Missed your flight? Here’s what to do
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Travel is amazing and filled with adventure, but you have to get to your destination before the fun can begin.
As hard as we try, life sometimes gets in the way, and you don’t get to the airport in time for your flight. So, what steps should you take to minimize the damage when you miss a flight? It largely depends on who is at fault.
When you miss a flight, it’s either your fault or the airline’s fault. How you approach the situation, what compensation you’re entitled to, and what to do next largely depends on who is at fault. Let’s take a closer look at your options and what you can do to salvage a trip if you’re running late.
Want more travel news and advice from TPG? Sign up for our daily newsletter.
When missing the flight is your fault
Maybe you left your house too late, missed the bus or slept past your alarm. But just because you goofed up doesn’t mean that all is lost. Here’s what to do next if you’re at fault for missing a flight.
What is the “flat tire” rule?
Most airlines have an unofficial “flat tire” policy that allows passengers to rebook their flight without penalty if they just missed their flight or are running late. Your best bet is to call the airline before your flight departs to let them know that you don’t think you’ll make the flight. This allows them to rebook you quickly and board standby passengers who might have otherwise not been able to fly.
Flat tire rules vary by airline, but here are the rules for a few of the most popular domestic airlines:
- American Airlines. A passenger who arrives within two hours of scheduled departure time can be rebooked on the next flight as a standby traveler without paying change fees or the difference in fare.
- Delta Air Lines. Delta doesn’t have a specific policy, so they handle situations on a case-by-case basis.
- JetBlue Airlines. The official policy is that you’ll forfeit the non-refundable portion of your ticket if you miss a flight. But, the airline typically allows passengers who missed their flight to wait on standby for the next available flight at no additional cost. Additionally, you can be proactive and perform a same-day switch or ask to fly standby prior to your departure time by paying a flat fee of $75 per person.
- Southwest Airlines. While Southwest allows all passengers to change or cancel flights without penalty before departure, you have to pay the difference in fare. However, the flat tire rule accommodates passengers that arrive within two hours of scheduled departure on the next available flight.
- United Airlines. United also doesn’t have a specific flat tire policy, but passengers can be rebooked if you contact the airline or arrive at the airport within 30 minutes of your scheduled departure.
Flying standby on the next flight
If you can’t get a confirmed seat on the next flight, flying standby can be a good option. Although many planes are full (or even oversold), not everyone shows up. After all, you’re not the only one missing your flight today.
A standby ticket allows you to fly on the next flight, assuming space is available to accommodate you on the plane. Many airlines will let you standby for a later flight for free if you miss your flight, whether under the airline’s standby policy or otherwise. It’s always worth explaining your situation and asking the gate agent to add you to the waitlist if they can’t confirm you on the next flight.
Consider rebooking on a budget airline
Although you’ve missed your first flight, you shouldn’t let that ruin your vacation. If the airline cannot or will not accommodate you, consider buying a cheap ticket on a budget airline to get to your destination. It may not be the best in-flight experience, but you won’t miss much of your vacation, and you won’t be stuck at the airport hoping for the standby reservation to turn into a confirmed ticket.
Thankfully, you can often book last-minute one-way flights cheaply at the last minute. For example, this Spirit flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Las Vegas (LAS) costs just under $96 on the day of departure.
Likewise, this last-minute Frontier flight from Minneapolis (MSP) to Denver (DEN) is just $99 the day of departure, or $89 if you have a Discount Den membership.
Assuming you’ve booked two one-way tickets, the return flight will still be intact. Just keep in mind that many airlines will cancel the entire itinerary if you miss the first flight. For that reason, I always book two one-ways, even if it means paying a little extra.
Use your miles to book a last-minute ticket
While many of us dream of using miles for an exotic vacation, our rewards can also be used in case of an emergency. Most airlines have eliminated close-in booking fees, so there’s no financial penalty for booking a last-minute flight.
