What to do if You Miss Your Connecting Flight

I was just on a flight to Washington DC this weekend for a quick trip that was for only 2 days.  It was a quick red eye out on Friday night with a scheduled arrival of Saturday morning, a quick turn around, and a Sunday afternoon departure to be back at home Sunday night.

Know that the airline has a responsibility to get you to your destination either on their airline or another. The timing may not be perfect but understand that you’ll eventually get there.

I think we’ve all be here at one point or another.

Flying from San Diego, the flight out to DC had a layover in Seattle with a scheduled 90 minute layover.  Normally that isn’t cause for concern but when our flight arrived over an hour late, I was starting to get worried.  By the time we landed in Seattle, the flight had already boarded and before we got to the gate, our connecting flight had departed.

So now, what do I do?   Since I’d seen that our connecting flight had already departed, my first stop was to the customer service desk.  Hoping the airline app was wrong, I quickly stopped to ask if the flight had indeed left. After confirmation, I had to figure out which flights were still available and where I’d be assigned. 

The urge to lose it is strong but remember the customer service agent isn’t at fault and they’re trying to do their best with what they have.  Then work with the agent and through the process to see the next available option. The flight has already left so there isn’t much else to do at this point.  The airline will set you up with a hotel and food voucher.

What’s the process?

So if the reason you missed your connection is the airline’s fault (ie mechanical issue, issue with the crew,  weather), the airline will automatically reassign you to the next flight out and put you on the flight as a standby passenger.  Assuming that there is space available, you’ll be given a boarding pass and seat assignment.

However, your compensation will change depending on the underlying cause.  If the original delay was due to a weather issue, the airlines ill will help you rebook on another flight but won’t offer any other type of compensation.  

If the next available flight is that day, you’ll just have a longer layover than originally thought but you’ll be on your way.   

If the delay is caused by the airline though, you’ll not only be rebooked on another flight but also offered other compensation. If the next available flight is the following morning, you’ll be given a hotel voucher and a food voucher for $X (something like $12-$15/meal…so dinner and breakfast would be a food voucher for $24-$30).  

From there you’ll have to all the hotel if you need a shuttle pickup and arrange for you to be dropped back at the airport the following morning. 

Things to note:

If there is no space available on the next available flight, you’ll probably be reassigned on the next flight available or be offered a seat to somewhere close.   Otherwise you could ask for a refund to go with another carrier. You should be very specific in your requests but not be afraid to ask for a lot to make sure you’ve exhausted all your options.   The airline wants you to be happy but at the same time doesn’t want to lose tons of money either so they may not be so forthcoming.

For the food voucher you can spend it on basically anything in the airport except alcohol.  The problem is that depending on the time, you actually get your hotel and food voucher, it’ll probably be pretty late meaning that your food options are probably going to be pretty limited. 

You may not want to eat in the airport but if you want to use the voucher, you won’t have a choice and if it’s 11:30pm, the only thing open may be the McDonalds (if that).  You’d be able to buy a lot of Big Macs and fries for $30. Also remember that breakfast items cost less than lunch or dinner items so expecting to spend your entire allowance on breakfast might be a tall task.

Obviously you don’t have to use the entire amount.  But you might as well since it’s there. Just know that unless you some really odd timing issues, you’ll be eating late and you won’t be eating anything fancy.

For the hotel voucher, you may want to figure out how badly you want a bed and less sleep vs. just staying at the airport and getting more sleep on the floor.  Neither is glamorous. If you choose the hotel, you’ll probably have to call the hotel to have their shuttle come pick you up. Most hotel shuttles stop service after a certain time so you’ll have to call.  If you just go to the shuttle pick up point expecting the flag down the appropriate bus, you may be waiting for a long time. 

Next, you’ll have to get to the hotel, check in, and then w/in a few hours, check out again to get back to the airport.  More than likely, it’ll be an early morning flight meaning you’ll have to get ready, go to the airport, go through security, and all that jazz.  By the time you get checked in and check back out, you’ll be lucky if you get more than 5 hours of sleep. 

The alternative is to stay at the airport and camp out in a quiet corner.  To be honest, when I’ve been stuck at an airport overnight, it hasn’t always been that bad.  And you do get more rest (even if much less comfortable). The only thing at the airport at that hour is usually the cleaning crew so it isn’t that busy.  Just don’t leave the securse side.  

What happens to your checked bags?

You’ll want to check with your airline.  Luckily this is one of many reasons why I don’t travel with checked bags.  However, I’ve been on connecting flights that were unexpectedly cancelled and I’ve heard agents tell customers their bags will be on the next flight out and also heard that their bags will be at baggage claim.  To make absolutely sure, check with the customer service agent. 

What if your connecting flight is cancelled?

This has happened to me and I think this is more aggravating than missing the flight.  I don’t know what possesses the airlines into the decisions they make but constantly delaying a flight to eventually cancel it after hours of waiting is not going to make anyone happy. 

When the flight is eventually canceled, you’ll want to do the same thing as before but you’ll want to do it quickly since you’ll be in the same boat as tons of other people on the same flight.  Go to the customer service desk but also try to call in to the airline customer service desk as well as use their online services like twitter. Airlines don’t want mad publicity to go out and become viral so they’ll probably get back to you very quickly if you reach out to them on twitter. 

Then you’ll be given a hotel and food voucher as before but you’ll have to figure out if it’s worth it.  Considering the number of people, the shuttle will be full for the return trip the next morning (at least for the times you want) meaning you’ll have to either get a cab or get back to the airport when space is available on the shuttle (which is probably going to be super early since all the reasonable times will be taken).  

If your next flight is cancelled (yes, it happens and it’s happened to me), watch out for pretty much chaos.  I was upset as well but after hearing people lose it at the customer service desk, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the agents either. 

Advice to help

If you book with a travel card, you’re probably covered for some type of travel insurance.  If you don’t want to wait in the line, eat at the airport, or stay in a nicer hotel, you may want to just take care of it  yourself. You’ll have to submit the receipts and wait for reimbursement but it’ll certainly be faster. 

Also, don’t feel forced to just accept the airine’s first offer.  They’ll more than likely only look to have you fly into the same airport but you might want to ask for aiprots that in the vicinity.  You might be flying into JFK but you’ll want to have them check for LGA and EWR as well . Know the alternative airport options if that works for you.  Just remember that you’ll be responsible for any cost associated to get you to your original final destination but if time is against you, it may be the only option that works. 

Final Thoughts

Missing a flight when it isn’t your fault is annoying.  It seems odd that if you miss a flight for whatever reason, the airlines will basically tell you “too bad, so sad” and not lift a finger to help.  But if they’re at fault, they offer the absolute minimum possible and expect you to jump through hoops and be calm and understanding the whole time.

That said, getting mad isn’t going to help the situation and it certainly won’t get a person to want to do anything extra to help you out so try to keep cool.  From there, just take it in stride and try to make the best of whatever you choose to do. If you want a silver lining, know that all your options are terrible so you can’t really make the decision. 

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