What to do if you miss your flight home this Christmas

Dec 20, 2021

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The U.K. is in the middle of one of the busiest travel periods of the year, even though new COVID-19 restrictions related to the Omicron variant threaten to disrupt holiday plans. Despite this, millions of people are planning to fly home or abroad for Christmas.

Heathrow Airport officials said its passenger numbers in November were 60% lower than before the pandemic, and specifically cited “high cancellations” among business travellers who were concerned about getting stuck overseas for Christmas due to the new strain of the coronavirus.

Despite the reduced passenger traffic, airports will still be crowded so expect long queues, heavy traffic and tensions running high.

Adding to the stress is everything else besides the travel. You must double-check you’ve wrapped and packed every present, organising a full wardrobe of clothes for both winter and summer (depending on where you are travelling) and racing to the airport at the same time as thousands of others. You also have to make sure you have your COVID-19 paperwork in order, from vaccine cards to negative test results, and of course, your mask.

Ideally, you’ll be able to relax and be ready to board the flight, perhaps in an airport lounge, but if the very worst happens and you miss your flight, here’s what to do.

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(Photo by Getty Images/Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd)
(Photo by Getty Images/Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd)

Stay calm (and carry on)

It might seem like the end of the world if you miss that important flight that you booked months earlier, but try not to panic. Having a meltdown, especially at the airport counter or gate area, will only make the situation worse. It may not be your fault you missed the flight — perhaps you were stuck in a traffic jam because of an unexpected accident. But remember it is equally not the airline’s fault, and it can’t delay hundreds of others because one person or family is late. There are some options available, so all might not be lost.

Related: A little kindness goes a long way — TPG U.K. staff travel success story

(Photo courtesy of Eurowings)

Talk to airline staff at the airport

If you are at the airport and miss your flight, try talking calmly to someone in person about your options. If your airline has multiple flights a day (for example, Emirates flies from Heathrow to Dubai five times a day), it may be able to put you on another flight leaving just an hour or two later. The airline may also have partner airlines it can move you to, though there may be additional costs involved. Just because you paid a lot of money for a Christmas flight doesn’t mean it will be flexible.

Remember that other flights are likely to be very full, so even if the airline can move you, you may not be able to sit together if in a group — or you may even have to accept a downgrade. Again, try and stay calm and focus on the fact that you will be getting home for Christmas. All is likely not lost.

If you happen to find an alternate carrier and book your own travel arrangements, if your original ticket (where you missed the outbound) is a return ticket, it’s very important to let the airline know that you still want to take the return flight. Most return journeys on the same ticket will be cancelled completely if you fail to board any of the flights and the airline will advise you if the return journey can still be taken.

You can try calling the airline to discuss your options but expect long wait times during this peak period. You may be able to get a quicker resolution if you can speak to someone in person. However, keep in mind that many airlines are still understaffed at airports because they haven’t returned to pre-pandemic hiring levels. So as stressed as you may be from missing your flight, it’s important to remember the airline employee you’re talking to may be doing the work that several other workers used to do.

Related: 3 ways to pandemic-proof your holiday travel

Check your travel insurance

Depending on the type of travel insurance you have and the reason you missed the flight, you may be covered. Slept through your alarm? Probably not. Flight cancelled for operational reasons? Probably. As we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, having travel insurance that covers COVID-19-related expenses is particularly helpful. Unfortunately, most coverage plans don’t cover all coronavirus situations. You’ll have to shop around for a policy that does.

If you are absolutely certain of coverage, contact the insurer to try and understand what additional expenses will or won’t be covered before jumping online and forking out thousands for an expensive last-minute flight on another airline.

There may be baggage delay coverage as part of your travel insurance, so if you have an important Christmas present in a bag that goes missing you may be covered for reimbursement.

Related: Understanding your credit card’s complimentary travel insurance

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

Put a value on your Christmas

If there are no more flights your airline can move you to, no travel insurance coverage and only incredibly expensive alternatives on another airline to get home for Christmas, try and think rationally. Yes, you will be desperate to see everyone, but spending five times what you paid for your original flight just to avoid “ruining Christmas” might just ruin your finances. Emotions and stress will be high but try and decide just how much the day is worth to you.

Bottom line

If you miss your flight home at Christmas, you will understandably feel devastated, stressed and probably angry. But try and keep calm as there are ways around this situation. Most airlines, in the Christmas spirit, will do their best to help you out. Be polite, flexible and willing to maybe spend a bit of money and things may not be the disaster you think — and triple set that alarm!

Featured image by Gettys Images/joe daniel price

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