What to Do If You Miss a Flight | A Backpacker’s Guide

So you’ve booked an elaborate trip filled with destinations and multiple flights that will bring you all over the world, what are the chances you make every single flight without any bumps in the road? Probably very unlikely, but that is part of travelling and part of the adventure that I love so much! I have only missed two flights in my entire 15 years of travelling, which is honestly quite surprising giving how close to departure times I like to arrive. Both times I missed my flights I was able to react calmly and creatively so I did eventually arrive at my final destination, continuing on my trip without problems.

Here is what you should do if the dreaded happens, and you MISS A FLIGHT.

1. OK first things first, DON’T PANIC!!

Panicking will only make your situation worse, especially if you are in a foreign country where the communication barrier is already strained. Relax and have more of a go with the flow attitude. The flight is already missed and nothing can be changed about that, so what you do next is going to define the rest of your travels. Stress and panic will only make your situation worse and prevent you from assessing all your options and choosing the next step.

2. Review your options

Ok we missed the flight, NOW WHAT?! Well that can be dependent on a few things . . .

  • Did you miss a connection? – If you missed a connection the airline will usually rebook you on the next available flight to your destination. Sometimes missing connections can be completely unavoidable due to airline delays. This is your best case scenario, because you will be guaranteed a flight to your destination. Notify the agent of any checked bags because they likely made it on the flight you missed and will reach your destination before you. Security can hold your bags until you arrive.
  • Did you miss a single flight? – If you missed a single flight speak to an airline agent as soon as possible. If you are through security the agent will be at the desk of your departing flight. If you have not made it through security yet, speak to the agents at the airline’s ticket desk. They will re-book you on the next flight, but may assign additional fees depending on the circumstances and airline policies.
  • Did you REALLY miss your flight? – If you really messed up and missed your flight by more than a couple hours, then you may have to re-purchase a new flight OR figure out another solution. The chances of you getting a free ticket booked at this point is solely dependent on you begging and the mood of the ticket agents, you are basically shit out of luck! However, this can all be avoided if you book travel insurance ahead of time. I recommend adding travel insurance to your international flights if you are worried about making the connections or have a habit of making these mistakes, it can save you LOADS of money.

3. Rebooking as a Stand-by

Airlines usually re-book your ticket as a stand-by for the next available flight except that could be within the hour or leave you stranded at the airport until the following day. Stand-by tickets are dependent on seat availability and vary day-to-day.

Fees may be associated with rebooking depending on circumstances. For instance if you miss your flight because you spent too much time at the airport Starbucks you may not be rebooked for free. If you are connecting between different airline companies contact the airline of the missed flight.

Pros

  • Same destination.
  • Usually free from the airline.

Cons

  • Minor to Major travel itinerary delays.
  • Dependent on seat availability.
  • Following day rebooking may add additional costs like hotel and food.

4. Rebook Same Day Ticket

If you want to guarantee your spot on another flight instead of the standby ticket, you can rebook a same day flight change. Airlines have different policies concerning same day rebooking and accompanying fees. Some airlines require your change request be submitted before the original flight departs, only possible if you haven’t missed its departure.

Alaska Airlines offers same-day changes for $50, and American and United charge $75. The same day rebooking can be completed up to 24 hours in advance, and some airlines like American will even let you rebook after checking into the flight or checking a bag. Some airlines offer priority members free same-day changes too, which may interest other impulsive travelers who like to have last minute options.

Pros

  • Guaranteed same-day seat.
  • Some airlines offer free changes for priority members.

Cons

  • Fees starting at $50, dependent on airlines.
  • Request limitations.
  • Time dependent.

5. Buy new ticket

If you don’t want to wait for a stand-by seat you can purchase another flight. ALWAYS try to work out a deal, discount, or reimbursement with the airline. This works especially well when the delay or missed flight is the fault of the airline(s).

We had serious delays on our flight between Barcelona and Naples on a trip, and ended up getting fully refunded and rebooked with a detour through Rome. ALWAYS try to communicate with airline agents and online resources to ensure you submit appropriate forms and get as much compensation possible for the interruption to your travels.

Pros

  • Potential reimbursement of flight costs if missed flight is due to airline delays.

Cons

  • New ticket fees.
  • Travel delays dependent on next available flight.

6. Use other modes of transportation

Evaluate if your final destination is accessible by other means of transportation. The other major flight I missed was between Hamburg and Oslo when I fell asleep on a bus to the airport. I had a long time to think about what I was gonna do on the bus, because the next stop wasn’t for another two hours and my flight left in five. I considered jumping on a series of trains and heading straight back to the airport, but I calculated I would either barely make the flight or miss it by a half-an-hour. I assessed all my options and decided it wasn’t worth it to waste time and money buying another flight.

So I did some quick research and figured out a series of trains that would take me through northern Germany, across Denmark, and connect to a ferry over to Norway. This mess up created an additional adventure through Denmark, a country I had not even planned to explore. I ended up getting to see and do many things I wouldn’t have otherwise. The point is flying isn’t the only means of transportation, especially if you are somewhere like Europe with access to transportation and connected regions.

Research transportation like trains, buses, boats, horseback, etc. Rural areas may have even more options!


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