One of the biggest obstacles to independent travel is the fear of things going wrong. Without the safety net of a tour company, worrying about how to cope might well seem like a sure fire way of ruining a good holiday. I decided long ago that I’d prefer to be in control – no surprises for those who know me beyond the computer screen. But things do go wrong and it’s good to know what to do if that’s the case.
Missing a flight is stressful. It doesn’t matter why or whose fault it was, it’s stressful. Mostly, when I’ve missed flights, it’s been a case of a late-arriving inbound flight causing a missed connection, but I’ve arrived at the airport on more than one occasion to find my flight had already departed. You can read the stories here:
What to do if you miss a connecting flight because the inbound flight is late
If you’re still on the plane when your next one is merrily backing off the stand, no amount of pleading with airport staff is going to get you on that flight. The first thing to think about is whether you have a through ticket. If you buy two separate tickets and the first is delayed, the carrier operating the second leg has no obligation to honour your ticket. Don’t choose flights with very short connection times either. Immigration officials can be very stubborn.
Minimise your chances of being stranded by choosing a carrier who operates multiple flights a day to your final destination if at all possible and avoid opting for the last flight of the day. If they have space, you’ll still get to your destination the same day, albeit later than planned.
Speak to the ground staff as quickly as possible; if there are more people to rebook than there are seats available, you don’t want to be last in the queue. Holding a frequent flier card with that airline can also help you move up the queue. It can also pay to get an aisle seat as near to the front of the plane as you can, particularly if you know you have a tight connection.
Be nice. It’s not the fault of the ground staff if your plane was late in. Getting angry isn’t going to help. In fact, it’s likely to hinder your chances of organising a speedy replacement flight if you piss off the one person that can arrange it for you. Save your breath and stay calm.
Be flexible. Can you travel to a different airport in the same city? It’s inconvenient, perhaps, but still better than not arriving at all. Let the ground staff know what you’d be prepared to put up with. If you’re due at a hotel but are going to lose the first night of your booking, get in touch with them and explain – they might let you off any financial penalties they’d usually impose.
What to do if it’s your fault you miss the flight
Technically, the airline doesn’t have to do a thing and you’ll have to abandon your travel plans or buy a new ticket. So be nice and hope they take pity on you – and I mean really nice. Appeal to their better nature. Coming back from Bangkok, arriving 21 hours late for a flight just after midnight, I explained to the check in staff my humiliating predicament. As a Geography teacher who taught about time zones and tourism amongst other things, if they couldn’t fit me onto that night’s flight, I was going to have to confess to my students the real reason I’d shown up for work a day late…
What to do if it’s their fault – your flight is cancelled
Your airline must offer to rebook you on a later flight or offer you a refund. They have an obligation to get you to your destination, though not necessarily by the routing you’ve chosen or on a particular day.
Note that if your flight originates in the EU or arrives there from anywhere else but on an EU airline, you are entitled to compensation – even if the airline claims you aren’t. If an EU and a non-EU codeshare applies – such as Virgin and Delta, for instance – you’ll only fall into this category if your ticket and therefore contract is with the EU airline – Virgin in my example. I had a long and drawn out fight with Cityjet over this right to compensation, but eventually won. Read about how to get your money back here:
You’ll see from that post that keeping evidence is crucial. Make sure you keep hold of boarding pass stubs and receipts until you’re safely home without any problems. Never send off your only copy of something; scan instead.
Make sure you have decent insurance in case you need to recoup your costs that way instead. This may be your only option for compensation if you’re travelling outside the EU on a non-EU airline.
For more information, there’s a useful link here: