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How to Get Back on Track When You Miss a Flight

Despite the near-irresistible urge to curse out a booking agent, this is one of those situations where putting on a smile goes a long fucking way

Crap, crap, crap! FUUUUCK. You spent last night celebrating the start of Christmas vacation with three spiked eggnogs and an unspeakable number of whiskey shots, which led you to sleep late this morning, which caused you to miss your flight home while scuttling through the airport like a delirious, hungover goblin. 

So, now what? Come quickly, you have some negotiating to do!

Speak to an Agent, Now

For future reference, if you find yourself running late for a flight and are convinced that you’re going to miss it, call your airline help number and let them know as soon as you can. That way, they can probably put you on a later flight without much trouble, making for a smoother, less rushed experience altogether.

If you just missed your flight, however, and are standing out of breath at your deserted gate, your best chance of being put on one of the next few flights is by speaking with the nearest airline agent or calling the airline help number ASAP. “Unfortunately, you’re at the mercy of the airline,” explains Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts. “If you’re very nice and a seat is available on the next flight, they might let you on. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. It says so in the fine print of your carriage contract.”

Technically, unless the airline was responsible for your tardiness — say, they overbooked the airplane or experienced a technical delay that resulted in you missing a connection — they have no obligation to put you on another flight for free. That said, some airlines have an unwritten “flat tire” rule, which (depending on the airline) grants you a free new booking on the next available flight as long you being late was because of something outside of your control, like getting a flat tire (sadly, pounding liquor is probably not within the fine text of this policy, but there’s this amazing thing called “lying” that you might want to consider trying out in this scenario). In order to be eligible, you also need to get to the airport within two hours of the departure time for your original flight. 

Still, whether you get on a new flight free of charge remains up to the discretion of the airline — and more specifically, the booking agent who you speak with. Since some agents are more accommodating than others (go to hell, Jeff), being courteous and having a good excuse is critical, even though you probably just want to throw a tantrum and streak across the runway right about now.

Furthermore, if you missed the last flight of the day, while a booking agent might be able to get you on a flight for the next morning, expect to pay for a hotel yourself or find a nice, cozy corner of the airport to sleep in.

Book a Same-Day Change Beforehand

If your flight is still at the gate but your body is still in an Uber 20 miles away, the chances of your making it to the airport on time are unfavorable, as are the chances of your booking agent giving you a freebie. In this scenario, then, consider paying for a same-day change. Different airlines have different rules for making such changes, the most common ones being that you have to request the change before your original flight departs, and your new flight must be on the same calendar day. But doing so is usually much cheaper than buying a whole new ticket — Alaska Airlines offers same-day changes for $50, whereas American and United have them available for $75.

Buy a New Seat, If You Must

But first, remember that buying an entirely new ticket will probably cancel out the rest of your journey, including any connecting flights and hotel bookings. So unless you only have one more flight between you and your destination, speak with a booking agent so they can help you plan accordingly and make sure that your bags end up in the right place. Then, once you have your new plans, give any hotels that you booked a heads up. Or call your mom and let her know to leave the light on for you.

If All Else Fails, Drink

I asked the flight attendant community on Reddit what they recommend doing when a person misses a flight, and the top response was, “Go to the bar.” This might feel like too mellow of an attitude to have during what feels like the end of the world, but honestly, the only thing you can do is look at later flights and beg a booking agent for help, so maybe having a drink (or seven) at the airport bar is exactly what you need to cool your nerves and get back on track.

Just be careful not to get so drunk that you miss your next flight, too.