What To Do When You’ve Missed Your Flight

Last updated: April 4, 2016
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It’s likely that you’ve experienced a missed, delayed or cancelled flight. If you have ever flown through O’Hare, you’ve probably experienced all three. They can be a sincere bane on your travel, and are usually a slippery slope in regards to the rest of your vacation plans. If you haven’t gone through this yet, it’s good to know what to do if and when the situation should occur.

First, don’t freak out. Anyone who works for an airline will tell you that getting angry will probably make it less likely that your problem gets solved. In the case of a delayed or cancelled flight, everyone else on that flight is in the same boat as you. Getting irate over something completely out of your control (and in most cases, out of the airline’s control as well) won’t get you where you need to go any faster. So now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s what you need to know:

Your Flight is Delayed: What Now?

Most of the time, delays only last for an hour or two at the most. The 16 airlines that report to the Bureau of Transportation reported an on-time arrival at a 77 percent clip in 2014. So three out of every four flights you take won’t experience a delay. When it does happen, the key thing is to just be patient. There are usually a plethora of ways to entertain yourself while waiting for updates on your flight. If the delay is long because of inclement weather or mechanical problems, that’s when airlines will usually help you out beyond sending text updates on your flight.

  • As the delay time gets longer and longer, it’s important to stay by the kiosk at your departure gate. The protocol for what the airline can offer its passengers is usually different depending on the scheduled departure time.
  • If your flight was supposed to be early in the morning, it’s likely that there is another flight you could get on. In this case, an airline may even try to get you onto a competitor’s flight, but that is unlikely.
  • If the flight was at night, it depends on how long it’s delayed. If it’s delayed so long that you won’t leave that night, and you live in that city, going home is an option. If it’s the city in which you were vacationing, an airline may be able to offer hotel accommodations. Check the contract of carriage to see your options.

If there is no other option but to wait, and it’s going to be a delay lasting more than a couple of hours, airlines will sometimes be able to provide a food voucher to one of the restaurant’s in the terminal. Sometimes, all you can do is listen to music and wait. It’s part of traveling.

What to Do if Your Flight Is Cancelled

This here is every traveler’s nightmare, especially if you’re flying during the holidays. Sometimes the protocol here is the same as it would be for a delayed flight; getting you on another plane, offering a refund, perhaps even bumping you up to business class on the next flight. But there are a few differences of which to be aware.

  • You could just straight up get a refund. Even if it’s a non-refundable ticket, airlines will reimburse you of the cost, bag fees and all, in the event of a cancellation.
  • If traveling through a busy airport, there will likely be multiple flights to your destination per day. If they book you on a later flight because the next available one is full, you can request to be placed on standby for the earlier one.
  • Get in line at the gate desk as quickly as possible upon cancellation. Airlines will work with you to figure out the best, most cost-effective solution possible.
  • While you’re doing this, call the airline immediately. Suppose there is an irate person in front of you and they’re spending 10 minutes on their soap box berating the gate agents who had nothing to do with the cancellation. Calling the airline helps to ensure a quick solution.
  • Use social media to your advantage. An airline’s PR department always wants to look good in the public eye, so letting them know about your troubles in this fashion can be a good way to get your problem solved.
  • If the city to which you are flying is somewhat close, and there are no flights out for the rest of the day, most airlines will compensate the costs of a rental car.
  • Retrieving checked luggage can be tricky. If you can’t get on another flight until the next day, and you need your bag for the night, they can usually pull it for you. If the airline can’t get to the bag, it will be sent to your final destination and held for you there.
  • If all else fails, and you can’t get a flight home until the next day, suck it up and grab a hotel room. There’s nothing of benefit from sleeping at the airport overnight.

It’s important to remember that there are no federal regulations that force airlines to provide you with anything. But the airlines have their own regulations by which they abide, and they don’t want to lose business, so if you are calm and friendly when making requests, they are more likely to acquiesce.

Missed Your Flight? What do you do?

Sometimes we forget to set an alarm, or accidentally make it for 6:00 PM rather than 6:00 AM. It happens to the best of us. So if you rush to the airport just in time to watch your flight take off, you do have options.

  • If you missed your flight because you were connecting to it from somewhere else, you’ll be placed on the next available flight. To avoid this hassle, make sure you have a long enough layover to leave some wiggle room.
  • There’s an unspoken “flat tire rule” with some airlines, and it allows you to get on the next flight free of charge or change fee if extenuating circumstances cause you to miss the flight.
  • Sometimes you will not be able to just buy another flight without paying the change fee. But again, this is where being nice comes in. Talk to numerous gate agents or a manager if you have to, and you might be able to get the change fee waived.
  • This depends on whether you’ve missed your inbound or outgoing (return) flight. If you missed your departure flight, you will almost always be able to just buy a new one-way ticket without worrying about the change fee. This isn’t always the case with the return.

Each airline has differing rules for what they do in the event of a delayed or cancelled flight. Check the aforementioned contract of carriage for airline procedures. Above all else, be kind and courteous to gate agents, and they will be more proactive in finding a solution to your problem.

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