It can be hard to know whether your airline will pay out or arrange a free ticket if you miss your flight. Make sure you know your rights
It won’t happen to me. That’s what I always thought, but I’ve just done it for the first time – I’ve missed my flight home from Nice in France.
Before you assume I was overindulging at the airport bar and lost track of time, or cut it too fine dashing from the beach to the airport, I should point out that I missed my flight owing to an airport security alert. This meant I was stranded outside the airport for around 45 minutes with a whole heap of other travellers.
Once we were finally allowed in, we were faced with huge queues at both security and passport control, and with no airport or airline representatives to help, by the time I reached the gate, my flight to Luton had already gone.
What happens if your plane leaves without you?
In my case, my carrier, easyJet, did give me a free ticket for the next flight, but that was after I’d been escorted back through passport control (feeling like a naughty child) to the customer service desk in the main ticket hall.
The downside was a seven-hour wait for the next flight home, but, because I’d missed my flight owing to a security alert, there was no charge to change my ticket.
Of course, I’m not the only passenger to miss a flight. I’ve been on planes where tardy travellers have had bags thrown off because, post check-in, they never arrived at the gate. But motorway jams, train delays or getting lost in the airport can all mean you miss your plane, so what can you do if you still want to fly?
Will your airline help?
Unless it’s the airline’s fault you’ve missed your flight, you can’t expect a free replacement ticket.
“Airlines have different rules on this,” says Emma Grimster, a spokesperson at comparison site TravelSupermarket. “With some, you’ll lose your money completely if you miss your flight, while with others you can get on an alternative flight for a fee or pay the difference for a new ticket.”
It’s always worth pleading your case for a free ticket, which is usually at the airline’s discretion. However most airlines have strict policies on ticket changes if you still want to fly.
For example, Ryanair charges a £100 missed-departure fee to book you on the next available flight – providing you arrive at the ticket desk within one hour of your flight departure.
With easyJet, meanwhile, there’s a £90 fee to rebook (providing you arrive within two hours of your departure time). However, in exceptional circumstances, such as an airport being closed for a security alert, they can waive the charges – as was the case when I missed my flight.
Other airlines, such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, may rebook your flight for free, providing there’s a genuine reason you’re late to the airport, such as a major motorway incident – and you may need to provide proof of this.
What happens if your holiday company lets you down?
You’re responsible for getting to the airport on the way out, but with package holidays, it’s usually up to the tour operator to get you to the airport for your flight home.
“If you miss a return flight because your tour operator’s transfer doesn’t get you to the airport on time, then it’s their responsibility to get you on to the next flight,” says Ms Grimster.
And this runs to the cost of putting you up overnight if there are no more flights that day.
Can you claim on your travel insurance?
If you’ve had to pay a penalty fee, buy a new ticket or even book a hotel for the night if you’ve missed the last flight, you may be able to claim these costs back on your travel policy. ‘Missed departure cover’ is the section to look for, and limits typically range from £250 to around £1,500.
“Most single trip policies include cover as standard,” says Brian Brown, head of insight at independent financial information business Defaqto. “However, some insurers are now making their policies more complicated and including missed departure cover as an optional add-on or upgrade.”
Both Aviva and Direct Line include missed departure cover as standard, but with Co-op and LV= it’s only included with their more expensive top-of-the-range policies. Maximum policy payouts vary, too: with Co-op it’s £500, it’s £600 with Direct Line, and up to £1,000 with both Aviva and LV=.
Most will pay out if you missed a flight owing to delays caused by public transport, breaking down on the way to the airport, traffic jams or road closures, but most policies’ small print states that you’ll need to provide evidence to back up any claim.
Blame a claim on heavy traffic or road closures and Direct Line will want proof that the incident was reported on a “recognised motor-association website, or news bulletin, or in the press”.
The Co-op travel policy states that if your car breaks down, you’ll need to show your vehicle was “properly serviced and maintained and that any recovery or repair was made by a recognised breakdown organisation”.
Tough luck if it’s your fault
With all policies, if the delay’s your fault, insurers won’t pay up.
So, if you oversleep, run out of fuel, forget your passport and have to dash home or spend too long indulging in the airport shops and bars, you’ll have to cover any extra costs yourself.
If you book a long-haul ticket and one leg of the trip is delayed, which means you miss your connection, you may be able to claim from the ‘delayed’ airline.
“If you booked a single ticket for the two connecting flights, it’s the airline’s responsibility to sort your seat on the second leg of the journey,” says Emma Grimster of TravelSupermarket.
“However, if you booked two separate tickets, while you may be due compensation for the delay on the first leg, it would be up to the passenger to arrange a new flight.”
SUE HAYWARD is a leading expert on money-saving and consumer issues and is the author of How To Get The Best Deal