What to do when you miss your flight and it’s the airport or airline’s fault?

May 10, 2022

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more U.K.-specific information. It was originally published on 19 December 2017.


The recent Easter break was meant to be the airline industry’s own triumphant return from the dead. Instead, chronic post-pandemic staff shortages led to epic airport queues, delays, cancellations and missed flights — issues that currently look likely to continue as the summer travel period heats up.

Couple this with the recent debacle over passport validity that led to many sun-starved British holidaymakers being wrongly denied boarding because airlines (and the U.K. government) misunderstood post-Brexit E.U. rules.

All this has led to a lot of passengers missing flights through no fault of their own.

Mercifully, in some cases, there are things you can do when this happens. Though not all. Here’s out guide to what can be done if you miss your flight…

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(Photo by Hybrid Images/Getty Images)

What to do when it’s not your fault?

When approaching airlines for a potential refund or other compensation it’s important to be clear on who is at fault. Airlines and airports can often try to avoid paying out if they really don’t have to so you’ll need a pretty airtight case to persuade them to refund your ticket. However, if you were unreasonably denied boarding, delayed or find your flight cancelled, there are ways of making them pay.

What can I claim for?

If your flight is delayed, and it’s the airline’s fault, you can apply for compensation under the UK261 rule.

This is a lump-sum approach to refunds – based on the European Union’s similar EU261 rule – that offers passengers on flights shorter than 1,500km (932 miles) a minimum of £220 for delays of more than two hours. Then, for flights of between 1,500km and 3,500km that are more than three hours late, it offers £330. And it’s £520 for four-hour hold-ups to flights more than 3,500km.

That, however, could be about to change, as the Department of Transport is planning a new system that will cover shorter delays. But that is yet to be ratified by Parliament. For more on that, read our article to comb through the small print. 

However, if an airline can prove the delay was down to “extraordinary circumstances”, they may try to deny your claim. These circumstances could include staff strikes, security threats, bad weather and, crucially, long customs queues.

What about cancellations?

As for outright cancellations, you are entitled to a full refund of your ticket or a replacement flight. If you received less than 14 days’ notice of the cancellation, you may be able to claim compensation of up to £520 depending on the timings of your alternative flight.

For more information on that, and the amounts of compensation you can claim, check out the CAA’s web page on cancellations.

How do I claim?

First stop, contact the airline you booked with.

Next, you’ll need to write your claim, explaining what went wrong and what you want from the airline. The Civil Aviation Authority has information about how to write a good claim.

What if my claim is rejected?

The airline must explain clearly why the claim was rejected. “Extraordinary circumstance” may be one of those reasons.

If you disagree with their reasoning, you can escalate your claim with an independent third party, called an alternative dispute resolution body (ADR). Most airlines are members of ADRs and should provide you with the details of the relevant one. See the CAA’s ADR page for a list.

If your airline is not a member of an ADR then you can ask the CAA for help.

Failing that, your last resort is to take the airline to court. The CAA has information on how to do that here. 

Can I get compensation for missing my flight over airport queues?

The unfortunate truth is, probably not.

Customs queues are the responsibility of the airport, not the airline, so no carrier will pay out for you missing a flight because passport queues were too long. Most likely, they’ll say you should have arrived earlier, even if you were late because the airport security queues were too long and you stood there for hours.

If you miss a flight because you are not at the gate in time, it is deemed to be your fault.

“Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get the airport to reimburse you,” advises consumer watchdog Which? “No large UK airport has a policy to compensate passengers who have missed flights because of long security queues. In law, passengers could possibly claim frustrated contract and argue the airport is at fault for them missing their flight – but this would almost certainly require going to court.”

However, if the queue is at the airline check-in desk or bag drop, that is the airline’s responsibility and you could be able to claim under the consumer rights act. But that could prove long-winded and complicated, and may also require a day in court.

What are the rules about missing your flight when it’s not the airline’s fault?

There are no hard and fast rules — it depends on the airline you’re flying with. As we know, airlines experience delays and cancellations all the time, but they often try to absolve themselves by pointing out that it was due to factors out of their control, such as air traffic control delays or when it’s raining. When these “extraordinary circumstances” happen, passengers receive nothing and may not even get compensation for an overnight hotel stay.

Some airlines have quasi-official policies of waiving fare rules and change fees when passengers need to rebook a flight that they missed, presumably due to factors outside their own control. And it’s a good thing; if you can’t use this rule, you could be forced to pay hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of pounds to take the next flight.

Unlike in the U.S., where a so-called “flat tire rule” isn’t often found on most airlines’ websites, airlines in the U.K. have adopted a more transparent approach by explaining the protocol in writing if you miss your flight.

Related reading: I’d rather risk missing a flight than waste my time at the airport

How do the rules vary for different airlines?

In the U.K., the rules vary quite significantly from airline to airline. Generally, low-cost airlines will provide the least amount of help for a missed flight whereas full-service carriers will — in many cases — do their best to get you on the next flight with no extra charge. Here are the policies for popular carriers in the U.K.

Virgin Atlantic: Virgin’s website states that you can miss your flight for any reason and providing you still head to the airport, you will be put on the next flight.

“If you miss your flight for any reason you must still go to the airport on the day of departure and present yourself to our airport staff”, Virgin says on its site. “Our staff at the airport will book you onto the next available Virgin Atlantic flight at no extra charge and will not cancel your return or onward journeys.”

British Airways: If you miss your BA flight because of events out of your control, the airline will help you if you contact them as soon as possible.

“If you need to change any aspect of your transportation because of events beyond your control, you must contact us as soon as possible”, the airline says on its website. “We will use reasonable efforts to transport you to your next stopover or final destination, without re-calculating the fare.”

