Missed Your Flight? Here's What to Do!

What are the rules about missing your flight?

There are no hard and fast rules — it depends on the airline you’re flying with. As we know, airlines experience delays and cancellations all the time, but they often try to absolve themselves by pointing out that it was due to factors out of their control, such as air traffic control delays or when it’s raining. When these “extraordinary circumstances” happen, passengers receive nothing and may not even get compensation for an overnight hotel stay.

But mercifully, most airlines have quasi-official policies of waiving fare rules and change fees when passengers need to rebook a flight that they missed, presumably due to factors outside their own control. And it’s a good thing; if you can’t use this rule, you could be forced to pay hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of pounds to take the next flight.

Unlike in the U.S., where a so-called “flat tire rule” isn’t often found on most airline’s websites, airlines in the U.K. have adopted a more transparent approach by explaining in writing exactly the protocol if you miss your flight.

Related reading: I’d rather risk missing a flight than waste my time at the airport

What Fare Did You Purchase?

When you buy an economy ticket, your terms tend to be very limited. It wouldn’t be a surprise if your terms read something like the following: “If you fail to check in on time or fail to board the aircraft by the time the aircraft departs, the fare you paid will not be refunded to you for any reason whatsoever.” That might cause a mild panic attack, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Most airlines have a “flat tire” rule where if you show up for your confirmed flight within 2-hours of departure, you’ll be put on standby for the next available flight. This only works if you have a legit reason for missing your flight.

Note that this is an unofficial rule, but major airlines including American, Delta, Southwest, and United are known to extend this favor to customers. That being said, if you know you’re going to miss your flight, call the airline to let them know as it shows them that you’re essentially giving up your seat.


Compensation for a missed connecting flight, when am I entitled?

These are the conditions that will grant passengers the right to be compensated when they’ve missed a connecting flight:

  • You checked in on time at your original airport of departure
  • Your original flight (or another flight in your schedule) was delayed for more than 15 minutes and this made you miss a connecting flight.
  • Due to your missed connecting flight, you arrived at your final destination with a delay greater than 3 hours when compared to the time of arrival stipulated in your original booking (all flights must be included in the same booking).
  • The cause for the delay can’t be considered an extraordinary circumstance

1. Don’t panic

By: Jim Linwood
By: Jim Linwood

Keeping calm can be hard when you miss a flight or are about to, but freaking out: Will. Not. Help.

Whether you’ve been stuck in traffic, were working on the wrong time-zone (happened to my dad once), get stuck by Thanks-Giving traveller volumes getting through security in the USA (happened to me once), or turn up on the wrong day (also happened to me, though I was thankfully a day early), no amount of panicking is going to improve the situation.

What the circumstances really require is logical problem solving, a frame of mind best achieved when you’re calm and can direct all of your bright brain cells towards fixing the situation.

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Also known as Tiernan, Rachel and Wendy! It’s lovely to see you here. At Celt & Kiwi we’re blogging about slow, family travel and sharing our relocation experiences. Read More

4. Check out other flights on offer to your destination

Don’t panic! Check out Skyscanner and the airport departure boards and see if there are any other flights heading to your destination. See if you can get the best deals. From Changi there are numerous daily connections to major Asian capitals and if you whip out your phone, you may be able to book yourself on to a flight departing a little later in the day (though you’ll need to pay for it). Maybe you’ll even end up with a better flight!

How airlines handle missed flights

If you’ve just arrived at the airport or the horrifying lines at the airline counter cause you to be late by the time you reach the desk agent, the airline will often allow you to catch a later flight (it’s happened to me before). Don’t let that information fuel your negligence — it’s far from guaranteed — but it certainly is a thing. It’s known as the “flat tire rule.”

Here are some examples of flat tire rules by the major U.S. airlines (these are not official):

American Airlines – Receive standby for later flights when you arrive within two hours of your scheduled departureDelta – More strict, and will handle each situation separatelyUnited Airlines – More strict, but usually accommodating as long as you contact them within half an hour of your scheduled departureSouthwest – Receive standby for later flights when you arrive within two hours of your scheduled departure

Again, these are not published anywhere, so be humble and courteous when you’re asking for leniency on your missed flight. The Points Guy has a good article outlining this situation.

Can you miss the first leg of a flight?

