You Missed Your Flight. Now What?

This popular post was completely updated in February 2016.

If there’s a flight problem that is not your fault (bad weather delays, mechanical problems) the airline will take care of you; learn more about that here but the bottom line is get in touch with your airline immediately.

The following information explains what to do when you are to blame, due to procrastination, bad traffic or similar.

What to Do if You Missed Your Flight

Be pro-active: If you know you will miss your flight – or even think you might – the first and most important step is to talk to the airline. Note: Rules regarding late passengers vary for carriers around the world (check airline websites for specifics) but here are some general guidelines from several U.S. airlines.

1. Contact the airline immediately

  • If you know you’ll be late or will not show up: Call the airline ASAP or you will likely forfeit the entire cost of the ticket (or whatever remains). A call will usually keep your ticket valid but you may have to pay a change fee (up to $200 for domestic flights) plus any additional costs if the fare has gone up. Bottom line: A call salvages something; not calling forfeits everything.
  • If flying Southwest: Southwest is the only U.S. airline with no change fee but you still have to call ten minutes before departure or you’ll fall under Southwest’s No Show Policy and lose all the remaining value of the ticket.
  • If you’re not sure you’ll make the flight: Call the airline anyway and explain the situation; if you get to the airport in the nick of time (or a few minutes past ‘nick’) employees may be able to ease your way on board. This is a long shot but you won’t know ’til you try.

2. Talk to a gate agent

  • After you’ve made initial contact with the airline: Get in line talk to a gate agent. You may be put on stand-by for another flight or they may find you a seat on another airline’s plane but this is another long shot (a real long shot). Ask about waiving the change fee – especially if the circumstances of a missed flight are particularly dire – but such requests are rarely granted for refundable tickets.

How to Avoid Missing the Next Flight

  • Sign up for TSA PreCheck: A fast security line can sometimes mean the difference between making a flight or missing it. PreCheck is cheap ($85 for a five year membership) and the interviews don’t take long. Learn more here.
  • Use a carry-on bag: Again, it’s faster because you won’t have to wait in line to check the bag. You also don’t have to worry about losing a carry-on and most U.S. airlines don’t charge a fee for hand luggage.
  • Leave for the airport earlier: Expect traffic jams, expect flat tires, expect long lines at security. Just don’t expect any mercy from your airline if you fail to call ahead.
  • Put airline contacts in phone: With luck and an early wake-up call, you’ll never need the airline’s phone number but make sure you have it anyway. Tip: If you’re an elite miles member, put the membership hotline number in contacts.

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Updated: February 26, 2016