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US airlines missing connecting flights

What did you do when your domestic flight was delayed hours? You clearly missed your connecting international flight, right? What did you do?

Posted by
16878 posts

I've luckily not had that experience. When possible, I prefer to book my flights with the international leg first, since Seattle has several nonstop options to northern Europe, and then the intra-European leg usually has more frequent alternate departures. But any connection booked all on one ticket with partner airlines should ultimately be the airline's responsibility to get you onto the next available flight, whenever that may be.

Posted by
6866 posts

Never has happened to me. Usually , I fly ahead to the US city where my international flights leave from , stay overnight, but I have flown to ORD to switch planes for Europe without any issues.

Posted by
21347 posts

If two separate tickets, your screwed. If one ticket they have a responsibility of getting you on the next flight. But if it is only one flight a day, then may wait or day or two. It is very inconvenient. And, as others are saying, we always go a day early just to make sure. Until two years we never had a problem with serious delay and then we had two planes in a row cancelled because of mechanical problems. We were three days late getting to Europe. It was a big mess.

Posted by
95 posts

We missed our connecting Delta flight in Detroit last May when we went to France. Delta booked us on an Air France flight leaving a couple of hours later. The bad thing is that we had Economy Comfort seats on Delta but Air France doesn’t have anything comparable. My DH is 6’6 so that was a miserable overnight flight with the person in front of him reclining back into his knees the whole way. Those extra 4 inches of legroom make a TON of difference for him.

Posted by
4568 posts

While I haven’t missed a connection in the U.S., I have missed connections multiple times in Europe and I have also arrived at the airport in the U.S. to find my flight had been cancelled. The process is the same.

Basically, you go to the agent in the airport and they rebook you. It helps to know what other flights might be available as agents generally try to book you on their own airline which may or may not be the first and most direct flight available. That way, if the airline says, ”I can get you on the United flight leaving at 10pm connecting in London, You can ask, ”What about the nonstop flight on Lufthansa leaving at 9pm? This assumes that you are on one ticket. If you buy separate tickets and your first flight is late, then it is your problem.

An alternative to rebooking through the agent in the airport is a phone call to the airline’s customer service. You can do this when the line for the agent to rebook is long which happens when an entire flight is canceled. It helps to have a smart phone with you.

Posted by
947 posts

If you booked travel on one ticket and your original flight was delayed, the airline must do its best to get you to your next destination as soon as practicable. You can speed this up by going online or on phone to see what else is available, as your airline may not offer you the best of choices. When this happened to us years ago in Chicago we talked directly to an agent and were able to get the last two seats on a flight from a different airline. All we had to do was run across the airport, as the plane was boarding already. Our luggage caught up to us the next day, but we made it to Europe nearly as soon as originally scheduled. Since then I have always booked our flights so that the initial leg got us to Europe, since there are more intra-European flights available there than there are trans-Atlantic flights here.

Posted by
646 posts


I have had this happen several times. You will need to contact the airline re-booking agents. I prefer to have American Airlines on speed dial and re-book that way. This doesn't always work out very quickly if weather has delayed a bunch of flights and there are many calls. Sometimes you have to use the re-booking phone in the airport. If a whole flight has been canceled, the airline will automatically try to book you on the next day's flight. Instead of lining up to see the agent at the desk, I use my cell phone to call AA rebooking and try to get a flight out sooner. They have to sometimes override the system to do this - but most of the Airlines agents (at least I have had good luck with AA) will be helpful in trying to get you to your destination. I had a flight cancel to Zurich out of NYC last summer. The system booked us for 24 hours later. I called AA and got a flight the next morning out of JFK for London and then transferred to Zurich on BA. The agent had to override the automatic re-booking. Just have your airline re-booking contact in your phone ready for when this happens.

Posted by
6570 posts

Doc: That's what makes the British Airways flight from BNA to LHR attractive--even if the price is a little high. If you had to stay a night in a hotel, you still may come out ahead. Price is not always the best value.
Another alternative is to book an outgoing flight to a city with numerous backup flights after your original flight. We've been flying out of Orlando on Norwegian Air Shuttle really cheap, and Southwest can get you there. The NYC area Norwegian flights are supported by many flights going into JFK and Newark. (We last flew Norwegian into Stewart International (SWF) an hour north of NYC and caught a bus into The Apple.)

Posted by
7817 posts

Is this a hypothetical question about a concern for future travel, or has this occurred to you and you want to know how others dealt with the situation?

Posted by
950 posts

First, before leaving for a trip, I make a list of flights that I would find acceptable if I miss a flight and need to be rescheduled. To me, this is just part of my trip planning. Second, call the airline whose flight caused the delay. For instance, you bought a ticket from United, but it's a Lufthansa flight (ie, the plane that was supposed to fly but didn't says "Lufthansa" on the side) you would call Lufthansa, not United. Have all the phone numbers for all the airlines you'll be flying, numbers you can call both from the US and from wherever you are travelling to. Have your flight list ready when you call. The process goes much, much faster if you can feed flights to the phone agent, instead of having them search for alternatives for you. Third, be patient and calm. The phone agents get yelled at all the time, and a calm demeanor goes a long way. I have had success with the above.