EasyJet: EasyJet’s fares and fees are strictly non-refundable unless you can convince its customer care team that you missed the flight because of a serious illness or bereavement. “Our team will review your case and if your circumstances qualify we may, in our discretion, offer you a fee waiver or flight voucher towards the value of a subsequent flight, to be used within six months,” it says. “You may be asked to provide proof of these special circumstances.”

If your flight is cancelled for reasons within easyJet’s control, you can apply for vouchers to the tune of your ticket’s cost, a refund or a replacement ticket on another flight.

Related reading: Comparing Europe’s top 4 low-cost carriers

Ryanair: Ryanair’s fee is slightly less expensive than EasyJet, but the rules are a little more stringent. Ryanair charges £100 per person for a missed departure, and passengers are only entitled to switch to only the next available flight in the 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time of the flight and up to one hour after the flight.

If a flight is cancelled for reasons within Ryanair’s control, there are two options: either apply for a refund or change your cancelled flight for free.

Flybe: Flybe used to be very lenient with missed flights. As long as you advised the airline before the departure of the flight you should have taken, then the airline used to “reinstate your booking, or look at other options”. No more.

Now, like most other airlines, Flybe “reserve[s] the right to cancel your reservation if you do not comply with the Check-in Deadlines at the applicable airport,” adding: “We will not be liable to you for any loss or expense incurred due to your failure to comply.”

Jet2: On the airline’s website, Jet2 states that it “is a non-refundable airline, so you need to make sure you are at the airport in good time”. However, the airline says that if you miss your flight, you can apply in writing for a refund of Air Passenger Duty, though there is a £25 fee associated with each booking that needs an APD refund.

TUI: TUI’s website states: “There are no refunds if any ticket holder misses or cancels their flight. Any governmental per passenger taxes and charges for unused flights, which may have been collected in respect of such flight are refundable upon request.”

It adds: “You may wish to take out appropriate insurance to cover instances where you have to cancel your flight, or where you are unable to make your flight due to circumstances beyond your control.”

Related reading: How to claim EU261 compensation online for delayed or cancelled British Airways flights

Distraught woman sits in airport while travelers pass her after realizing she forgot her passport.
(Photo by NicholasMcComber/Getty Images)

Recommendations

Ryanair aircraft grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic  (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Consider rebooking on a budget airline: Although you’ve missed your first flight, you shouldn’t let that ruin your vacation. If the airline cannot or will not accommodate you, consider buying a cheap ticket on a budget airline to get to your destination. It may not be the best in-flight experience, but you won’t miss much of your vacation, and you won’t be stuck at the airport hoping for the standby reservation to turn into a confirmed ticket.

Use your miles to book a last-minute ticket: While many of us dream of using miles for an exotic vacation, our rewards can also be used in case of an emergency. Most airlines have eliminated close-in booking fees, so there’s no financial penalty for booking a last-minute flight.

In some cases, award prices are low for last-minute tickets because the seat will otherwise fly empty. Loyalty programs that use dynamic pricing sometimes have these cheap deals, such as United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles.

Have good travel insurance: It’s always advisable to travel with insurance as you never know what might happen while you’re away. One of the best ways to get good comprehensive travel insurance is through your credit card’s complimentary travel insurance. For example, if you miss your flight and the airline will not rebook you onto a new one or cover the costs of an alternative, holding and booking with The Platinum Card from American Express U.K. means you can be entitled to up to £300 from American Express to cover your expenses.

Related reading: 10 things you should do when you get the Platinum Card from American Express U.K.

Still, try to make the flight: Always attempt to get to the airport, even if the situation appears hopeless. Sometimes your flight is also delayed and it ends up working out, while other times you might be able to speed through security to your gate. These are the moments where it really pays to have airline status to help you breeze through airport check-in and security.

Be careful with baggage cut-offs: You can arrive with plenty of time to board your flight, but still be denied the chance to check your baggage if you miss the cut-off time. So if you’re checking bags, you need to know your airline’s baggage cut-off policy, which will vary not just by the carrier, but by destination. For example, here are Ryanair’s check-in requirements, which stipulate that if don’t get your bag checked in at the bag drop 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time, both your bag and you could risk not making it to the plane.

Call the airline: As soon as you know for sure that you’re going to miss your flight, you should call the airline — and I’d certainly do so before the flight departs. Tell them that you’re on the way to the airport but that you’re delayed due to factors outside of your control. Agents might be able to re-book you over the phone, or they may just tell you to show up and see an agent, but you have nothing to lose by trying.

Remember blanket waivers: Whenever there’s a major national or international flight disruption (due to weather or other factors), airlines could issue blanket waivers allowing all passengers to change their flights for any reason at no charge. If you’re lucky, you might be able to utilise one of these waivers when you’re running late.

Remember agent discretion: It can be hard to keep your cool in these situations, especially if you’re stressed out, but remember you’ll be at the mercy of the telephone, ticketing counter, gate or lounge agent. This is the time to humbly state that you’ve made every effort to arrive on time, but were prevented from doing so due to factors outside of your control. The goal is to get the agent on your side.

Bottom line

If you miss your flight and it’s not your fault, do not despair, there are laws that require airlines to give your money back. But remember, if you’re caught up in queues because airports are short staffed (as they have been lately), be prepared for a fight you may well lose if the airline doesn’t immediately offer you either an alternative flight or a full refund. n that case, really, the best advice, if you’re worried about long customs queues, is to arrive early.

Additional reporting by Daniel Ross and Matt Blake.

Featured photo by Dave and Les Jacobs/Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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