Missing Your Flight: A Step-by-Step Guide for Recovery

happy traveler waiting for the flight in airport


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If you travel frequently, eventually you will experience missing your flight. Sometimes a serious traffic accident all but closes down your route to the airport. You might have mechanical trouble or a flat tire. There are circumstances that will preclude an on-time arrival at the airport for your flight.

If you're like most budget travelers, you've purchased a non-refundable ticket as part of a low-cost air travel strategy. It's likely your reservation for the return flight will be canceled because you failed to board the outbound flight.

Take a deep breath.

There are ways to navigate this unpleasant situation and minimize the damage to your travel budget.

01 of 06

Get to the Airport as Quickly as Possible

Hispanic businessman standing on jetway
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The first thing to do is proceed to the airport, even when it is clear you will not make it to the gate in time for boarding.

To turn around and go home out of desperation will not help your cause. Remember that there are likely to be other flights leaving that day for the same destination. You want to be on one of them.

With some airlines, there is a chance you can board one of those flights without paying an additional change fee. 

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02 of 06

Ask about the Flat Tire Rule

After a missed flight, report to the airline counter as quickly as possible.
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There is an unpublicized policy to help customers who miss their flights because of circumstances beyond control. If you can benefit from this policy, the missed flight that caused so much stress could wind up costing you nothing.

The slang term within the airline industry for this policy is the flat tire rule. The idea is that if you experience some mishap that prevents you from arriving at the gate on-time, the airline will re-issue a standby boarding pass for the next flight to your destination at no charge. It doesn't apply to someone who shows up the next day -- and generally becomes unavailable about two hours after the original departure time. Note that some will refer to it as the "two-hour rule."

That's why it's important to proceed to the airport, even when you know the original flight will be leaving without you.

This is not a courtesy that is associated with low-cost carriers. Remember, their business model charges for anything beyond basic transportation. Missed flights on budget carriers frequently incur a financial penalty.

This is a nebulous policy, and some airlines won't even talk about it. After all, they want you to buy refundable tickets at much higher prices.

But airlines concerned about customer service frequently try to accommodate domestic passengers caught in these circumstances. Just remember: it's usually a discretionary policy, which means the decision to help you often depends upon the gate representative's decision and the availability of seating on the next flights.

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03 of 06

Plan on Paying the Change Fee

Most of the time, paying the airline change fee is the best policy after a missed flight.
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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.

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04 of 06

Recognize the Consequences of Missing an International Flight

Missing international flights can be more costly than a missed domestic flight.
(c)Mark D. Kahler

Don't expect to receive "flat tire rule" grace on missed international flights. Those very expensive seats generally fall under a different set of rules.

Remember that the reward granted through this rule results in a standby reservation on the next available flight. But many airlines will not allow standbys on international flights. So you could be booking a new seat reservation at the current price, which is likely to be far higher than the original fare you booked weeks earlier.

When you factor in-flight conditions, airport traffic and airline policy, there are obviously many results that become the product of those variables. But generally speaking, missing an international flight will exact a bigger penalty.

That's why it is wise to allow a lot more time for international departures and to pick up some travel insurance that covers such situations.

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05 of 06

Document Everything

Document your interactions with airline personnel during the aftermath of a missed flight.
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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.

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06 of 06

Be Calm and Polite

businessman watching a flight
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After missing a flight, you are likely to be stressed and irritated. If a situation not of your making results in added travel costs, clearly you will not be happy.

But it's important to control such emotions when it's time to encounter gate personnel who can help you out of this bad situation.

Although they're quite accustomed to dealing with unhappy passengers, they're also human. They'll react better to people who are asking rather than demanding. Experienced travelers will tell you that politeness is far more effective than bluster in these situations.