Posted by
661 posts

I appreciate you starting this thread and I have learned alot.
I fly out of SFO usually on United and experience delays frequently. For my connection time, I try to leave at least 2 hours for connecting (depending upon the airport) and that has usually works. For our flight in late May this year, our plane was delay almost two hours and we made up some time in the area and then couldn't get a jet bridge, left us only 30 minutes to board our flight, but we made it.

For flight delays, the best thing to do is to get on your airline app and look at the next flight. If I am on the plane and I know I will miss my connection, I will pay for wifi to make sure I have my ticket rebooked the way I want it, not just to be rebooked on what is most convenient for the airline. It is helpful if you are traveling on one airline. If you are traveling on two airlines (have done that as well), then it is much more complicated to get rebooked and you will have to work with the airline on your international leg directly.


Posted by
1722 posts

I concur with Sandy about flying United out of SFO -- delays often happen that cause missed connections, and over the years the United agents have become less and less accommodating and less pleasant in helping deal with the re-arrangements. I recently had to spend more than 8 hours twiddling my thumbs at Heathrow for the next flight into Lyon, and after dickering with the United desk they changed their minds from doing nothing at all to giving me a food voucher that didn't even cover one plate of microwaved bangers-and-mash in the food hall.

Luckily a friendly person at the desk of another airline's lounge let me duck in for a shower and a reclining chair. And if their supervisor found out, it would probably get them in trouble...

Posted by
1217 posts

Two hour ground stop in Atlanta meant our VPS-ATL flight was going to arrive after our transatlantic flight was scheduled to leave. It also meant that we were one of thousands trying to get rebooked all at once. The gate agents working the flight set up two rebooking lines, one for domestic and one for international. We got to the front of the international line before I got through to Delta on my phone, and she spent 15+ minutes on the phone with one of those fourth level customer service ninjas that can force all kinds of ticket changes the first line people doesn't have computer permissions to touch. After politely declining a Florida-Atlanta-San Francisco-London-EDI rebooking, a second attempt and a willingness from Robin the ninja to change out ticket type to fully refundable coach (ie. the most expensive ticket class) we ended up with a flight up to Atlanta that night and Altlnta-Boston-AMS-EDI the following day.

We were supposed to get hotel vouchers because our VPS-ATL flight was in the system as a mechanical 'relief flight' delay (there were parts needed to fix a plane on the ground in VPS in the cargo hold) but they'd run of vouchers in Atlanta and the only place that still had rooms by the time we got to ATL was... not great. (There was a fight among the management of the local call girls in the parking lot as we were waiting for the airport shuttle the next day) We did get 10K service recovery miles each when we complained about the missing hotel vouchers and a refund for paid C+ seats that were not carried over to the new route.

But other than that, it's probably as a decent of a service recovery as you're going to get from a ground stop at a major hub during peak travel season.

Posted by
931 posts

Make sure you buy it as one ticket and they should re-book you. We try and make sure the first leg gets us onto the European continent to avoid that problem but even that doesn't always work. One time was supposed to go Chicago to Paris but the pilots were striking. Then we were booked through JFK but that flight was delayed and we would have missed our connection so ultimately went through Philly straight to Athens.

Posted by
1816 posts

Do not assume you have "clearly missed your connecting international flight" Check! I have had delays due to weather and those often affect both flights. I once landed and raced to the gate just to catch my international flight. I know at least 3 other people were on my initial plane with the same connection but they announced they were going to go get in line for rebooking and not try to make it. I checked as I got off the first flight and the international flight was still showing on the board so I hoofed it to the gate at top speed! I never saw the other's and I expect that by the time they stopped to check in with a live human they were just too late.

Posted by
676 posts

I do what Laura says; don't land in the US, land in Europe. I often fly United and they have a hub in Frankfurt. My flights have often been delayed but I try to plan for 3 hours in Frankfurt; it is boring, but I make the next flight. And just like in the US there are far more flights on the continent than between them. If worst came to worst I could take a train to where I need to go. The trains from Chicago or NYC to Europe are far less reliable ;-)

Posted by
996 posts

The first time this happened to me was a major educational experience, but a good one.

Our flight on AA was supposed to fly out of BNA (Nashville) to somewhere on the east coast where we'd change to the overseas flight. Our first flight was delayed...delayed...delayed...and I knew that we were never going to make our connection.

I saw people on their cell phones, but I was still in my early travel days and didn't know that it might be a good idea to call the airline. I did manage to snag a prime spot at the desk with a gate agent who tried to tell me to go home and fly tomorrow. She said that multiple times. I did not do that because I heard the other two gate agents helping reroute passengers on other flights.

