Why You Must Get to the Gate On-Time – Even if Flight is Delayed

When is a Delay Not a Delay?

Has this happened to you? It has to me.

The "delayed" sign goes up on the board, or the gate agent announces the plane won't be leaving on-time due to some unspecified mechanical problem.

You're told it'll be a least a couple of hours, so…you wander away…you have some lunch…you do some shopping…you return to the gate…

And your flight is gone.

The mechanical problem was fixed quicker than they thought. And they left you behind.

In many cases when this happens, you are flat out of luck – because you forgot to read the fine print.

Continental, Other Airlines, May Not Wait for You

Fine print? Oh, it's there, somewhere on your carrier's website – but the information can be tricky to interpret.

Continental is one airline that may leave you behind, but at least they're pretty candid about it. Here's what they have to say about delayed flights:

"Please understand that a flight listed as 'Delayed' may, depending on the circumstances, depart 'On Time.' Unless your flight has been listed as 'cancelled' we suggest you always check-in for the original scheduled departure time of your flight."Continental Airlines website

United suggests the opposite, that it will not leave you behind – but notice the "but" in their explanation:

"It is our policy that a delayed flight will not leave the gate prior to the revised departure time, even if an earlier departure is possible. However, if all customers who are checked in for the delayed flight are onboard the aircraft, an earlier departure may be considered."United Airlines website

Note the part about "customers who are checked in" – what if you didn't bother to check in because you knew the delay left you plenty of time? Sorry, you're out of luck.

Always Check In for Your Flight ASAP

In fact, delay or no delay, you must check in when the airline says so, or you could be left behind. US Airways makes that very clear on its website:

"If you are not checked in and waiting in the boarding area at least 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time for domestic U.S. (30 minutes for international travel), your reservation may be canceled and you will not be eligible for denied boarding compensation." US Airways website

Don't Show Up at Your Gate On-Time – Show Up Early

This is important: on-time flights can and do leave early. So even if a delay is announced – then gets cancelled, your flight may not leave at the scheduled time – it may leave ten minutes early. Always be at the gate early.

Tips – What to Do If Your Flight is Delayed

If a delay is due to a blizzard or other bad weather, the situation may not be changing anytime soon – but don't count on it. Follow these tips, some of which can be a pain, but what's worse – hanging near the gate for awhile or missing your flight?

  • Check in for your flight at home - or immediately upon arrival at the airport
  • Be at the gate 20 minutes early – that's 20 minutes minimum before your flight is scheduled to depart
  • Check with the gate agent for updates
  • If there is a delay, don't stray far from the gate – eat at a nearby restaurant with a view of the departure board, or bring your food to the gate area
  • Listen for updates – you could sign up for airline text messages or email for your phone, but you're better off relying on the gate agent's public address system – you know that'll be in real-time

Photo from Dennis Sitarevich on Flickr

Anne McDermott
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