Missed Connections & Cancellations

When Things Go Wrong

Flight delays and cancellations are an unfortunate part of the aviation industry and happen every day around the world. If you travel frequently the chances are you will miss a flight connection or find yourself stranded at some point. This is never fun but there are some things that you can do to try and make it a more pleasant experience and increase your chances of getting a good resolution.

The following information outlines the course of action that you should take if you find yourself stuck.

1. How to Make Your Flight Connection

If you do have to change planes en route to your destination there is always a chance that your initial flight could be delayed forcing you to miss the connecting flight. This sucks so here are some things you can do to help avoid the situation.

Waiting for a flight
Waiting for a flight

Don’t check your bag

Some airports (eg. LAX) require that you re-check your luggage, wasting valuable time. If you can travel with a carry-on bag only you are guaranteed to arrive with your belongings no matter how tight the connection. Traveling light will also make you faster between gates.

Check-in online

This may sound basic but you would be surprised how many people wait until they arrive at the airport to check-in. If you have a connecting flight on a different airline you will not be able to check-in for that flight at your origin airport (unless it has an interline agreement). By checking in online you avoid wasting valuable time checking in during your stopover.

Tell staff if your connection is tight

If your flight is delayed or you think that it might be a push making your connection, talk to an airline representative. They will usually tag your bags so the baggage handlers know to take them off first. Some will even arrange for a motorized cart to transport you between gates.

Don’t book flights with tight connections

While this may seem obvious, for larger airports it can be difficult to know if you have left yourself enough time to transfer between flights. Let’s face it, the plane could change gates leaving you further from your next flight than expected. Always allow between 30mins – 1-hour additional time where possible.

Sign up for text or email alerts

If you are booking your flights online there is usually an option to register for text and email alerts. This will let you know if your gate changes, if your flight is delayed, or any other important information.

2. Interline vs Offline Connections

You may not have heard either of these terms before but they are crucial in determining what happens in the event of a flight cancellation or delay resulting in a missed connection.

What is an Interline Connection?

Interline connections are when you have a flight connection between two airlines that have an interline agreement. These are often part of the same network or codesharing program but not always.

Example 1: London to Sydney with Singapore Airlines via Singapore

Example flight connection

Example 2: London to Sydney with Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia via Singapore and Brisbane

Example Flight Connection

What is an Offline Connection?

Offline connections are when you are changing planes between two (non-affiliated) flights. Generally, this issue comes about when you are booking two separate tickets, perhaps an internal flight following an international flight or when flying with low-cost carriers.

Example 3: London to Kuala Lumpur with Cathay Airlines on one ticket and Kuala Lumpur to Sydney with Air Asia on another ticket.

Example flight Connection

Why does this matter?

With an interline transfer, the airlines MUST accommodate you in the case of a flight delay, reschedule or cancellation. Unfortunately, with offline transfers, the airlines are under no obligation to do so. That being said there are some airlines that will make efforts to assist stranded passengers but this is more an exception than a rule. Looking at the examples above.

In Example 1 if the originating flight from London to Singapore was delayed or canceled Singapore Air is required to rebook you onto a new connection for the following flight(s) or provide compensation.

In Example 2 if the flight from Singapore to Brisbane was delayed or canceled forcing you to miss the Virgin Australia flight, you would still be rebooked to a new flight and offered compensation because Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines have an interline agreement.

In Example 3 however, the flights were booked separately on different tickets also Cathay and Air Asia do not have an interline agreement. Therefore, if either of the Cathay flights is delayed forcing you to miss your Air Asia flight the airline has no responsibility to rebook you or offer compensation. You could end up having to purchase an entirely new ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney.

3. Steps to Take if Your Flight is Delayed or Cancelled

When dealing with the airline staff it is important to remember that they may be under a lot of pressure from passengers. Stay calm and don’t get confrontational, nobody wants to deal with an angry person yelling in their face. You are much more likely to get a better resolution by remaining calm and rational.

Step 1

Politely ask the airline staff for recommendations on what options you have. Kindly ask them to do everything they can to change to an available route.

Step 2

If you are a frequent flyer it is worth mentioning this (especially if you are a premier status member) as the airline will typically prioritize you.

Step 3

If you are on a tight schedule – tell them that you would like the fastest/earliest option available and would be willing to travel on any airline or via any hub city if it results in an earlier arrival at your destination.

Step 4

Ask if there are any flights to nearby airports. For example, if your flight destination is JFK airport in New York, you could see if there are any flights into La Guardia or Newark.

Step 5

If you don’t have a confirmed seat, see if another passenger with a confirmed seat is willing to switch with you.

Step 6

Finally, take a look into what your travel insurance or credit card offers for flight delays or cancellations as there is often some form of coverage available. More details are below…

Overall be patient, if there is nothing available then there is no point stressing about it – simply control what you can control.

The silver lining

There is often a silver lining for some travelers. If you are flexible with your flight schedule there are often times when the airline will offer an airline credit so they can accommodate stranded passengers. These can range anywhere from $100 – $800 or more depending on the carrier. Flexibility is the key here, so if you don’t have a fixed plan and can afford to arrive later – TAKE THE DEAL!

4. What Am I Covered For?

An example of some of the compensation you may be entitled to includes: meal and drink vouchers, accommodation (for next day flights), shuttle transfers, and even additional credit towards a new flight etc.

Unfortunately, there is no overall set of rules when it comes to compensation. Each airline will have its own set of guidelines when it comes to the way they deal with delays, cancellations, and missed connections so it is essential that you check with each airline directly on their site.

Remember: Compensation for missed connections ONLY applies to interlining airlines.

Additional considerations

Is your delay over 24 hours? You will probably require a change of clothes. This is generally covered under your insurance policy but we always suggest you pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag just in case.

Read more here – Why You Need Travel Insurance.

5. Other Resources

Air Help is a website that will do the work for you to claim a refund on delayed or canceled flights*. For a small fee (which is only paid if you get a refund) they will deal with the hassle and frustration that comes with dealing with the claims department.

* currently only available in the United States and Western Europe

Flight Aware provides a live tracker showing flight delays and cancellations for airports around the world. Simply enter the airport you wish to view.

Share this:

More Backpacker 101 Guides you might enjoy

backpacker travel logo