The Agony of the Missed Flight


Today’s travel tip lands in the learned-the-hard-way category. A client was recently flying home from Barcelona after a two-week tour of Spain. He texted me to say that when he arrived at the airport, he learned that his flight had been delayed six hours.

And then he missed the flight.

Things like this can happen to the best travelers among us. Sometimes there’s just no reasonable explanation for it. When they do happen, don’t panic! You just have to mitigate the damage as much as you can – and resist the temptation to beat yourself up about it.

In the case of delayed US-bound international flights, there are a few things you can do to lessen the risk of a missed flight:

  • Many international airports do not make intercom announcements when a flight starts boarding – nor do they make “last call!” announcements. The only way you’ll know your flight is boarding is by staying directly in the gate area – and sometimes, by keeping an eye peeled for when gate agents start beckoning people toward the plane.

  • If you do leave the gate area, confirm the current departure time before you wander off, and return frequently to check on it. Departure times for delayed flights can change quickly, so even if you think you have an hour left, you might not.

  • International flights often start boarding an hour in advance, and they may close the doors well before the departure time, so don’t wait until the last minute to return to the gate.

If you do miss a flight, seek assistance in this order:

  • First stop is the gate agents, if they’re still there (and willing to assist).

  • If the gate agents are gone, return to the main check-in area of the airport and go to the airline’s desk there. (Follow the signs to Baggage Claim to get back to the front of the airport.)

  • Now, here’s the kicker: If you’re flying an American airline, they may only have a few flights a day out of that airport…which means the main check-in desk may be closed, too. In that case, you’ll need to call the airline. If you’re flying a local codeshare airline (e.g., if you book with Delta but your flight is operated by Air France), you can seek help from the codeshare airline.

In my client’s case, he had to call the airline to get rebooked on the next day’s flight, and the customer service rep helped him book a hotel room for the night, too. She even told him not to worry, there must have been some reason he wasn’t meant to be on that flight. My thoughts exactly. And now he’s got a good story to tell.


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