It’s every traveler’s nightmare. But sometimes, all the preparation in the world isn’t enough to prevent flights from being missed. If you’re experiencing that combination of nausea and panic that arises from realizing your plane has left and you’re not on it, take a deep breath and read on.
If you’re not on a plane because the airline overbooked it, then the airline is responsible for booking you on the next available flight and providing you with accommodations and meals if that flight isn’t until the next morning. If you miss a connection due to an airline’s delays (e.g. as a result of mechanical problems), then the airline should re-book you on the next available flight, but is not obligated to do so.
If you miss a flight due to personal reasons (e.g. a flat tire, a family emergency, or plain ol’ oversleeping), then things get a bit stickier. Here’s what to do if you are responsible for missing your flight.
Contact the airline immediately.
As soon as you’ve missed your flight (or know that you’re going to), your first priority should be to get in contact with the airline. If you’re not at the airport yet, log onto the airport’s website and call your airline’s local number. This will allow you to connect to a gate agent or ticketing representative much more quickly than if you called the airline’s general number on your ticket. You may be required to pay a change fee and the difference in price if the fare has gone up since you purchased your original ticket, but calling ahead will probably save you from having to forfeit the entire investment that you’ve already made.
If you’re in the airport, then head to the gate agent or ticketing counter. When communicating with agents, politeness is key. What happens next will be largely the result of their own discretion, so you want to remain on their good side. Explain the situation and ask them what options are available. If you have membership status with the airline, stress that—agents may be more willing to help.
Be aware of the flat tire rule.
When the factors that caused you to miss your flight are totally out of your control, some airlines have (unwritten) rules that may make them a little more lenient in the face of your predicament. Specifically, if you arrive at the airport within two hours of your missed flight—and you have a good excuse for doing so—airlines may be willing to waive change fees and other additional charges. This is called the “flat tire rule”, and it’s worth politely trying to invoke it.
Don’t just book a new one-way ticket.
It can be tempting to scrap the original plan in favor of Plan B—especially if buying a new ticket looks to be cheaper than paying the change fee. But be warned: In many cases, buying a totally new one-way ticket cancels the rest of your itinerary. So unless you have just one more direct flight between you and home, buying a one-way ticket is probably not a smart idea.
Address connecting flights.
If missing your first flight will cause you to also miss a connection, notify the gate agent or phone operator of your predicament so they can help you plan accordingly. If you made the first flight but missed the connecting flight, then most airlines will make you a standby on the next available flight. In this situation, it’s critical that you call ahead to the airline (or airport’s baggage claim) so they can store any checked bags until you’re able to pick them up. (And in the future, consider packing all your gear in a carry-on so you never again have to worry about getting separated from your baggage.)
Notify your hotel.
If missing your flight will also cause you to miss a hotel reservation, then notify the hotel as early as possible. Doing so will help you avoid additional fees and will spare you the ire of ground transportation employees who would otherwise be waiting for you outside the airport.
Check your insurance policy.
Some insurance companies will allow you to recoup some or all of your expenses that arise from missing a flight—provided you can prove that it wasn’t your fault. Read your policy’s fine print, and, if this applies to you, do what you can to obtain written confirmation that the incident that caused you to miss your flight was caused by circumstances beyond your control.
As much as you can, try to keep things in perspective. Missing a flight is a giant hassle, yes. But it’s not the end of the world. And if your new flight doesn’t leave for another day or two? Then that just means you have more time to go exploring. If you’re stuck in, say, Bali or Madrid, is that really such a bad thing? Travel is all about adventuring—and that includes the journey as much as the destination.