What to do when you miss your flight

Feb 17, 2020

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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.

Have you ever missed a flight because you showed up at the airport too late? If you travel enough, it’s only a matter of time until it happens to you. And when it does, you need to know the rules. Here’s a look at how the airlines treat you when you miss your flight, and some recommendations for getting the best possible outcome.

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(Photo by Hybrid Images/Getty Images)

What are the rules about missing your flight?

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.

But mercifully, most 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 airline’s websites, airlines in the U.K. have adopted a more transparent approach by explaining in writing exactly the protocol if you miss your flight.

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

How this works in practice

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.”

Flybe: Flybe is also very lenient with missed flights. As long as you advise the airline before the departure of the flight you should have taken, if there is space in the same class of fare then the airline will “reinstate your booking, or look at other options”. Not only that, but if getting you on the next flight isn’t possible, then the airline states that it will “use reasonable efforts to transport you to your next destination on the next available service free of charge”.

EasyJet: EasyJet will allow you to rebook onto the next flight as long as you arrive at the airport no later than two hours after the flight’s scheduled departure time. In true low-cost airline form, there will be a £110 fee for the privilege. If you arrive later than two hours, you’ll have to book a new 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.

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: “If you do not appear punctually for departure, you forfeit your right to carriage, but are nevertheless obliged to pay the flight fare. In such cases, we regret that we are unable to change or cancel your booking free of charge”.

In other words, if you’re the kind of person who always runs late, or leaves your passport behind, then think twice about choosing TUI.

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)


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.

(Image courtesy of Amex)

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 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 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

The key to controlling damage in the instance of a missed flight — like many things in life — is communication. If you get in touch with the airline in time (in the case of most full-service carriers like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic), then you should find yourself well looked after.

On a final note, if you’re the kind of person who travels a lot and has a busy schedule going from meeting to meeting in city after city, you’re probably more likely to miss your flight. In which case, carefully weigh up the options when you’re presented with different airlines for a route and try to choose the one which has the most lenient missed flight policy.

Additional reporting by Daniel Ross.

Featured photo by Dave and Les Jacobs/Getty Images

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