Picture this: It’s midnight, you’re on your laptop and the screen is starting to blur, but you need to book that flight now to get the best deal. That’s exactly what happened to Marilyn Berney, an attorney in Millburn, New Jersey. She thought she scored with a great price on a flight to and from Florida so she could visit her grandmother. Weeks later when she showed up at the United counter at Newark airport her boarding pass had her departing from Fort Lauderdale. Oops! She was definitely going to miss that flight. Now what?
No matter if you mistakenly booked your ticket, got caught in traffic on the way to the airport, or simply overslept, the strategies to rebooking your flight and getting to your destination remain the same. “I recommend contacting a reservation agent right away,” says Zach Honig, Editor-in-Chief of The Points Guy. “If you’re near the gate and your flight just departed, head there and speak to the gate agent. Otherwise, speak with a customer service agent or an airline employee in the lounge (if you have access).” If there’s a wait, give the reservations line a call while you queue up—the sooner you get in touch with someone, the better your chances of avoiding significant penalties, or having the rest of your itinerary canceled, he says. As for added fees, stay calm and polite and it’s possible that you may not have to pay a penalty at all.
If at first you don’t succeed…
In Berney’s case, she did make her way over to customer service. She knew the snafu was all hers and was willing to pay to fix it, but the price was steep. “They told me I’d have to pay a $200 fee to change the ticket plus the difference in price for the new seat, which was almost double what I’d paid in the first place. It would have been cheaper to eat the cost of the ticket, cry uncle and go home, but I didn’t want to disappoint my grandmother.”
So Berney got on the phone with United to try again. She was connected with an airline rep who wouldn’t budge. Deflated she returned to the original customer service counter. Surprise! They put her on a later flight and it didn’t cost her a dime. Why? Berney was plain old nice and the agent went out of her way to be nice back.
You catch more flies with honey…
Or perhaps it should be you catch more flights with honey. After all airline employees are people too. Honig recalls a similar experience, “A couple of weeks ago, as a friend of mine was standing in the security line, she realized she had forgotten her passport. She went to the United check-in desk and after a few minutes, the agent had her booked on a flight the next day for free. Depending on the reason you missed the flight, and the agent you find to help you, there’s a chance the only cost involved will be lost time.”
Of course, our condolences if you get stuck with the ticket agent or customer service rep that’s having as bad a day as you and won’t help. Or can’t.
“Being extra nice to the agent sometimes helps, but increasingly these days, they don’t have the authority to override the computer,” says Cindy Richards, editor of travelingmom.com.
And what if your bags made the flight but you didn’t? “Ask the customer service agent what will happen. Your suitcase may be waiting for you when you finally arrive at your destination,” says Richards. “Or it may be taken off the plane because of security concerns.”
That’s why Richards always packs a light carry-on. “You have the flexibility to change flights, carriers, even destination airports (Midway vs. O’Hare, JFK vs. Laguardia) if it will get you where you need to be faster. If you have checked a bag, you are stuck with that carrier and that destination airport if you want to be reunited with your bag.”
Finally, she says to consider buying trip insurance. “Depending on your plan and the cause for your delay and missed flight, it may reimburse you for those extra costs.”
If all else fails, be nice. It might not necessarily get you where you need to go, but at least you’ll have made your grandmother proud.