What to do if you miss your flight: Tips for dealing with the airline and rebooking

Fly often enough and chances are you're going to miss your flight one day. It might be your fault, or maybe it was out of your hands.

When it's your turn, a lot depends on how quickly you work through the seven stages of grief. Because the quicker you pass through shock, disbelief, denial, guilt and anger and land on acceptance, the sooner you can begin the ultimate task of rectification, known to science as "pulling the fat from the fire".

Depending on circumstances you may not have a strong hand, but in some cases there are strategies that can help you get to where you want to go without major expense.

The first step

If you're en route to the airport, as soon as you realise you're not going to make your flight, contact your airline's customer service. Breathe slowly and evenly, channel your inner Buddha, whatever it takes to keep calm and establish the reason for missing your flight.

If you are an elite level flyer with the airline in question mention that fact, because any small detail you can use to tilt the hand of fate in your favour is going to count.

If you're at the airport, checked in and passed through security and still miss your flight, that's more serious. Since you're in a secure, restricted area you're now having to exit that zone. Find an airport information desk or, failing that, your airline's ground staff. If you have checked in baggage, that will have been offloaded and you'll need to reclaim it.

If you've passed through immigration you have officially exited the country. Since you're now seeking to re-enter, you're going to have to pass through immigration all over again.

Fare type

The higher the price you paid for your airline ticket, the more likely it is the airline will cut you some slack. It also depends on who you bought the ticket from. If it was the airline you have a better chance of a favourable outcome than if it was purchased from an online travel agent.

A full-price fare purchased from your carrier means the airline will probably re-book you on the next available flight, but who buys such a ticket unless someone else is paying? Like me, you've probably gone for the cheapest, non-refundable ticket, but that doesn't mean you've done your dough.


Quite a few airlines will re-book you for a fee, and again that might depend on the original ticket price. Expect to get squeezed. On a discount carrier, the cost might even be more than the original ticket price, but that might be cheaper than buying a last-minute fare.

Reason for missing your flight

This could have some bearing on your airline's response to your plight. Beware though, check-in staff have heard every excuse in the book and really, they don't care.

What airlines do care about is on-time performance. Getting that aircraft away on time means they get to where they're going when they say they will, subsequent flight schedules don't get messed up and everyone's happy.

By comparison, the reason you're late for your flight just doesn't cut it and they are not about to disrupt schedules to suit you. But re-booking you on another flight is not out of the question, and a good reason for your late arrival will help your case.

A passport that you forgot at home until you were halfway to the airport, a child inadvertently left under the same circumstances or a medical emergency are all reasons likely to garner some sympathy.

Confusing AM and PM, showing up at the wrong airport, claiming that your emotional support animal had a meltdown or that you didn't hear a boarding announcement because you were grooving to your noise-cancelling headphones are some of the excuses passengers have given. All are lame and undeserving of remediation.

In a recent case, a Spring Airlines flight from Bangkok to Shanghai was delayed for 30 minutes when an emotional passenger tried to stop crew from closing the door. The reason? Her daughter was shopping in duty-free.

The flight eventually left without them.

During the 2018 wildfire season in the US, road closures due to smoke and fire were a popular excuse for late-arriving passengers at Los Angeles International Airport.

Some maintain that US airlines have a "flat tyre" get-out-of-jail card for passengers who miss their flight. Show up at the check-in desk after your flight has closed, tell them your ride got a flat tyre en route to the airport and provided you're there within a reasonable time after flight departure, the airline will re-book you on a later flight. This has the ring of urban myth about it, but it's worth a try. Expect an eye roll from behind the counter though.

Travel insurance

If you missed your flight due to circumstances beyond your control – traffic, tempest, a tree fell over your driveway – a travel insurer might come to your aid if your airline will not.

Financial compensation will happen only some time after the fact. In the meantime, it's up to you to negotiate a solution at least possible cost.  Buy a business class ticket on the next available flight and your insurer might not consider that you did everything within reason to limit the damage.

If you have a connecting flight

If you don't make your first flight, it's standard airline practice that any connecting flights you have on the same booking are also cancelled. In that case you also need to notify the airline operating the connecting flight that you're not on board.

The ultimate remedy

Charter a plane. That's what an American Express Travel exec once did when she slept in and missed her scheduled flight from Darwin to Kununurra. So she took a twin-engine job, all the way from Darwin to a remote cattle station in the Kimberley, where I happened to be at the time.

Must have cost Amex a bomb, but it's good to know where all those fees are going.

See also: Six reasons you should never fly a cheap airline in Europe

See also: Downgraded: The worst thing that can happen to business class passengers