There’s no greater panic-inducing moment than being stuck in a slow security line, knowing you have minutes (or even seconds) before your flight departs. If you break into a cold sweat at the mere thought of missing a flight, we hope to provide you some comfort: A number of airlines have rules that ensure you won’t be stranded. How easily you’ll get rebooked on a later flight, though and whether you’ll have to pay often depends on how late you arrive to the airport and whether you’ve made an effort to inform the airline of your tardiness.
Talk to an airline agent as soon as you can
If you’re running late, first, you should contact the airline and inform them that you might miss your flight. They might be able to rebook you before you even get to the airport. If you’re already at the airport or gate, it’s time to talk with an airline agent.
Traditionally, in the airline world, there’s a rule for passengers who miss their flights known as the “flat tire” rule; if you’re late to a flight because of something like a flat tire, you can get re-booked on the next available flight and with no extra charge, as long as you arrive within two hours (or sooner) of your original flight’s departure time.
You won’t find the flat-tire rule written into an airline’s contract of carriage (airlines likely don’t want to advertise the availability of free same-day changes, after all), so there’s no guarantee this will work. As the Points Guy writes, you will often end up at the mercy of an airline service agent. Some agents may be more accommodating than others, so being polite and having a good reason, like you ran into heavy traffic, is important.
Here’s how a few major U.S. airlines currently practice their version of the flat tire rule:
1. American Airlines has a “Late Arrival Standby” policy. Under this rule, the airline will schedule you on the next available flight as a stand-by passenger if you arrive within two hours of your original flight’s departure time.
2. Delta will rebook passengers on a “case-by-case.”
3. United does not have a set policy, but will often rebook you on the next available flight if you arrive within 30 minutes of your original flight.
4. Southwest will rebook you if you contact them within 10 minutes of your original departure time, whether by phone or in person.
Book a same-day change
If you’ve missed your flight and need a guaranteed seat on another flight rather than a standby seat, there’s also the option to book a same-day change. Depending on the airline, there are a few rules to this policy, like you must request the change before your original flight departs and it must be a flight that departs on the same calendar day. Alaska Airlines offers this option for $50, while American and United offer same-day changes for $75.
You can book a same-day change up to 24 hours before your original flight’s departure time. While there isn’t a set time as to how last-minute you can book a same-day change, airlines like American will let you book even if you already checked in for your original flight and checked a bag (though they’ll need at least one hour’s notice of your request in order to move the bag to your new flight).
You can usually be rebooked for free if it’s a missed connection
If your delayed first flight causes you to miss your connection, you’ll usually get re-booked on the following flight and for free by most airlines; you may fly as a standby depending on availability. Some airlines may automatically re-book you, but you should call them as soon as you land to find out how to get on another flight.
If you’re late to your connection because you spent too much time waiting in line at Starbucks, however, that’s considered your own mistake and you may not be rebooked for free (though there isn’t an explicit rule determining how much time is considered enough to make your connection).