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.
[book photo by Horia Varlan, ‘sorry’ in the sky by butupa]
And this stuff actually works? I watch these airline programs on television, and it seems no amount of grovelling gets anybody what they want. This is with cheap airlines though. I must remember these rules as I fear they could come in handy one day. Great post, thank you
It absolutely does – the difference is you don’t grovel. They key is the story you give and how you deliver the message 😉
Ha! Sneaky but great tips! I can’t see many airlines going for the first one. But the second one seems a lot more likely.
It’s kind of “these are not the Droids you’re looking for” type stuff, but could see it working if, as you say, you deliver it confidently.
Of the two, I’d say that the second one is a bit trickier. The magic of brake dust I guess 😉
Definitely some Jedi mind tricks at work though…or well, using the dark side of the force.
My friend was just asking me about this exact thing the other day! My favorite is:
“I went to the wrong airport and had to take a cab over here as fast as possible!” (only works in places like DC and NY with two major airports near each other)
If possible it helps to check in beforehand so you can also claim to have been in the airport but stuck at security, in the bathroom, trying to find your gate, etc.
haha, never tried that one before but will keep it in my back pocket in case of emergency 🙂
I’ve blagged a couple of airline flights before..
One time I was sleeping on a bench and the alarm on my phone didnt wake me up.
I had 10 mins to my flight take off. I ran to the checkin place but theyd stoppped letting people in for my flight a long time before.
So I ran to the customer helpdesk.. I thought ‘Ship, what am I going to say to blagg this one?’ There were a few people infront of me , they were genuine, they had missed there flight as the lines were long and they were at the back waiting and the checkin closed (many airlines use the same checkin place for multiple flights now)
I listened to their genuine story and said exactly the same one “Look, I was here an hour ago, but was stuck in this line.. its ridiculos…” the lady apologised and put me on the next flight..
I was flying to Nice from London. Unfortunatley my mate was waiting for me in Nice and he had no mobile phone so I couldnt warn him and he was pissed off waiting for me for 4 hours..
I dont think the excuse ‘I missed my connection’ would work well, wont they just ask to see the ticket?
I like the tyre excuse tho.
It’s tough when you can call ahead of time, even when your flight is delayed quite a bit. Hope your friend has since forgiven you 😉
With I missed my connection works much better if you blame another airline, I haven’t had a problem with that tactic.
I actually used the “flat tire rule” one time – worked like a charm. Great tips, Anil!
It’s funny the lessons the road teaches you…sometimes, literally 🙂
I missed my flight one day because I was stuck in traffic on the way to the airport due to a car accident. It didn’t work for me though as i had to pay for another airline ticket 🙁
I can’t believe it – if any one deserved some sympathy – you were telling the truth!
The flat tire one is genius! I’m going to remember that, as I’ve had 2 very close calls in the past year.
Be careful, once you miss one flight and get away with it…missing flights becomes all too easy!
Sneaky! The flat tire rule is golden, works in so many situations! 🙂 PS: I used a corollary “my bike chain slipped over and over” for an exam, I rubbed some fingers on the chain and showed the grease as evidence.
LOL, exam hacking 101!
I know this post is a bit old, but I used to work for a major airline in the states and I wanted to add a bit of my knowledge.
FTR – Flat Tire Rule, still works, though the excuse may only warrant a spot on the standby list. Which isn’t always bad, as long as it’s not a holiday, then you’re probably screwed. This really depends on how much of a dick the agent is, unless you’re the one being the dick, then you’ll probably pay full fare, hah.
You’re correct that you should never admit fault, though this should only be done if you’re NOT connecting through the same airline. As they can see that you had 3 hours connection time – or no connecting flight at all – and you probably screwed up yourself.
It’s actually better to say your missed connection is due to another airline’s fault, one that is NOT a part of their network. This helps to play on Airline vs Airline rivalries. Take UA vs AA for example. Running up to the gate and then telling the agent “I’m sorry(get on their good side right off the bat), I was coming from United, we were delayed X hours!” .. to which the AA Agent will probably remark something about United always being late or some other bullshit. You’ll be rebooked on a new flight in no time.
I was a gate agent for 5+ years, for a major airline out of a major hub. I’ve heard all the excuses you can think of. Just be sincere – whether it’s bs or not – and you will be taking care of. Kindness goes along way in an industry where the employees are usually treated like shit & make next to nothing.
Even the older posts need a little comment love from time to time 🙂 I appreciate the insight from your experience!