What if you are running late for your flight? Don’t panic. Or panic just a little but don’t get carried away. It won’t help you or anyone else. Here’s a little insider secret. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.
Airline’s have been known to hold up a plane departure for certain elite status flyers or dignitaries. I’m not talking about an hour here, but if that passenger is running a few minutes late, the boarding doors may remain open a bit longer.
Of course, these “special” travelers slink into first class so no one gets to see who they are but you know it is a passenger delay issue when the door closes right behind them.
There are times when an airplane is held up due to late arriving connecting passengers. For you this may be an originating flight but for someone else, it is just another connection. If the passengers’ first flight is late, the airline may try to accommodate even if it means holding the connecting plane for a few minutes.
Why the accommodations? Because if the airlines do not do this, they need to find seats for these passengers on other flights. That has become increasingly difficult as airlines are operating with very tight capacity. This becomes the lesser of two evils.
The higher the number of passengers who are arriving on an inbound flight that is connecting with your flight, the greater the chance that your flight will wait for them but only briefly.
For everyone else, an airline may use something called a “flat tire rule.” This is a discretionary policy where its carrier may-that’s may-allow you to get on the next flight without penalty. Well, at least if your excuse is good enough.
However, this rule usually won’t extend beyond a couple of hours past your original flight departure. That means you absolutely need to contact the airline as soon as possible and review your options.
Actually, I need to qualify this a bit. Airlines will try to put you on the next flight if seats are available. If the plane is full, all they can offer you is standby service.
Flying standby means you are put on a list and if there are available seats on the next flight you may get on the plane. However, be aware that there may be many people ahead of you on that list. This means you may spend hours in an airport – maybe even overnight or more – waiting for the next flight. Obviously airlines won’t guarantee you a seat unless you pay for it. To put this in cold and harsh terms, you are left hoping someone else has the misfortune to miss their flight just so you can be on it.
Certain circumstances make this more difficult For example, the more people in your party, the less likely there will be seats. As planes are more likely to be full today, it is much easier to find a single seat to a destination than two or three, much less four.
Because air traffic is much higher during holiday and other peak periods, it may be impossible to get you another flight that day. Adding to your insecurity, poor weather conditions may delay or cancel flights, meaning there might be a backlog of a couple of days for seats trying to get to your destinations.
Alas, the best you can do here is contact the airline, be as polite as possible – maybe even apologetic – and see what the carrier will offer you. Sadly, they are in the drivers seat in this situation, not you.
Here’s a last ditch effort possibly: No one wants to lose money but if the airline insists you have to pay a change fee plus a higher rate for the seat just to get you on a later flight, consider looking at another airline that is going to the same destination.
Why would they charge a higher rate for the same flight? There are two reasons. First, tickets are often more expensive if purchased just before the flight because they know these passengers have few, if any, options.
Second, airlines charge more because they can. This is even truer if they know there are no other carriers going to that destination on the same day. And believe me, And all of them know the others’ routes put another way, you either fly on this airline paying whatever they charge or you don’t fly at all.
I am not suggesting you bail on the first carrier, just keep your options open. If another airline can get you to your destination faster and the cost will be the same or less than the original airline, it might be worth it to you.
Elsewhere I mention that it is always a good idea to have your flight information as well as the airline’s phone number stored in your cellphone. Here’s one of those situations where it will come in very handy.
Note: If you must buy a ticket at the counter, be prepared to pay yet another fee. Some airlines charge an additional fee simply because the flight was booked at the counter or via a phone call, not online or maybe using one of their kiosks.
I know — this is just one more thing that makes passengers go, “Grrrrr!” It is not well publicized and may not apply to all airlines. I have heard of fees in the $20-30 range for counter ticket purchases but have not yet experienced it.