Be pro-active: If you know you will miss your flight – or even think you might – get on the phone and talk to the airline. What they will tell you will vary by carrier but here are some guidelines.
- If you know you’ll be late or will not show up: Call the airline immediately or you could forfeit the entire cost of your ticket. If you’ve already flown part of the trip, you might forfeit whatever remains (it happened to a friend of mine who missed his connecting flight when he fell asleep waiting for boarding to get underway). A phone call will usually keep your ticket valid but you may have to pay a change fee, which can cost as much as $200. Finally, if the fare has risen since you purchased the original ticket, you might have to pay the difference. Bottom line: A call salvages something; not calling forfeits everything.
- If flying Southwest: Southwest is the only U.S. airline with no change fee. BUT you still have to call – ten minutes before departure – or you’ll fall under Southwest’s No Show Policy and lose all remaining value of the ticket.
- If you’re not sure you’ll make the flight: Call the airline anyway and explain your situation. If you get to the airport at the very last minute, employees may be able to ease your way on board (or even hold the plane for a few minutes). Tip: Throw yourself on the mercy of the airline; it may not work but you won’t know ’til you try.
- If you’re at the airport, to a gate agent. Multi-task, if possible, meaning call the airline and stand in line for an agent because you never know which will be quicker. A gate agent may be able to put you on standby for another flight or find you a seat on another airline’s plane. If there’s a change fee to pay, ask the agent if they can waive it. Again, such requests are rarely granted but you never know.
- Sign up for TSA PreCheck: A fast security line can sometimes mean the difference between making a flight or missing it. PreCheck is cheap ($85 for a five-year membership) and the interviews don’t take long. Learn more here.
- Use a carry-on bag: Again, it’s faster because you won’t have to wait in line to check the bag. You also don’t have to worry about losing a carry-on and most U.S. airlines don’t charge a fee for hand luggage.
- Leave for the airport earlier: Expect traffic jams, expect flat tires, expect long lines at security. Just don’t expect any mercy from your airline if you fail to call and say you’re running late.
- Put airline contacts in phone: With luck and an early wake-up call, you’ll never need the airline’s phone number but make sure you have it anyway. Tip: If you’re an elite miles member, put the membership hotline number in contacts.