The one rule of flying, no matter where you cut your corners, is to not miss your flight. Showing up at the gate or airport shortly after your plane-mates are 5,000 meters in the sky isn’t disaster. And won’t put you out of ticket if you play your cards right. I have a lot of experience seeing planes I should be on take off, only to grab the next one without it costing an extra cent.
The key is to play the airlines and manipulate the very few regulations that work in your favor. Although these aren’t surefire methods and missing flights on a regular basis is sure to end up costing you if repeated (again, speaking from experience), they’re much more manageable than you may have guessed.
Getting The Rules Straight
Airline regulations are like asylum patients – they take time to figure out and although you would think they’re somewhat similar – end up making no sense as a whole. That said, in general, the airlines follow two lines of reasoning: if the missed flight is their fault (e.g. due to a delayed connection), or some emergency happens to you on route to the airport, they won’t penalize you for missing a flight.
- Keep in mind that timing is key. Missing a flight by any more than 4 hours gets harder and harder to explain so don’t get carried away by showing up at the airport the next day. (Although if it does happen you can still try to get on a flight; believe me, it works more often than you’d expect.)
Also, people tend to not miss flights or at least have the attitude that it’s the worst thing in the world so most airline agents aren’t expecting that their strings are being pulled. Now that you get the premise, you’ve got to bend the truth to meet the reality of the rules you’re playing by.
Remember, It Is Never Your Fault
Now that you know the rules, you can imagine that saying “I woke up late” or “I was out getting drunk the night before” aren’t going to get you a free flight for the one you just missed. Take a page from The Air Of War at the ticket counter and have your excuse ready, then keep your mouth shut more often than not. The two best roads to follow for flight misses of 2-6 hours are:
1. I Had A Flat Tire – A trick I used on many of my college professors was to wipe my hand on the side of a car tire and say I had a flat; an excuse for why I was late to an exam. While I ended up failing some of those exams, I learned a lasting lesson – that airlines and girlfriends fall for this trick too. Now, if you’re really late, try some break dust on your cheek and a switch to a complete car breakdown story.
Even if it isn’t within the rules of the airline, these tactics work because they elicit empathy from the clerk. fMRI scans show that people tend to experience more empathy when they can both visualize another person’s pain and relate an emotional experience to it. We’ve all seen cars by the side of the road (i.e. visualization) and its easy to imagine the frustration that comes from a flat tire, then missed flight. You are effectively bringing the airline clerk over to your side to help you work against the airline.
2. Say You Missed A Connecting Flight – You’re late because your connecting flight was delayed and now you’ve had a horrible layover only to arrive to a plane that has departed. The keys are to blame another airline (since the clerk will likely know their airline’s flight schedule) but keep it within the same airline partner group if possible.
This second trick tends to work best in two scenarios. The first is at busy airports, where there are enough connections and flights to make your story plausible. The second is when you’re really late as you can explain away a 6 hour absence with a gruesome layover story. Be sure to pick a connecting city that has flights to the airport and do your best to act comfortably worried.
Your Checked Luggage Isn’t Leaving Without You
For security reasons, international regulations (followed by most countries) prevent your checked luggage from departing without you. That means if you miss your flight at the airport after having checked in your bags on a previous connection, they won’t be going anywhere. In most cases, this causes a 10-20 minute delay as the airline calls your name in the airport and handlers search for your bags in the cargo hold. So if you legitimately miss a connecting flight due to a late connection and had already checked bags, you might not need to exaggerate the truth to save your airfare.