It’s Your Own Fault

Frustrated woman sitting on floor of airport next to red luggage and neck pillow
DavidPrado | Adobe Stock

In most cases, the burden of a missed flight falls on the shoulders of the passenger. It can be easy to blame long lines to check luggage or at security checkpoints but these are the reasons airlines advise customers to arrive at the airport two to four hours before departure in order to avoid any hiccups.

Flat-Tire Rule

Most major airlines have an unofficial “flat-tire” policy, which gives agents the discretion to rebook passengers on a new flight when they are running late or miss their flight. You’ll want to contact the airline immediately once you know you’re going to miss a flight. Call, text, or tweet the airline on your way to the airport but also speak to an agent in person as this will be the easiest way to explain your situation.

If there are available seats on later flights, you should be able to get rebooked as long as you’re flying on a legacy carrier and you contact the airline within two hours after your scheduled departure.

This recently happened to me on an early morning Delta flight flying out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. I slept through my alarm but luckily was staying at a hotel right near the airport. I raced to the airport as quickly as possible, explained to the agent that I missed my flight and was able to get rebooked on the next flight to Minnesota. Again, there is no guarantee this will work if flights are full or there aren’t any more options available that day but it is always worth asking politely.

Fly Standby

If there aren’t any confirmed seats available on the next available flight, you can always ask to be put on the standby list and wait at the boarding gate to see if a seat opens up at the last-minute. It’s entirely possible that someone else will miss their flight either due to a missed connection or trouble getting to the airport on time.

Budget Airlines

If you’re flying a budget airline such as Frontier or Spirit, it’s doubtful that the airline will accommodate you for free on the next flight. Although it never hurts to ask, I would expect to have to pay for a new ticket if you miss your flight when flying these carriers. And this can be more of an issue since several routes flown by budget airlines are only flown a few times per week. In these cases, you’ll want to immediately seek out another option flying other carriers and not waste any time.

Recently, I had booked a RyanAir flight from Barcelona, Spain to Podgorica, Montenegro. Due to an absurdly slow-moving line at passport control, I missed my flight. Since I knew this flight only operated twice per week and the next flight wasn’t for another few days, I didn’t bother trying to find a RyanAir agent for rebooking. Instead, I immediately started searching for a new way to get to my destination as quickly (and affordably) as possible.

Book a Flight Using Points and Miles

Booking a last-minute award ticket is one way you can help ease the pain of missing a flight that requires booking an entirely new ticket. Some airlines release more award seats at the last minute and it can be a good value to use miles compared to last-minute prices of cash tickets.

In the case I mentioned above, I found that there was saver award space available from Barcelona to Podgorica on Austrian Airlines flights with an overnight in Vienna later that evening. Since Austrian Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, I could have booked these flights in Economy with 18,000 United MileagePlus miles plus around $53 in taxes/fees, or just 12,500 Air Canada Aeroplan miles plus around $84 in taxes/fees. The last-minute cash ticket price for these flights was well over $300 so this would have saved me a considerable amount of cash if I were to book these flights with miles.

In the end, I ended up booking a cash ticket with an overnight stop in Budapest on budget carrier Wizz Air for around $200. Since I was flying with a few friends, we felt this was the best option since we could share accommodation on the short overnight stop in Budapest.

Be Flexible with Routing

Another good tip when seeking out a new itinerary to get you to your final destination is to be open to extra stops and abnormal routing if it will get you to your destination quicker (or more cheaply). Using Google Flights explore map feature is a great way to see where you could fly for cheap at the last-minute, and if those flights could get you close enough to your destination for bus or train connections, or a cheap flight on another carrier.

Consider Flying on a Later Date

Booking a new ticket for same-day travel is often prohibitively expensive. You may find it to be considerably cheaper to fly the following day or even a couple days later after missing a flight. If you have the flexibility to delay your trip slightly, you could save big by booking a flight a few days in the future. Of course, you’ll want to consider any additional accommodation expenses you may incur.

When It’s The Airline’s Fault – Missed Connections

Man speaks with airline ticket counter agent over desk
romankosolapov | Adobe Stock

If you miss a flight due to a delayed connecting flight when traveling on a single itinerary, the airline will accommodate you on the next available flight. Since seats can fill up quickly when multiple passengers are inconvenienced due to the delay, it’s a good idea to contact the airline as soon as possible. While waiting in line to speak to an agent at the airport, see if you can contact a representative on your phone, as you might get through quicker.

Be Proactive

Airline agents will not normally seek out creative solutions for you to get to your destination after a missed connection. If flights are sold out, they will likely keep searching for the next available seats using the same routing.

For instance, you may be able to connect via a different hub city or fly to a different city altogether if it will get you closer to your desired destination in a timely manner. If you’re flying between two hub cities, it may also be possible to connect in an intermediate city if seats are available when nonstop flights between the hubs are sold out.

For example, if you’re trying to get from Dallas to Charlotte on American Airlines and all nonstop flights are sold out, try checking to see if flying via Atlanta would work. It may be an extra stop, but if there are seats available, it may still be the quickest way.

The best advice I can give whenever a last-minute rebooking is necessary is to be proactive and seek out possible solutions yourself to present to the airline agent. They can then check to see if seats are available and (hopefully) get you on your way to your destination.

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