You’re Late for Your Flight; Now What?

I live just south of Washington DC, and anyone that knows this area well knows the issues we have around here with traffic. Unfortunately, that’s caused me to be late to more than my fair share of flights, so I thought it would be beneficial to share my tips and resources for what do do when you’re late for your flight.

First off, if it’s within the airline’s control – say you were coming in from a previously delayed light due to a mechanical fault – the ball is in your court, and you’ve got lot’s of opportunities to change things, re-route or request changes.

If you’re just stuck in traffic, running late from an appointment, or can’t find a parking spot in time, the ball is not in your court, and you’ll need to be savvy when it comes to fixing things.

Some general tips that will help things, though I know not everyone can take advantage of these. If you can it will greatly benefit you:

  • If you have airline elite status, agents are more likely to bend the rules and protect you on other flights without a charge. The higher the status, the better.
  • If you have TSA Pre-Check, you may be able to move faster through security, getting you to your gate faster. Bypass the regular line, and you’re in a better position to make your flight.
  • Don’t check a bag. If you check a bag, there’s an early cutoff time for that bag to be checked. Miss it and you’re flat out of luck. Stick with a carry-on only that way you only have to worry about yourself.
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Let The Airline Know

This is certainly not foolproof, but it’s something you need to check off of the to-do list to make sure you’ve covered all of the bases. I simple Tweet (assuming they’ll get it and respond in time — don’t do this with British Airways) or phone call can put a documentation in your record of the situation. You’ll want that when it comes to re-booking. I have seen plenty of flights delayed waiting on passengers, where it was not the airline’s fault — it’s up to the Captain on how things proceed.

Check-In ASAP

As soon as you’re able to check-in, do so on your phone — as early as 24 hours prior to the flight. Why? You’ll want that mobile boarding pass to head right to security and bypass ticketing to get a paper pass. The more steps you can minimize, the better. Often, mobile check-in shuts off at a certain time prior to departure, so if you’re running that late, you’ll be forced to check-in at a desk if you haven’t already done it on your phone.

Get Through Each Step As Fast as Possible

Your moves throughout an airport are well documented — whether it’s checking in with an agent, or passing through security. Get through each step as fast as possible, not just to get to the gate quicker, but as you move through each stop, you’re tracked and the gate agents at the gate can see where you are. If you’ve already gone through security, they may be more likely to try to hold the flight another minute or at least let the Captain know what’s going on.

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Find a Friendly Agent

If you miss a flight because of your own fault, there’s little the airline can do for you without charging you. However, as you would “hang up, call again” on the phone, you need to find a friendly agent to work with at the airport, should you miss your flight. If they’re in a good mood, and you aren’t rude, they’re likely to waive the change fee, and confirm you on a later flight, if available. A year ago, I missed a DCA-ORD flight, which would have connected me onwards to Phoenix, and finally Santa Barbara. Having missed the first leg, a terrific agent at DCA put me on the next flight to Chicago in First, and offered to confirm me on onward legs on United – a totally separate carrier not in the alliance – free of charge. Mind you, this was totally my fault. If you’re nice to the agents, they’ll be nice to you in return.

Know Your Options

If you know you’re going to miss your flight, know your backup options. Know the next flight on both your carrier, and alternative carriers. Know alternative connection options, and find out how many seats are left. To do this, I highly recommend a paid service called ExpertFlyer. When you know the options, and you can present them to a phone agent or an airport agent, things will move more smoothly, and you may be in luck to be able to grab a seat on another flight.

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What other tips do you have when you’re running late for a flight?

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