So I stayed where I was, remained obnoxiously pleasant, and just kept repeating that I had to be in Dublin. (Final destination.)

Long story short - we made it to Dublin the next day, albeit a few hours later than we'd originally planned because I was persistent. If you suspect that you may miss a connection due to a delay, go see a gate agent or the specific airline's help desk as soon as possible. Check alternate flights on your phone. It helps to have a suggestion to make to the agent. Consider an app for your phone that advises of alternate flights if it looks like your connection is in danger. (TripIt Pro offers that service, but it does cost a subscription fee. I think there are some free apps that do something similar, but I'm drawing a blank at the moment on their names.)

Posted by
3477 posts

First of all, hope your trip is all on one ticket. If so, the airline will find you another seat on another flight. It might not be the most convenient flight, it might not get you where you want to go quickly enough, but they will get you there.

If your connection is a separate ticket, then all bets are off. This is something you really need to watch when you buy your tickets from someone other than the airline directly. You may have a confirmation from the online travel seller, but each segment may still be a separate ticket. The airline operating your connection is under no obligation to do anything for you since they will be completely unaware of how you are getting to the airport to catch their flight. You don't show up, they cancel the entire onward journey because you are a no show. You should contact them if you know you will be too late to catch the flight if you can before you leave on the first segment. If you are in the air and then learn you will be too late, that adds additional difficulty. Best bet is to pay for the onboard WiFi (if available) and go to the other airline's web site and try to see if you can adjust your connection to a later flight and then hope you arrive in time for that. Or you can throw yourself the mercy of a gate agent or ticket counter person, hope they are in a helpful mood and explain your situation. It is possible they will work something out so you don't lose your entire ticket payment.

If things really look hopeless, buy a day pass to the club for the airline your international flight is on. They have ticketing agents in the clubs that have higher lever of override authority than most of those you find at the regular ticket counters. They can work miracles.

What the airline I fly most often has done for me a couple times when it looked like I would be delayed on my first segment is place me on priority standby for several of their onward flights the had availability. This meant I was at the top of the list for standby on the other flights for the cabin I paid for and would be guaranteed a spot on the first of those flights I would arrive in time for. The first time, it wan't needed due to delays of the inbound international flights that made my originally scheduled flight late enough that I didn't miss it. The second time, the airline already had a boarding pass ready for me when I arrived at the connecting airport for a flight that ended up leaving earlier than my original connecting flight did (it was also delayed) on another airline in a much better class. It sometimes helps to have a higher level of frequent flyer status and be on a cash paid ticket (not mile redemption).

Posted by
8659 posts

Are you still concerned about your 45 minute connection time in Dulles on United? Or did it happen already? (Can't remember when you are set to travel!)

It IS better to get ideas ahead so you'll know what to expect if this happens to you. Fortunately it looks like you booked thru the airline website and everything is all on one ticket so you'll be covered and United will re-ticket you.

This is also a reason that some take a very hard look at booking the Low Cost Carriers that only have a flight or two a week and no backup fleet. If it's leaving from your home base maybe not so bad, otherwise might be a pain.

Posted by
7817 posts

Looking at Doc's other posts he leaves on 9-30.

Thus to this point this has been a discussion of a future event that may or may not happen.

The good advice already given, have a back up plan and know what other flights there are seems to be most relevant.

A prayer for good weather and efficient mechanics would not hurt. That is about all you can do.

Posted by
113 posts

Thank you all for your comments.
Yes, my tickets were purchased all as one round trip. I've looked into what other airlines fly to Dulles from Nashville and it appears that only American has direct non-stop flights. I appreciate the tips.
It seems that the real problem will be earlier flights to Nashville coming from the East coast airports. Hurricane season is now.
It's always something.
I think I'll lean on my Irish luck and say some prayers.

Posted by
2775 posts

What do you mean by rebooking agent? Do you mean customer service or is there a specific line? And if you are rebooking via wifi while on the late flight, how do they know not to charge you? Or do you work that out later? I've never had this happen as I fly out of Boston and stay over night at Heathrow, and if happening on the way home, it usually would just mean more vacation. However, it could happen to me domestically or on an international trip flying west. And never say never...

Posted by
3477 posts

Nothing I stated in my earlier response about rebooking a connecting fight on a different airline or ticket was meant to indicate you would not be charged for the change. The only time you are guaranteed not to be charged if your flight is late for a connection is if it is on the same airline and same ticket, and most of those will automatically put you on the next available flight and all you need to do is pick up the new boarding pass if that flight is acceptable to you. I was only suggesting ways to prevent the total loss of your ticket when you know you will be late and the connection is not on the same airline/ticket.

That said, some airlines allow you to change your reservation to a different flight on the same day without charge when there is space available. You will have to verify with the airline if they allow that.

There is no separate rebooking agent you can call. It is the same phone line as any other ticketing issue.

I never fly anywhere domestically with connections (one of the benefits of living at a hub or Southwest Airlines major airport), only connect when there is an international segment involved.