In some cases, award prices are low for last-minute tickets because the seat will otherwise fly empty. Loyalty programs that use dynamic pricing sometimes have these cheap deals, such as United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles.
Or, you can take advantage of programs with a fixed award chart if there’s saver space available. If you missed a short-haul domestic flight, your best bets are booking United flights with Avianca LifeMiles or American and Alaska flights with British Airways Avios.
Take a flight at a later date
Worst case, you can always rebook for another time. Many airlines now offer free cancellation on tickets, so if you know that you aren’t going to make it, consider canceling your flight before it departs to avoid losing your money or your miles.
Alternatively, you can try to rebook your flight for the next day or whenever the next available flight is. Of course, many of us have fixed vacation schedules due to work and school constraints. While it is a bummer to cut your vacation short, you can still have a wonderful time if you are there for one or two days less than you originally planned.
When it is the airline’s fault
The airlines can also be the reason why you miss a flight. With staffing shortages, winter weather, and illnesses among cabin crew, it’s easy for a domino chain reaction to occur and thousands of flights to be canceled or delayed. In turn, these delays and cancellations can sometimes cause you to miss a connecting flight.
Here’s what to do if you find yourself in this situation.
Speak to an agent immediately
Speak with an airline’s representative at the first sign of trouble with your flight.
Do not wait for confirmation that your flight will be delayed or canceled. The representative can let you know the status of your flight and help rebook you so that you don’t miss any more of your vacation than you need to.
If you wait too long, you’ll quickly find yourself at the end of a very long line of other passengers in the same situation as you. While there may be a few available seats on the next flight, they are limited. The people who were first in line will get them, while everyone else at the back of the line will be stuck waiting on standby or confirmed on a later flight.
Try changing your flight online
If a canceled or delayed flight causes you to miss a connection, you may be able to change your flight online or using the airline’s mobile app. Look into this option immediately when your flight is canceled or delayed, as it can save you time and energy at the airport.
Call international call centers
When you’re in a long line, call the airline to try to give yourself the best chance of snagging an available seat on the next flight. However, if there’s a big weather event, many travelers will be calling them too, and the hold times can be really long.
One way around those long hold times is to call the airline’s customer service team in another country. Those agents typically aren’t dealing with the same call volume as local agents, so their phone lines won’t be as busy. If you’re worried about the international calling rates, try using Google Voice which may have lower calling rates.
Additionally, make sure to call the elite line if you have elite status with the airline you’re flying. Elite call centers generally have shorter wait times and better-trained agents, which can go a long way when you’re in a bind.
Visit the airline’s lounge
Airport lounges are there for more than free drinks, food, and Wi-Fi. The desk agents are also there to help you with your flight needs. Plus, you won’t have to deal with the same long lines since access to the lounge is generally restricted to eligible fliers, people with the right credit cards, and lounge members.
Some lounges sell day passes, which might be worth the fee if it means that you can get on the next flight instead of being stuck in the airport overnight. Alternatively, consider opening one of these credit cards that includes lounge access.
Use your credit card benefits
Many travel credit cards include trip delay, interruption, and cancelation benefits that protect you when flights go bad. When you know that your flight will be affected, contact the card issuer that you purchased the ticket with to determine your options.
Typically, your flight must be delayed by a certain number of hours before benefits kick in. However, being proactive gives you the information to make decisions when speaking with airline representatives. If the airline can’t get on the next flight until tomorrow, but your credit card benefits will reimburse you for a hotel stay near the airport, you can save hundreds in the process.
Missing a flight can be frustrating, but you have options to salvage your trip.
The path to take depends on whether missing the flight was your fault or the airlines. In either case, you need to act quickly to protect your trip and secure the next available seat on an upcoming flight. Be flexible in your approach and, most of all, always be kind to whoever you’re speaking with. A little kindness in a stressful situation can go a long way towards getting your trip back on track.
Feature photo by Dmitry Marchenko/EyeEm via Getty Images
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
- Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees