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Ask any seasoned traveller what their worst nightmare is and I can almost guarantee that they’ll say that missing a flight ranks pretty high on the “ugh” list. I can definitely say that I have experienced the anxiety of missing a connecting flight a few times within the last few years and it’s not fun. The first time it happens, you think that your world is crashing down around you, a hot burst of heat runs up to your face and you literally think that you’re going to pass out. Fret not, my fellow travellers! If you find yourself in this less than ideal predicament, here is the who, what and why on how to make sure your travel interruption doesn’t result into a vacation nightmare.
But first, here is a little story about my two situations and how they differ from the first time, to the most recent time I’ve missed a connecting flight to my final destination.
Read more: The Trip That Opened My Eyes To Solo Travel
My first solo trip abroad was to Norway in 2014 and I had two connecting flights to catch before landing in Oslo; one in Montreal and the other in Zurich. Catching the connecting flight in Montreal was easy peasy, lemon squeezy because I had a two hour layover. The layover in Zurich though? Ya, that one was only 30 minutes and it was complete and utter chaos. My flight to Zurich was full, so when we landed I had to get through a ton of travellers, motor through the airport, through security again and run to my gate. Well, I didn’t make it and being my first time travelling that far on my own, I was slightly freaking out that my luggage was on its way to Oslo without me and I’d have to pay for another flight. Panicked and nearly in tears, I went to the connection flights desk to sort myself out and get myself on another flight to my destination, but there was a catch. I had to wait three hours for my next flight and make a stop in Copenhagen first. The kind airport staff gave me a voucher for breakfast while I waited and calmed me down, which really did help ease my mind.
Read more: What Solo Travel Has Taught Me
When the time came for me to catch my connecting flight to Copenhagen, a thick blanket of fog rolled in over the mountains in Zurich, causing my flight to be delayed, yet again, by over 45 minutes. As I approached the staff at the gate and showed them my connecting time in Copenhagen, I meekly asked if I was going to make that flight to Oslo…he said no. Just a flat out, honest no. Feeling tired and defeated, I plopped down in my chair and just waited for the flight to board. After 45 minutes of waiting, the fog lifted and I was on my way to Copenhagen, only to visit the connection flights desk once again to get another flight to Oslo.
Once it was my turn in line, I approached the staff member at the counter and stated that I missed my second connection flight to Oslo. The woman then said, “Oh yes, I have a flight to Oslo for you right here!” I sighed with relief and asked when the flight was boarding. “Ten minutes…Run,” she said. TEN MINUTES? RUN? I grabbed the boarding pass from her hand and thanked her as I was running away like a maniac towards the gate with my backpack bouncing all over the place, hair all over my face and delirious from the events that day. Once at the gate, I noticed that the doors were closed. This couldn’t be happening again, could it? There were two staff members at the gate still and when they asked who I was, they opened the doors and I ran on the flight and sat down as an overpowering heat came over me from all the running, I requested three glasses of water from the flight attendant. I was finally on my way to Norway and even though it sucks to miss flights, I was happy when I finally reached my destination…and so did my luggage!
Read more: Top Mistakes First Time Solo Travellers Make
Now a fairly seasoned solo traveller and better prepared for when things do go wrong, my most recent missed flight just happened on my last trip to the Canary Islands in October 2019 during my connecting flight through Ponta Delgada in the Azores, but didn’t have me in a stir panic like my first missed flight scenario.
Little did I know that I would be visiting Ponta Delgada for 24 hours, rather than the scheduled two hour layover. *sigh*
Read more: How To Spend A Layover In Ponta Delgada
As we boarded the plane to Gran Canaria, I was extremely tired, so I was looking forward to a nice three hour nap during the flight. I passed out hard…so hard that I didn’t even know that we had to make an emergency turnaround back to Ponta Delgada due to extreme turbulence and less than ideal weather conditions. When we landed, I thought to myself, “this ground crew looks awfully familiar.” Well, to my shock, we were back in Ponta Delgada and apparently we only had approximately 200 miles left of fuel in the tank and we weren’t going to make it to Gran Canaria. Thanks to the folks at Sata Airlines for not continuing, as I, along with the rest of the passengers, more than likely didn’t want to land in the Atlantic Ocean.
As we all stepped off the flight, collected our bags and stood around confused and waiting for our next steps, the ground crew then took us inside the airport and to the Sata Airlines customer service desk. When it was my turn to get served, I heard those words that I was dreading on hearing. “We have to re-book your ticket, but the next flight is not until tomorrow morning.” WHAT?! *ugh*
I knew right there and then that I could literally not do a damn thing to prevent the situation from happening, so I just agreed and took my new ticket for the next day in my hand and waited for the airline to sort me out. The folks at Sata Airlines were amazing though. They gave us all hotel, food and taxi vouchers for the trouble, which was definitely helpful in easing my mind as to where I would sleep for the next 24 hours. Once given all of my documents, I walked out the door, hopped into the taxi and headed for the hotel.
My outlook on missing flights went from thinking the worst, to realizing that if it’s not my fault, there is literally nothing I can do to prevent it. It’s not worth the stress and headache trying to fix it because in the end, you have zero control.
If you happen to miss a flight, or want to know how to handle the situation like a boss if it ever happens to you (hopefully it doesn’t), then keep reading below and be prepared to tackle a travel mishap head-on!
Missing a connecting flight, as you can tell from my experiences above, sucks…big time. Missing a connecting flight means that you are getting to your final destination much later than you had anticipated by hours and perhaps even a full day. Been there, done both. Chances are that if you miss the last scheduled flight of the day to your final destination, you’re more than likely going to be placed on the first flight out the following day. There are numerous reasons why a missed connection flight actually isn’t that uncommon. Here are just a few circumstances that may cause you to miss your connection that are essentially out of your hands.
Planes won’t generally fly out if the weather isn’t the greatest – up to a certain standard, of course. Yes, your flight will still take off in the rain and snow, but if it is a torrential downpour with icy conditions forming on the runway, well then you might be delayed. Fog is also a huge factor when flying, commercial or private. Pilots, ground staff and control tower staff know when to say “NO GO” to wheels up. Mother nature will always win that battle. It’s always better to wait it out than take the risk when it comes to weather conditions.
It’s the announcement that every traveller dreads hearing before hopping on a plane that’s about to cross the Atlantic Ocean. This literally happened to me on my way back to Toronto from my connecting flight in Lisbon from the Canary Islands back in October. “Flight TAP073 is delayed by one hour due to mechanical issues.” Ummm, mechanical issues? What’s THAT mean? Don’t worry too much when you hear that announcement because mechanical issues could mean anything from a mechanism on a loading dock jamming, to water not flowing properly on board in the lavatories. It doesn’t always mean something detrimental to the plane’s flying components, so don’t stress out too much.
Late Luggage Loading
Another common reason why your plane may be late and cause you to miss a connecting flight is as simple as the luggage was loaded late. This could be caused by late arrivals checking in last minute, people bringing oversized baggage that was supposed to be a carry-on now having to be transported in the cargo area along with everyone else’s luggage, jam packed luggage areas that take time to lift, determine the flight number, transport and load and simply just by slower than average workers, hey it happens. Not everyone is on the ball and quick 100% of their lives. Just remember that late arrivals, mean late departures.
What Happens When You Miss A Flight And It’s Your Fault?
You sleep through an alarm, leave the house later than you should’ve, doddled around the terminal and missed the boarding call. You missed the flight you were supposed to board and it’s your fault. Oops! Sometimes you just get the short end of the stick when it comes to getting somewhere on time and it’s your fault that you missed a flight. If the missed connection is the airline’s fault, such as a delayed flight due to mechanical problems, the airline should be able to rebook you on the next available flight, but these arrangements are voluntary on the airline’s part and are not mandated by any law or regulation. If you find yourself in that situation, the first thing you should do is call the airline if you have zero chance of making the flight. You just may save yourself cancellation and rebooking fees by doing this (again, by the discretion of the airline) and also prevent the airline from cancelling your entire trip altogether and marking you as a “no show.” When you speak to airport staff, be polite and explain why you were late. Saying something along the lines of blaming congestion in the terminal, might be better than saying that you slept in. Just a thought.
