What is an airline's obligation to you...?

If you miss a connecting flight due to no fault of your own, esp. when business made for travel plan, what do you do? Especially when there is no one at the gate to ask? I’ve heard all kinds of advice, like:
a) They have to put you on a flight that night.
b) If no flight that night, they have to put you up in the same hotel they’d put their crew
c) If no flights out the next morning, they have to try other ailines.
d) The value of the unused ticket is not lost, but how to recoop the money?
e) If the airport and my destination are close enough, will my airline pay for a renatl car for me?
e) What other options are there? …Other tips to know?

If the flights are canceled or delayed they have little obligation to you.


I am not familiar with legal requirements. I do travel fairly often–a little under a hundred flights a year, usually.

As a practical rule of thumb, what happens depends on whether the reason for the missed flight was the fault of the airline or not. Bad weather; air traffic delays; airport computer failures and the like are usually not considered reasons to comp a traveler. They will, of course, try to rebook you, and normally without a change in fare.

If the airline is responsible for the delay–it was their equipment failure, for instance–they may elect to help you out. They might pay for you to take a flight on an alternate carrier, or give you hotel or meal vouchers, or give you vouchers for future flights, and so on.

It helps to be a frequent flyer–essentially a high-volume customer–but it’s not a requisite.

It will depend on the specific airline’s policy, the ticket you bought, and how tight the airline is. A major carrier may routinely do more than their policy dictates because they can afford to do so and they’d prefer you to fly with them again. A very lean budget airline on the other hand, has a business model that relies on saving money where ever possible, they’ll be far more likely to stick to their policy by the letter.

If there’s no one at the gate, or even if there is, use a kiosk or your cell phone to call the airline. The people on the phone are usually nicer and better able to help you figure something out than the ones in the airport with you.

I’m curious - is there no contractual obligation to provide the flight or a refund? I’d have thought that in the case of an equipment failure, it would be not just policy to give a refund, but required. I’m not so clear on weather and such, but I’m surprised to hear that even if it’s their fault they only comp passengers for the PR.

Each airline has a set of policies of how they deal with various circumstances, generally listed at their website. It pays to find it and print it out and bring it with you. Often the employees at the airport are too harried or uneducated to bother knowing their own rules; it behooves you to have evidence of what they have promised you…TRM

But the OP talked about missing a flight, not a flight that was canceled. I’m fairly certain that none of the things on Jinx’s list are the policy of any airline in such a case.

anecdotal evidence:

I drive a cab part time in Madison. Periodically various airlines will send passengers to Milwaukee to catch a different connecting flight (at $210/trip) Usually this is due to mechanical issues, but I’ve also seen it due to ice and fog. The only commonality among the passengers is that they are almost exclusively business travelers and/or those who raised enough hell to get the airline to help them out.

I have also seen fares on the same day going back home because they missed their flight, even as I hear other cabs (via the radio) taking some folks from the same flight to Milwaukee (or in some rare circumstances, O’Hare)

The conclusion I draw is that the airlines don’t mind taking a hit for frequent travelers, i.e. business types) and that those non-business types are savvy enough to argue their case effectively.


A lot depends on the reason for the delay. Usually in a weather-based delay you’re on your own…the will seat you on the next available flight to your destination but it may not be the same day … or even the next day…and you are responsible for extra hotel and meal charges that you incur, although I’ve been offered hotel discount vouchers and I’ve been given meal vouchers.

Last time I missed a connecting flight due to a weather delay on my first flight I was met at the gate by an agent who apologized and handed me an envelope with my new tickets for a flight later that night and a meal voucher…they didn’t have to do the meal voucher, though.

Another time I got very lucky due to the fact that the weather knocked out the radar so the “weather delay” became “equipment failure” which raised everything to a new level, we got a night at a hotel and food vouchers for the hotel restaurant. This was a nasty event that delayed lots of people on Christmas Eve during very bad weather though and although I got my rebooked connecting flight the next day, very few flights got out that day and most people weren’t so lucky. I was tipped of by the pilot of my flight who was at the same hotel that they were going to assign seats on the flights out at the airport on a first come first serve basis so I headed to the airport with the crew at 6AM and got a nice low “lottery number” which guaranteed my flight out. Most people weren’t so lucky and there was so much activity at the gate the that the local cops had to be called in.

On another weather delay they couldn’t rebook my connecting flight for 2 although I went stand-by the next day.

So they seem to always get you there but they don’t seem to be under any obligation to do it the same day or the next day.

I used to work for a company that provided a free service for the major airlines (AA, NW, UA and Delta) that found discount hotel rooms for them, whether they paid for the room or the guest did.

Basically anything that is considered an “Act of God,” the airlines will not pay for. This means weather, a 9-11 type of incident or oddly enough (in my opinion) a strike. (Yes a strike was considered an “Act of God.”)

If it is the airline’s fault they will provide for you a room, cost of transportation to and from the hotel, ONE phone call to let others know of your situation and the cost of a meal (or meals)

The thing is airlines always try to negotiate so the longer you hold out the more you can get. So they ask for volunteer so that effects your negotiations.

Here’s an example of how negotiations effect you:

Two flights going out one at 1pm and one at 5pm

Suppose the 1pm flight is overbooked and so is the 5pm. If you are on the 1pm flight you can negotiate and maybe get (in addition to the above mentioned) airline miles or even a cash voucher.

BUT supposing Mr Jones, who is on the 5pm flight happens to be at the airport at 12 noon (for some reason).

And you are on the 1pm flight. The airline says 1pm is overbooked, any volunteers. Mr Jones (on the 5pm flight) says “If you give me a room overnight at a nice hotel I’ll volunteer.” So they do it, and that frees up a space on the 5pm flight so the airline merely bumps you from 1pm to 5pm with no additonal compensation.

So you see negotiations often comes into play. In Chicago they had a Hilton hotel inside the airport and the airlines would resever that for “screamers” as they called them. Because it was so convenient, even though the airline had better rooms at the Hotel Sofitel or Embassy Suites or other luxury brands.

One thing I learned by dealing with the airlines was it’s very iffy. And it’s really hard when you book through 3rd parties like Orbitz or Priceline.

Of course if you fly first class you generally get everything paid for everything even if it is an “Act of God.”

I recall one incident I was on the phone with the gate manager at San Francisco International. And I could hear the gate agent talking to a first class passenger. And they were yelling all of a sudden the gate manager said “This passenger just paid $2000 for a ticket. Just pay for the room for God sakes.” This was a weather problem the airline wouldn’t pay for if it was anything but a first class passenger.

So there is no definate answer.

Try again. Overbooking is a different scenario which is goverend by Dept. of Transportation regulations.

In the EU you are much more likely to get compensation as it is government regulated.

It can also depend on your “value” to the airline. When I was a top-tier frequent flyer with American (Executive Platinum status) I missed a connection in LAX due to a weather delay out of London Heathrow. I was also on a Business Class ticket which I had upgraded to First using a systemwide upgrade from AA.

I was offered a coach flight on a United red-eye or a First Class flight on American the next day.

I opted for the American flight, and technically I was on my own with regards to accommodation. Practically though, they booked me into the Crowne Plaza LAX and gave me dinner and breakfast vouchers. The next morning they let me access the Flagship Lounge (AA’s First Class lounge) at LAX even though, again, I was not entitled to because I was not on a same-day international connection.