Are you standing at the departure gate with no airplane to board? Or maybe you are just realizing that you will face a missed flight connection when you arrive at the airport.
Read on to learn you best course of action.
First of all, a missed flight connection is no reason to panic. Give me 5 minutes of your time and I will give you the information you need to navigate the situation.
When I was running a travel agency our support staff would get phone calls about missed connections every single day. Trust me, it happens a lot.
The good news is that there are existing frameworks to assist you. If you were not at fault the airline representatives will book you on the next available flight at no cost to you.
“We will rebook you on one of the best available alternative flights, giving preference to Air France, KLM and SkyTeam partners.”KLM
“…or you missed a connection, we’re actively looking for ways to get you back on track and may have already found you a new flight.”United
Here in this article we will look at a missed flight connection from two different perspectives.
We will start by looking at missed connections where there was nothing you could do. You are not at fault.
Next we will address situations where it is your fault that you missed the connecting flight.
Finally we will give you 5 suggestions to how you can minimize the risk and impact of a missed flight connection.
The lesson to be learned is that if you miss your connecting flight you need to take a deep breath and analyze the situation.
Missed flight connection where you are NOT at fault
It is not unusual to miss a connecting flight.
And the good news is that it will not cost you money if the airline is at fault.
If you miss your connection due to a delay and have booked your flights in one booking the airline should book a new flight for you, free of charge.
You could however still be entitled to compensation if the new flight delays your arrival at your final destination.
Companies such as AirHelp can assess whether you are eligible for compensation and file a claim even when the airline books you on to the next available flight.
Also, if there is a long wait or even an overnight stay most airlines will automatically offer free overnight accommodation and meal vouchers.
If not offered to you automatically be firm but polite and insist on help.
In the case of delayed arrival you may also have rights to compensation. Take good notes and save all documents and boarding cards as support for your claim when you return home.
If you combine airlines and build your own itinerary you assume the risk of the airline in the event of a missed flight connection. Please look at the section “Missed flight connection when you are at fault”
Reasons for a missed flight connection
It may not be unusual but a missed flight connection can feel like a disaster when it happens to you.
Especially if you like most people only travel once or maybe a couple of times every year.
There are however several reasons why you could miss a connecting flight and not be at fault.
The 4 most common reason from my experience are:
Late arrival: Your inbound flight arrives too late for you to make the connection and the connecting flight cannot wait for you.
Connecting flight not there: The connecting flight may have been cancelled or severely delayed.
Mechanical error: There may be a mechanical problem or maintenance related issue causing a delay or even cancellation.
Technical error airport: The airport may experience a problem with equipment at the allocated gate.
Regardless of the reason the airline is responsible to assist you with a solution.
And, this is important, do not assume that the first solution they offer is the only available solution. Be firm but polite and work to find a solution with minimum impact to your travel plans.
But why do missed flight connections happen?
Travelers miss their connections every day and one of the main reasons lies in the fact that most people do not think about.
Airlines make money when their airplanes are in the air transporting people.
Makes sense right.
The sooner a flight takes off the sooner it will arrive at its destination and be ready to accept more paying customers.
On top of this it costs the airline money to occupy a gate at an airport.
And to maximize the time airplanes spend flying and transporting people, airlines work with Minimum Connection Time (MCT).
MCT is simply the time the airline needs to allow for a change of flights at any given airport.
The MCT is consequently different per airport, terminal and even airline specific.
Airline analysts spend time analysing patterns and arrive at a MCT that will work.
And it usually does. Until something unplanned happens.
Airlines offer flights and schedules that will work as they have worked in the past. And they do work. Until the unexpected comes into play.
Missed connection due to bad weather
You as a traveller can of course not be held responsible for bad weather.
But what about the airline?
There are weather conditions where airlines will claim “extraordinary circumstances” or even “force majeure”.
From my experience this happens when a weather condition has a long lasting effect.
Examples can be a thick fog that lasts for more than a day or the ash cloud following the eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland 2010.
Again, your expectation as a customer should be to be assisted to get to your destination safely.
And if it is deemed not safe to fly, who in their right mind would insist on boarding the next available flight?
Here you need to use common sense and make sure that you are covered by good travel insurance and a payment method like a travel credit card.
Missed flight connection when you are at fault
There are of course also times when travellers miss a connection and they are at fault.
This can get expensive.
Here I will give you some guiding principles that have helped many of our customers over the years.
Even when they were at fault.
The top 3 reasons a missed flight connection are:
1. Combining airlines
Combining airlines can be a great way to save money. But you need to be smart about it.
If you build your itinerary from separate bookings and flights the airlines will only take responsibility for their individual part of the journey.
2. Underestimating time needed between gates
Are you travelling with small children? Do you walk slow due to an injury or simple old age?
Be smart and allow enough time to move from one gate to the other.
