You thought you had the timing right. You rushed your way to the airport and ran through the terminal only to see "gate closed" displayed on the board. It’s every traveler’s nightmare, but sometimes it just happens. It’s normal to panic a bit when you realize the plane left without you, but know that –in many cases– there are ways to save your trip after this mishap. Here I’ll share how to approach a solution depending on your situation.
You Got Bumped From An Overbooked Flight
This is the easiest and "best" scenario since the airline is responsible. Most airlines overbook their flights, only to manage the excess right at the gate. In most cases, they ask for volunteers who’d like to step off the plane for a voucher of a certain value –equivalent to a similar flight and potentially more– in addition to setting you up on the next available flight to your destination. If you have to wait overnight, the airline will be responsible for meals and accommodation.
Having said that, some budget airlines do not offer the voucher, accommodation, and meals benefits. They only offer a "next flight" solution. For this reason, it’s good to know your airline passenger rights to make sure you receive whatever you are entitled to.
Contact the Airline Immediately if You’re About To Miss a Flight
If you just missed a flight or know that you’re about to, the very first thing you should do is to contact the airline. Rather than call the airline’s main number, try contacting their gate agents by accessing the airport’s website and looking for the airline’s local number. This might help speed and ease the process of reaching the right person.
Should your ticket allow changes, you might need to pay a change fee and any price difference from what you paid initially for your ticket. Whether you pay or not for a change will vary depending on the airline, the agent, and even your frequent flyer status. How it is solved will be at their discretion and the airfare rules, so try to be on their good side by asking politely. Also, having elite status sometimes helps to waive fees or find better flight options.
Invoke the "Flat-Tire Rule"
There’s one unwritten rule known as the "flat-tire rule." Should you arrive at the airport within two hours (approximately) after your flight departed, and the factors that caused your delay were out of your control, you could ask the airline to waive the change fees and other charges to help you get on the next available flight. Some airlines accept it; others don't. Your best way to approach this is to go straight to the check-in counter, explain your late arrival, and discuss with them a potential solution. Some airlines have different rules to invoke the "flat-tire rule," so it’s good to know them beforehand to build a proper approach.
(Note: If you were involved in an auto accident while en route to the airport, you may be covered by your RoamRight travel insurance policy.)
Exhaust All Options with the Airline before Buying a New One-way Ticket
Sometimes it happens that getting a new one-way ticket is cheaper than changing your missed flight. In many cases, this is the smart solution, but in others, it isn’t. If you missed your first flight of the reservation, know that not approaching the airline about it will immediately cancel the rest of your flights. So, sometimes that cheaper flight might cost you much more. Talk to the airline to know the cost of a potential alternate flight, any change fees, and how to save the rest of your reservation from being canceled. On the other hand, should it be your last flight, or a one-way ticket, then booking a new, cheaper flight could be the smart solution.
Don’t Forget About Your Connecting Flights
If you’re missing a connecting flight due to a delayed flight on the same airline, they will immediately respond to it by either waiting for you (if it's a small delay) or by putting you on standby on their next available flight.
If your connecting flights are on two different airlines booked under the same reservation, most of the time they will be aware of the situation and respond in a similar fashion. Still, it is always good to go straight to the connecting airline’s agent to make sure they know and to get on standby for the next available flight.
In the case where your connecting flight is on a different airline, under a different reservation, you will have to invoke the "flat-tire rule" once your flight arrives. Most airlines are lenient since they know you had no control of the arrival time, but know that whatever they offer –or not– will be at their discretion according to your fare rules.
Don’t Forget Your Hotel
If you’re missing your hotel booking, call the hotel as soon as possible to let them know about the situation. Depending on the hotel and availability, they might be willing to change your reservation at no extra cost. In other cases, they might waive the no-show fee. If you arranged airport pickup with the hotel, it would be polite to let them know ahead, so they don’t wait unnecessarily for a no-show.
Have and Check Your Travel Insurance
This is the most important detail to help you save money and solve the situation. Our vacations are an investment and just like any investment, it’s important to protect them. Travel insurance provides peace of mind that if something happens, then you’ll be covered. One of the most popular reasons why travelers purchase travel insurance is to protect against delayed or cancelled flights. This policy picks up the slack where airlines may not be willing to help and when coupled with other benefits safeguarding the entire trip, makes sense for any traveler whether on a business or leisure trip. Familiarize yourself with your policy ahead of time so if you miss your flight, you'll know whether or not you're covered. While a medical emergency is covered, oversleeping isn't.
If you're a Road Warrior then take a peek at our special Business Travel Insurance plans!