When you miss your first flight on a multi-city air ticket, many airlines will automatically cancel your connecting/return flight and have you marked as a ‘No Show’. If you have a long layover and are still able to catch your connecting flight, make sure you immediately let the airline know, so they can put you on their system for that flight. If all flights are with the same airline, or have code-share agreements, you only need to phone the main airline on your ticket. In the case that your flights are with multiple airlines, you will need to inform each affected airline that you will miss the first flight, but will still be on the connecting one. You will need to do this once you have successfully re-booked your missed flight.

Plan on Paying the Change Fee

Sean Gallup/Getty Images News

If the airline won’t waive the change fee, you could be paying an additional $150-$200 per ticket on many airlines for a standby reservation on the next flight. The good news is you’ll only pay the change fee one time. If you can’t get on the next standby flight, you’ll be on the list for flight opportunities that follow.

There will be circumstances when it’s tempting to find a last-minute one-way ticket to your destination that comes in at less than the cost of the change fee. It’s not easy to do, but it happens.

Resist the temptation and pay the change fee.

The airline will cancel your return flight reservation if you don’t check in with them and deal with the circumstances. Unless you can find a round-trip fare at the last minute that is lower (not likely), you’ll often lose money by not paying the change fee.

Was your flight cancelled because of thecoronavirus? Then you are entitled to therefund of your ticket or booking!

The aviation sector has been severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak. This obviously has consequences for air traffic and airlines, but it is precisely now that the rights of air passengers are of importance. The European Commission has confirmed that in the event of a flight being cancelled, airlines must give passengers a choice between receiving travel vouchers or the reimbursement of the ticket costs.  

Coronavirus: What are my rights when a flight is cancelled?

If your flight is cancelled because of the coronavirus, you are entitled to a complete refund of your ticket. European Regulation EC 261/2004 obliges the airline to refund the full price of the ticket within 7 days in case of a cancelled flight. Currently, many airlines and travel agencies only offer vouchers that can be used to book a new flight in the future. However, this voucher policy is not in compliance with European legislation. In addition, vouchers often do not provide any guarantee. If an airline goes into administration, passengers holding a travel voucher will lose their money.

What am I entitled to if my flight is cancelled due the ongoing COVID-19 crisis?

If your flight is cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, you are not entitled to compensation. However, you are in fact entitled to the full refund of your ticket. The coronavirus crisis is considered an extraordinary circumstance, which exempts the airline from the obligation to compensate passengers for the cancellation of their flight.

Important: supplementary compensation is not the same as the right to the reimbursement of the ticket! Even when affected by the coronavirus outbreak, airlines are legally obliged to refund the full amount within 7 days after the flight cancellation.  

I have already received a voucher, can I still opt for the refund of my flight?

Even if the airline has already offered you a voucher, you can make a claim for the full refund of your booking’s price. If you have purchased your booking with other amenities (package travel) you are still entitled to the refund of the whole package.

Flight-Delayed.co.uk will be happy to help you claim the refund of your cancelled flight or booking

Unfortunately, we see too often that airlines still fail to comply with the legal obligations. Passengers are forced to accept vouchers when they are actually entitled to a refund of their fare.

Flight-Delayed.co.uk will be happy to help you claim the full refund. From submitting the claim to taking the airline to the courts in the event of non-payment. Since 2010, we have been committed to upholding the rights of affected air passengers throughout Europe. Fill in your flight details and find out immediately whether you are entitled to the refund of your ticket. In just 3 minutes you can submit your claim on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. Should the airline obstruct the process, we will take them to court if necessary. 

Claim my refund

4. Check your travel insurance

What to do if you miss your flight really depends on if you have travel insurance. Trip cancellation insurance has very specific rules, so you need to check your policy to find out the details. However, if you missed your flight due to weather or an airline delay, then you’ll likely qualify for insurance after a delay of four hours. What that means is that your insurance will pay for the costs to get you to your intended destination. You can even claim the cost of your hotels if you need to stay overnight before departing in the morning.

Find cheap hotels now

3. Early acceptance is the best tool

Because my flight from Bergamo had not actually left, I had to fight my natural instinct to focus all energy (and money) on rectifying that problem i.e. getting to Bergamo at any cost. The plus point was that even if travel hasn’t taught me to check my airport before travelling, I’m better at accepting a bad situation when it has happened. As much as I would have liked to have raced against the clock, the chance of making the flight was so unlikely I needed to accept the situation, recriminations and self-loathing parked until a more productive time, and I set to work on Plan B.

