missing a flight, what to do
Call the airline help desk if you miss your flight – pressmaster (canva)

Life just happens, sometimes. No matter how much you plan and prepare to get to the airport early, problems arise to make you late. When that happens, you need to know what to do and the steps to take to get on the next flight as soon as possible without it costing an arm and a leg.

As soon as you realize you aren’t going to make the flight, you need to call the airline and see if you can reschedule. Calling early creates more flexibility for the airline and makes them much more willing to work with you.

In addition to walking you through steps on how to get your flight rebooked and what to expect, this article covers what to do if you miss a connecting flight and any fees you should expect to pay on your end.

The Steps to Take Immediately After Missing Your Flight

Missing your flight can have some dire consequences. Perhaps you risk missing your connecting flight and getting to your vacation destination on time. Other people fly to other states to see loved ones, apply for jobs, look for housing, and more, all on a tight schedule and, often, an even tighter budget.

If you need to get to your destination after missing a flight as quickly as possible without paying for a brand-new set of tickets, then you need to follow this guide.

1. Call as Soon as Possible

If you know you’re going to miss your flight, it’s best to call immediately. If you wait until after your flight has departed, you’re far less likely to get any help. This is because, if they were expecting you, the seat likely flew empty and the company took a loss.

However, if you call in advance, they can often book someone else on the flight and make up their money. This makes the company much more willing to work with you.

When Exactly Is the Best Time to Call?

Generally, you’re no longer allowed to use your boarding pass to get through security about forty minutes to an hour before the flight time (for domestic), depending on the size of the airport. So if you aren’t at the airport or even close to it as this time approaches, then it’s a good idea to go ahead and call the airport and tell them you won’t make your flight.

No matter the circumstances, most domestic and international flights close the gates and stop boarding 15 minutes before departure. This includes if your flight’s delay was caused by the company. If you know you’re not going to make it to your connecting flight gate before then, you might as well start calling and rescheduling your flight.

If you don’t have luggage to be checked, checking in online allows you to skip the check-in line at the airport. The saved time might get you to catch your flight. More about this in our list of airport check in questions.

2. Be Polite

Though it’s a frustrating situation, it’s important to always stay calm and polite with the agent helping you out, whether in person or on the phone. It’s not their fault and anything they’re telling you ‘no’ to is likely company policy and outside of their control.

For polite customers, they may be willing to offer more accommodations and waive fees as in their rights, but they won’t go through the effort for customers that are rude. Even when you are stressed, it’s important to remember that they are just as flustered and stressed about the problem as you are and that they will often try and do their best to help.

3. Pay Attention to the Times

Though most airport agents are trustworthy, it is sometimes a part of the airline’s guidelines to push for a later date than you may want. While you are talking to the agent, look up flights yourself to see if you find any sooner than what they are offering.

While you still want to be polite, it’s important to stay firm on when you can leave and give examples of flights you could take. Otherwise, the airline may try to save money by giving you a flight that’s days out.

4. Explain the Reason Behind Why You Were Late

Most companies require some reasoning for why you are late before they’ll offer any deals, discounts, or reimbursements. If you were late because of factors outside of your control, companies are more likely to reimburse you than if you missed your flight due to just being late or traffic. This is due to a rule known as the “Flat Tire Rule”.

It’s always a good idea to try and explain the reason why you were late to the agent. They may be able to help you out more and arrange what you need to get on the next flight.

What is the Flat Tire Rule and What Incidences Count?

While not every airline company has a Flat Tire Rule, most of them do have some version of it. There may be exceptions such as with more budget companies. The Flat Tire Rule is an unwritten rule for the most part but is pretty standard across more reputable airplane companies.

This rule basically applies to passengers that miss flights due to factors outside of their control. A flat tire on your vehicle is one of the main examples, hence the name. However, medical emergencies and accidents also count. Traffic often doesn’t count towards the Flat Tire Rule, as that is something you can plan for.

Since these policies are not directly stated, it’s hard to know what exactly counts for each airline. Most major companies try to make the flights as painless as possible for their passengers and will offer some sort of accommodation if you have a reasonable excuse. Unfortunately, it’s just not very clear on when this is, or what the accommodations entail.

What Are the Fees for Missing Flights?

Most airlines don’t charge fees for your missed flights. Instead, they simply keep your money for the ticket you already purchased. If you go to rebook, and the missed flight was your fault, you may have to pay a rebooking fee.

This fee isn’t a fee so much as you have to pay the difference between the cost of the flight you already paid for and the next one you’re getting on. So if your rescheduled flight costs $100 more per ticket, you’re expected to pay that fee.

Of course, if the next flight is cheaper, you don’t get any of the money back. Usually, as long as you were nice and the missed flight was beyond your control, this fee is waived. If you miss a flight because the airline cancels, such as due to weather or lack of staff, then the airline company will often refund the flight or get you on the next available flight with no charge on your end.

What to Do When Your Delayed First Flight Caused You to Miss Your Connecting Flight

If the delay is due to the airline, such as not having a large enough crew or mechanical problems, then it should be up to the airline to accommodate you. Usually, this involves them putting you on the next available flight at no cost. If the next flight is the next day, you will also likely get accommodations and meals covered.

However, there’s no policy or law requiring such assistance from the airline, so don’t always expect this assistance. More about this here: best actions and your rights as a passenger when your flight got delayed.

If somehow you can’t get flight replacement within the day and have to wait overnight, consider checking our list of America’s best airport hotels.

Do You Get Reimbursement for missing connecting flights?

It’s important to note that any accommodations only apply if you booked both flights together. If you missed a connecting flight that you booked separately, then you may not get any assistance from the airline company. This also applies if the first flight is canceled.

Additionally, the weather doesn’t always fall under the airline’s fault, so you may not get accommodation for that. They will help rebook and may give you a discounted rate, but it’s not guaranteed. It’s in these instances that travel insurance pays off. 

If you end up missing your connecting flight or are stuck with a really long layover after rescheduling your tickets, our article explaining the steps on getting access to your baggage during a layover may help you out.

To reduce the possibility of missing a connecting flight, be sure to spare enough time in your layover. Read on the ideal time and more tips in our article about getting into flights with layover.

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