What You Need to Do If You Can’t Make Your Flight


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Life happens. Even the best-laid plans go astray and sometimes you can’t make your flight. The thought of losing all the money you paid on the ticket adds to the stress.

With previous experience as a travel agent, I am here to tell you how to tackle this situation. Here is what you need to do when you can’t make your flight, step by step.

Check the fare rules

First, go to the airline’s website, log onto your reservation, and hunt for the fine print or otherwise known as the “fare rules”. You may also find them under “condition of carriage”.

Look for: ticket validity, cancellation policy, and no-show policy.

The ticket validity is usually 1 year from the date of purchase unless you got a super fare during a promo (which can and will limit the validity to as little as 3 months).

The cancellation policy tells you if anything can be recuperated should you cancel the ticket. The cheaper the ticket, the fewer chances to recuperate anything.

Last, but not least, check what happens if you don’t board the flight. Usually, the ticket becomes non-refundable, including the taxes.

If you booked through a travel agency, get in contact with them and ask for the same information (copy + paste from the reservation system, not their “take on it”)

File an insurance claim

Travel cancellation insurance may protect you in case you cannot make a flight. However, make sure this case is included in the policy. The moment you realize you cannot make the flight, contact your insurance company and ask how you can file a claim and what I should include. Often, if the flight is partly refundable, you’d have to wait for the airline to reimburse you according to the fare rules before you can submit a claim.

Attempt to get the taxes back

So you cannot make the flight but you don’t want to no-show either. And the ticket is non-refundable. This leaves you with trying to get back any taxes. See if you can cancel it – from the airline’s website – and ask for a tax refund. Usually, this can be done via few clicks.

The airlines are thrilled they can resell that ticket and you are thrilled to get some the money back. Please note that not all taxes are refundable.

If the website doesn’t help, call their customer service number and tell them exactly what you need to do. Ask them to confirm anything they do.

If you booked the ticket through a travel agency, ask them to do the same thing. Note that some agencies do not tell you the taxes may be refunded and most often keep them to themselves. Not ethical, but it’s done. Try to override them by talking to the airline directly.

Note: if you have already checked-in for the flight, you need to cancel the check-in before you cancel the ticket. Otherwise, once checked-in you cannot cancel the flight and you would be a no-show.

Attempt to keep the credit for future use

Some airline won’t refund the taxes but would allow the credit (the value of the ticket) to be used during the ticket validity (see above). Ask them to keep the credit in your name and make a note of it for the next time you travel with the same airline. When it’s time to use it, you will pay any change fee (penalty) that applies as well as any fare difference (between the ticket you want to purchase and the one you had).

Attempt to extend the credit validity

Under some conditions, the airline may extend the validity of the credit. All you need to do is ask and but be prepared to get no for an answer.

Transfer the ticket

In some cases, the airline may allow a name change. In this case, you may consider selling the ticket. The issue? The name change fee plus the penalty to change the ticket and any fare difference would make the flight a pretty expensive one for the buyer so…it may sound unappalling to even try to get rid of it.

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12 thoughts on “What You Need to Do If You Can’t Make Your Flight

    • Thank you. Yeah, the more you fly, the more chances it would happen.
      I was super close to not making a flight – family issues – and I discovered my insurance was crap lol
      I made it, though.

  1. Travel Insurance! Ah, I’ve never bothered with travel insurance for domestic flights before. But I might have to rethink that.
    Last month my sis and I were stuck in traffic for hours and weren’t going to make it. And because it was nearing time for the gate closure, the airline agent we called said that although we’d already done a web check in, this would be a no-show and we’d just have to book a new flight. Luckily our parents who’d taken another route to the airport, got there in time and the counter staff gave them our tickets. She was a Godsend because that normally doesn’t happen, right?
    The crazy bit though, after rushing through security and running through the airport, we reached the Gate and the flight was delayed by 2 hours.

    • You need to cancel online check in before you call in to call the flight. If you do it online, it would ask you automatically to cancel online check in. You cannot cancel a flight you have checked in for and you would be a no-show if you do that.
      The agent broke security rules. No one but the owner of the ticket should get the boarding passes. 🙁 That should have been reported as a security breech.

  2. Great post! I’m one of those people who like to give myself a wide berth of time so I never cut it close. I had an unfortunate experience trying to get to the Virgin Islands where my flight was rerouted through Puerto Rico and the airline didn’t completely issue me a ticket. I ended up having an unexpected stay in San Juan!

    • This is not about missing connections, it’s about when something happens and you cannot make the flight (like a family emergency).
      I am like you, though, I give myself a lot of time to make it to the airport and between connections (I actually prefer overnights!)

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