Most airlines have what they call the “Flat Tire Rule,” which can usually be applied within two hours of your flight time if you missed it due to unforeseen circumstances such as an accident on the highway, medical emergency, or a flat tire – hey, it happens! Airlines don’t advertise the Flat Tire Rule widely, but it is good to know that it exists in case you are ever stuck in a predicament that is out of your control. Again, being polite and not demanding will get you further with airline agents at the desk if you simply explain why you were late. Agents usually have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to enforcing this magical rule and by being nice to them, they may just book you on the next flight out at no additional cost.
So, now that I’ve covered the basics of missing flights and what you should you know and do in case it ever happens to you, here are a few more helpful pointers that’ll help ease your mind if you find yourself stranded at an airport.
Know Your Travel Rights
If you’re late to the airport on your own accord, you technically don’t have any rights when it comes to missing flights. Missing a connecting flight is another story, so it’s important to know your rights as a traveller as they are different in this specific case. For instance, the weather and short connection time during my first experience missing connecting flights worked in my favour because it was something I couldn’t control. I was able to be given connecting flights, free of charge and also was given a food voucher for the airport because of the added kindness of the airport staff. I was happy and shocked that I got free connecting flights (I wasn’t a seasoned traveller at this point) and thought I was going to have to max out my VISA card even before arriving at my final destination. Connecting through Europe has slightly higher benefits when it comes to traveller’s rights. They actually have a law and standard they must meet to ensure these rights are being met as well. When I had to wait 24 hours for the next flight to Gran Canaria out of the Azores back in October, I was given a hotel voucher, food vouchers for the hotel, as well as a taxi voucher to and from the hotel to the airport. As shitty as it is to miss a flight, it’s also really comforting to know that you are being looked after in regards to where you’ll be for the next 24 hours. Plus I got to explore a brand new city, Ponta Delgada, during the long layover, which was pretty damn cool!
Know What Your Insurance Covers
Buying travel insurance should be a non-negotiable item to have in your back pocket at all times. It’s good to have and even better knowing that if you find yourself in a jam, you’re covered, whether it be an unplanned sickness, accident, or lost luggage. My unexpected layover in Ponta Delgada caused me to lose a full day’s rent on the apartment I had reserved, plus I lost out on the pre-paid taxi from the airport to the apartment. I’m currently dealing with Sata Airlines directly to see if they’ll reimburse me for that because, of course, my travel insurance didn’t cover that, so we’ll see how long this takes. 😉
Make Calls & Send Emails
Speaking of the above…when I arrived at the hotel in Ponta Delgada, I immediately contacted the apartment owner to explain the situation I was in and tell him not to expect me that day. He was very nice and accommodating, but I did lose out on that first day, but I guess he was happy because he got paid either way. LOL I also contacted the taxi company through Booking.com and tried to get the customer service team to contact the taxi and let them know I wasn’t going to be there due to a cancelled flight and change my pick-up time to the next day, but unfortunately, they charged me and couldn’t change the dates. Apparently the taxi driver was already there and left once he found out I was a no show. I had to re-book the cab, which I will never do again. It was such a hassle, albeit easy to manage, just an extra cost I had to incur at the time.
Relax & Stay Calm
The most important thing I’ve learned after missing those two connecting flights during my first solo trip is to remain calm and relax. Stressing out will only make matters worse and freaking out doesn’t help anyone, plus it makes the airport staff uneasy as well. I’ll admit, the first time it happened to me, I was nervous, scared and just plain rattled. After I missed the second connecting flight, I just chalked it up to be the ultimate test of my nerves and patience. And boy, was I tested, alright! When my flight was diverted back to Ponta Delgada’s airport en route to Gran Canaria, I was actually pretty calm and chill. I mean, I didn’t even know what was going on until we landed since I fell asleep! 😀 I knew there was nothing I could do, but just relax and know that the airline would take care of us all, which they did beautifully!
I know that you guys must have some stories regarding missed flights, missed connections and travel blunders, so spill. Tell me your missed flight details in the comments below! I’d love to hear them and hear how you handled them. xo
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