Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
Even though TPG reporters are frequent travelers, we sometimes miss our flights. So, it’s important to have a backup plan.
Whether it’s you or the airline that cancels the flight, there are steps you should take to minimize the potential fallout.
What should I do if I think I will miss my flight?
Alert the airline to give it a heads-up. While it obviously can’t hold the plane for you, this could better your chances of getting rebooked on a new flight.
I missed my flight. What should I do next?
Once you’ve missed your flight, inquire about getting rebooked on another flight by asking the airline:
- Do you charge a rebooking fee to get on a new flight?
- Will I have to pay for any fare difference for a new booking?
You may be able to rebook your flight without penalty, thanks to the “flat-tire rule,” which varies by airline:
- American Airlines: A passenger who arrives within two hours of scheduled departure time can be rebooked on the next flight as a standby traveler without paying change fees or a fare difference, per an AA spokesperson.
- Delta Air Lines: Delta handles these situations on a case-by-case basis, so customers should speak to an agent at the airport to explain their situation. Then, Delta will determine if it will rebook them, according to a Delta spokesperson.
- JetBlue: JetBlue says you’ll forfeit the nonrefundable portion of your ticket if you miss a flight. However, the airline typically allows passengers who missed their flight to wait on standby for the next available flight at no cost.
- Southwest Airlines: Southwest passengers can change or cancel flights without penalty before departure, but they’ll have to pay for any fare difference. Its flat-tire rule accommodates passengers that arrive within two hours of scheduled departure on the next available flight.
- United Airlines: United passengers can rebook if they contact the airline or arrive at the airport within 30 minutes of their scheduled departure.
Once you’ve determined any rebooking fees, find the next flight to your destination and see whether confirmed seats are still available.
If seats are unavailable, ask to be placed on the standby list. Many airlines will let you stand by for a later flight for free if you miss your flight. It’s always worth explaining your situation and asking the gate agent to add you to the waitlist.
Here are the standby policies for the major U.S. carriers:
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- American: AA’s standby policy allows customers to stand by for an earlier flight at no charge, though only AAdvantage members can stand by for a later flight the same day. Also, the new flight must meet certain rules. For instance, it must depart on the same day, take the same route as your original flight and have the same number of stops.
- Delta: Per Delta’s policy, passengers can stand by for earlier flights for free if they cannot confirm a same-day seat on a new flight.
- JetBlue: For $75, JetBlue passengers can request a same-day standby spot on any sold-out flights between the same cities on the same calendar day as their original flight, based on seat availability.
- Southwest: There are no same-day standby fees for any Southwest fares, excluding Wanna Get Away fares; passengers with Wanna Get Away fares must pay any difference in fare. Plus, you can request this up to 10 minutes before your original scheduled departure time.
- United: United passengers can stand by for an earlier flight within 24 hours for free.
While most of the above airlines permit complimentary standby, the price of making same-day changes varies by carrier. It may be waived for elite status holders.
What are my other options if I can’t rebook on my original airline?
Try rebooking on a budget airline
If the airline cannot or will not accommodate you, consider buying a cheap ticket on a low-cost carrier, such as Spirit or Frontier. You may be able to find cheaper, last-minute, one-way flights this way.
Assuming you’ve booked two one-way tickets, the return flight will remain intact, but double-check whether your original airline will cancel the entire itinerary if you miss the first flight. In that case, consider booking two one-way flights.
Try using airline miles to book a last-minute ticket
If you have airline miles, try to book a last-minute award flight. Most airlines have eliminated close-in booking fees, and some carriers have a reputation for releasing last-minute award space for seats that would have otherwise gone empty.
Or, quickly search programs with award charts to see if saver award space is available. If you missed a short-haul domestic flight, try booking United flights with Avianca LifeMiles or American and Alaska flights with British Airways Avios.
Note that some partner programs may not allow you to book day-of award tickets. For example, Etihad Guest requires all partner award tickets to be issued at least 24 hours before departure.
Take a flight at a later date
If neither of the above two suggestions work, reschedule your flight for another time.
What should I do when the airline cancels my flight?
An airline may cancel or delay your flight for many reasons, from staffing shortages to weather, causing you to miss your initial flight and any connecting flights.
Here are five steps to take when that happens:
Get in touch with the airline ASAP
In the case of a delayed or canceled flight, speak to an airline employee (ideally a gate agent) about rebooking you on a new flight. If many other travelers attempt to do the same thing, try rebooking a new flight via the carrier’s mobile app.
If the first two options fizzle, you can call the airline; you may experience a similar delay though. One way around long hold times is to call the airline’s customer service team in another country. Those agents typically don’t have the same call volume as local agents. If you’re worried about international calling rates, try using Google Voice.
Finally, you may be able to find help at an airline lounge, where there are sometimes agents who can assist with your flight needs.
Double-check your credit card benefits
Many travel credit cards include trip delay, interruption and cancellation benefits to protect you in this scenario. Contact the issuer of the card with which you purchased the ticket to determine if/when your benefits kick in.
Generally, your flight must be delayed by a certain number of hours for this protection. However, it’s still helpful to speak to your credit card company ahead of that window to determine what, if anything, it will reimburse you for.
For example, if one of the benefits is that your credit card will reimburse you for a hotel stay near the airport, you may be more amenable to the airline booking a flight the next day.
What happens to my luggage when I miss my flight?
Each airline has its own policy for when and how travelers can retrieve their checked luggage when they miss flights.
Airlines will try to reroute your bag to your new flight’s final destination.
If you or the airline cancel a flight or if you miss a connecting flight, checked bags will return to the carrier’s baggage claim, where you can expect to retrieve them.
Some airlines, including Delta and United, allow you to track your bags in real time via their apps, so download them.
For even more reassurance, consider purchasing and using Apple AirTags, to track your bags via Bluetooth.
Am I entitled to a refund?
When your flight is canceled or significantly delayed due to reasons outside your control, such as weather or operational issues, ask the airline for compensation. Read our guide for tips on how to ask for any extra costs you may incur.
However, U.S. federal law only requires airlines to compensate passengers who cancel their trip altogether in response to a canceled flight. The U.S. Department of Transportation determines whether a delayed flight warrants a refund on a case-by-case basis.
Though missing your flight is not ideal, it may be possible to rebook on a new flight that same day.
When you miss your flight, your first priority should be to get rebooked on a new flight. You can do this with the airline’s help or on your own via a carrier’s app or customer service portal. If you can’t get a confirmed seat on the next flight, ask the airline to add you to its standby list. Most carriers will let you fly standby on a later flight for free.
If you cannot rebook on a new flight with your initial carrier, search for alternate flights on a budget airline or use airline miles to book a last-minute ticket.
Whether you miss your flight or your airline cancels it, your carrier will do its best to reroute any checked luggage to your final destination or a carrier’s baggage claim at your departure airport, depending on the situation.
In either case, acting as quickly as possible will help salvage your trip and secure the next available seat on an upcoming flight.
Additional reporting by Lee Huffman and Kyle Olsen.