Likewise, if your flight has gone, it has gone. Even though anger may boil to the surface, taking your frustration out on the ground staff or spending half an hour pleading with them to do the impossible (even more tempting if the gate has closed but your flight hasn’t left), just burns time and energy. Move on.

Document Everything

Adam Berry/Getty Images News

No matter what situation you encounter with the airlines, it always makes sense to document everything that happens at the ticket counter. Get hard copies of everything, including the airline policies the agent applied to your situation.

Should you later decide to file a travel complaint, this paperwork will prove extremely useful.

If you file a travel insurance claim, lacking this documentation could prevent collecting money to which you are entitled.

What if you missed an international flight?

Missing an international flight is dreadful. You can expect to pay hundreds of dollars to rebook. You may have to purchase a brand new fare, and last-minute fares are exorbitant.

In the best of situations, airlines may give you a deep discount on a new flight. But you’re still sure to spend a lot. Some locations recommend you arrive at the airport three hours early for international flights. It sounds overly precautious, but they’re trying to save you money!

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Missed flights abroad

International travel has become infinitely more complicated, time-consuming, and stressful during the pandemic—perhaps even more so as many countries start to welcome overseas visitors. To avoid missing a flight, passengers need to make sure they have all required entry documents, COVID test certifications, and other necessary paperwork squared away well in advance.

“We can’t stress this enough: Do your research and prepare your documentation ahead of time,” Orlando says. “In Europe, the reports are coming out fast and furious about confusion and 8-hour wait times, because people are trying to put together multiple forms of documentation and rules are changing every day.”

Air passengers traveling in Europe have the benefit of EC 261, one of the world’s most comprehensive passenger-rights regulations. Anyone traveling out of a European airport is covered, and EC 261 enables passengers to receive compensation between 250 and 600 euros (approximately $300-700) for many types of flight disruptions.

The situation becomes more complex if your missed flight isn’t the airline’s fault, underscoring the importance of arriving early at the airport. (Pro tip: Remember that European airlines mark time with the 24-hour clock, so for a U.S.-based traveler, a departure time of 17:15 is easily—and incorrectly—misread as 7:15 instead of the correct equivalent of 5:15 p.m.)

How do different causes of missing your flight affect your rights?

Now that you know what to do if you missed your flight, here’s a quick breakdown of what your rights are depending on what caused your missed flight. The reason for missing your flight matters, as it can affect how the airline handles your situation.

Is travel insurance a good idea?

Travel insurance is definitely a good idea to cancel out any worry about missing your flight. Consider taking out Travelstart’s comprehensive international travel insurance, which covers everything when abroad, including airline delays, missed flight connections, visa denial, baggage loss, and even damage to your home. Travelstart also has a fantastic medical aid protection plan, which insures you the full refund of your flight ticket, should you miss your flight due to unforeseen death, illness or hospitalisation of yourself or family member. You could also opt for a cancellation refund guarantee, ensuring that whatever you need to cancel your flight, you will have 48 hours to do so.

Please note that these travel insurance packages do NOT cover missed flights due to heavy traffic, forgotten documents or anything else that could have been avoided, so always plan ahead and be prepared!

Ideally, you DO NOT want to miss your flight, so let’s look at some options to avoid that from happening.

Youre Going to Get There Soon!

Okay, we know this is easier said than done, but you’re trying to figure out what happens if you miss your flight, try to be positive. You’ve either missed your flight at your own fault or due to a force of nature it happened and there is a solution. Staying positive (instead of a grump), you’ll likely get staff who are much more willing to help you. Remember, that flat tire rule is up to the discretion of staff, if you’re rude to them, they may not extend it to you. You’ll get your final destination eventually, you might as well make the best of it for now.

6. Know your airports

If you get rebooked on an early morning flight, or run out of money for another night in a hotel, you may be forced to spend the night in the airport. In this scenario, check out our 10 must-read tips for sleeping at airports and The Guide to Sleeping in Airports to find out about how to make your airport stay less gruelling. If you’re in Seoul, you have a free museum, showers and quiet areas with Wi-Fi to keep you comfortable; and in Taipei, you can have a rest in a quiet zone, enjoy a free shower and browse books in a library.


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