Even better, ask the airline for assistance and get help to and from the gates.
It is very different to blame the airline when everyone else made it in time to the connecting flight.
3. Not paying attention
I am sorry to say but this is a classic.
And most of the time it happens when there is a lot of time between flights.
Shopping, resting with headphones or simply not paying attention to time and summon reasons why travelers missed their connecting flight.
What to do when we you are at fault
Always ask the airline staff for assistance if you miss your connecting flight. Do not accept an initial no as an answer.
Remain polite but firm and offer to pay a fee if necessary. The airline staff at the airport can book you on to the next departure, even with a partner airline. But also remember that they do not have to offer you a new seat if you missed your flight and are at fault.
With more than 10 years travel agency experience I have witnessed customers receive outstanding customer service from airport staff. Customers who remained firm but polite always got the best result.
As a travel agent I was bound by ticket rules. Airport staff would often find solutions unavailable to the travel agent bound by strict ticket rules.
There were of course also situations where the airline staff were unable to help. Here you have to book a new ticket at your own expense.
You could however be entitled to a partial refund on the unused ticket. Contact the airline or your travel agency for assistance.
Always ask for assistance at the gate first. Then go to the service desk at the airport and ask for assistance. Do not accept an initial no as an answer. Be polite, firm and honest.
Airport and airline staff are service professionals. They will try to help you. But do not take it for granted.
How to minimize the risk of missing a connection
It is important to understand that you as a traveller can do a lot to minimize the risk and impact of missing a connecting flight.
I am not saying it is your responsibility. You buy a ticket and it should work.
But in real life a missed flight connection means a disrupted schedule and general inconvenience.
And if you take the following into account when you book you will help minimize the risk and the impact of the missed flight connection.
Connection time when booking
Of course you want a flight with the shortest possible connection time. After all, it will get you to where you are going faster.
And airlines do work with MCT or minimum connection time when they build their schedules.
Airlines make money when their airplanes are in the air transporting people for money.
In other words, both you and the airlines want the shortest possible connection time.
But you as a traveller need to take it one step further.
What happens if your arriving flight is 10 minutes late? Or maybe you land on time but need to wait for your arriving gate to clear before you can disembark?
Will you still make the connection?
Be realistic and think twice before you book a flight with a really short connection time.
A longer or normal connection time will allow your travel to stay on schedule even if there are small hiccups and delays along the way.
2. Airlines and alliances
Some airlines play nicely together. Others do not.
When you book a flight it is always an advantage if your chosen airline is a member of an alliance and operates a schedule with several daily departures.
Several daily departures and partner airlines will allow the airline to rebook you while minimizing the impact of the missed flight connection. You may still arrive the same day albeit a few hours later.
But what about low cost point to point airlines? They are often cheaper and they do make perfect sense for direct flights.
But when booking connecting flights it does help to look at airlines with many daily departures and strong alliance partners to minimize the impact of a missed flight connection.
3. Insurance and payment method
And then there is the money side of things.
It is stressful to start a holiday and have to face the fact that you will arrive one day late to your booked and paid hotel.
And chances are you spent a bit of extra waiting to catch your booked alternative flight.
You do have rights and the airline will most likely provide you with accommodation and meal vouchers.
But then there is the missed day on your holiday and the cost of the hotel.
Make sure you have good travel insurance that will also support and compensate you in this type of situation.
Also, consider paying with a credit card with a travel profile. This type of travel cards will offer different types of compensation and assistance that will relieve some of the worry and aggravation from the situation.
4. Think twice before combining airlines on your own
Building your own itinerary or flight schedule by combining airlines is by many viewed as a really useful “travel hack”.
And it can save you money.
But you need to be smart.
When you build your itinerary from standalone flights you assume all the responsibility if you miss your connecting flight.
Even if you are using flights with one and the same airline.
When you build the itinerary – you are responsible.
You need to be aware of this. I am not saying it is a bad idea. I am simply stating that you assume the risk of the airline in case of a missed flight connection.
You can read a more detailed article on combining airlines here: Combining airlines can save you money - but be careful
5. Build some air into your trip
A missed flight connection is always a hassle.
But there are also times when it is worse than that.
We booked a lot of cruises for our customers in our travel agency.
When helping customers book a cruise package it is important to maximize value.
From a customer’s perspective this often means to get the most for their money and to minimize time and money spent on other things than the cruise.
Customers often want cheap flights. It is important to spend as little as possible on non-cruise related items.
And it is easy to understand why. We all have a travel budget. And saving money on flights may be the difference between booking an outside cabin or a junior suite.
But there were two things that we never allowed.
- Flights with short connection time
- Arrival same day the cruise departs
You need to build some room for the unexpected into your itinerary.
This is of course equally true when you are travelling to a sports event, a concert or an important family event.
Building some air into your itinerary will help minimize the impact of a missed flight connection.