The Airline Said I Never Boarded My Flight — Reader Mistake Story

Jun 29, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jim, whose itinerary was canceled after a seat swap. Here’s what he had to say:

My story starts pretty simply: my wife and I were heading from Philadelphia to San Diego on American Airlines. To our excitement, the gate agents were looking for someone to switch seats into the exit row, since a family had bought those seats but the kids were too young to sit there. We volunteered, and that’s where the mayhem started. Instead of re-printing the boarding passes, the gate agents just did the switch with all parties involved outside of the system.

As we boarded the flight and took our new seats in the exit row, the other family was apparently still maneuvering and getting situated. As the flight attendants took inventory of empty seats, they hadn’t yet taken our original seats. As a result, my wife and I got listed as no-shows!

When the time came to leave San Diego, we hadn’t received a check-in email. I called American Airlines and they said our itinerary had been canceled because we missed our first flight. I asked them to explain how we got to San Diego if that was the case, but all they could offer was new tickets for $800 per person, and there were only two seats left (our seats, of course).

I wasn’t having it. We got to the airport extra early to speak to someone in person. The ticketing agent was a little more receptive to our story, but still needed proof we were on the original flight. Luckily, we still had our original checked bag tags on our luggage, and that was enough. We got our seats back and were on our way!

Jim wasn’t to blame for this mix-up, but there are a few steps he could have taken to avoid it. First, if you agree to a seat change prior to boarding, it’s reasonable to ask for a new boarding pass. You’re helping them by volunteering your seat (even if it benefits you), and you’re the one who suffers the consequences if something goes haywire, so don’t be shy about requesting documentation. If the gate agent is too busy dealing with other passengers, at least notify a flight attendant once you’re on the plane so there’s no confusion.

On the subject of documentation, I recommend hanging on to boarding passes, baggage tags and claim tickets until your itinerary is complete — that is, all passengers and belongings have arrived to your satisfaction. Having those papers in hand can help in bizarre scenarios like the one Jim encountered, but they’re also useful for addressing mundane problems like uncredited miles or in-flight service issues. A digital copy should suffice if you don’t want to carry the paper versions with you. Even if you don’t end up needing it, keeping your boarding pass (and disposing of it properly) can help protect your personal information.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jim for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Feature image by littleny / Getty Images.

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