Home Tips and Tricks What To Do When You Might Miss Your Connecting Flight

What To Do When You Might Miss Your Connecting Flight

by joeheg

While missing a connecting flight has always been near the top of nightmares for travelers, the problems associated with them have only been accentuated because of COVID-19.  Before the pandemic, there were probably several options to get you from point A to point B. However, many issues have led to cascading delays and cancellations with airlines not having a way to get you to your destination until the next day, or sometimes longer, if you miss your connection.

You do everything in your power to prevent it from happening. You make sure to get to the airport extra early because of the delays at check-in and security. You finally get to your gate and find a seat, preferably near a power plug (and not one of these). You hope there aren’t any yelling children around or adults talking with their phone on speaker. You start reading your book on your Kindle or watch some cute video of cats on your phone to pass the time. When it’s almost boarding time for your flight, there’s one small HUGE problem – there’s no plane at the gate. You think, “There’s no way we’re leaving on time, but if we were delayed, wouldn’t the airline tell us?” Well, not necessarily.

The dread of knowing you only have 90 minutes to make your connecting flight and who knows how long you’re going to be delayed sets in. You’d stand at the counter to ask one of the employees, but you notice the line is already 15 people deep with fellow travelers who already had the same thoughts as you. If you’re waiting for the airline to let you know about a delay, you’re already WAY BEHIND THE CURVE.

Being prepared for a travel delay or cancellation is just like getting ready for a snowstorm, hurricane, or pandemic shortage. You don’t want to be the person rushing to the store at the last minute to stock up on milk, bread, water, toilet paper (and possibly alcohol) and all you find are empty shelves. You need to be prepared ahead of time. This means having several essential travel apps ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Here are things you can do when your flight is delayed or canceled that will, hopefully, help you get to your destination:

Be Prepared

The first thing to do is check on your flight status before you leave for the airport. There are many ways to do this but the easiest is to use the airline’s app for your phone. I’d suggest downloading this before you leave. It’s easier if you have your frequent flyer account set up in the app, but it’s not necessary to just check on flight status.

For the rest of this example, I’ll use a pre-COVID flight we were scheduled to be on from Charlotte to Orlando.  While the flights happened a while ago, the ways to keep yourself prepared haven’t changed.

We were flying on Delta and had a 90-minute connection in Atlanta. Everything looked fine until we got to the airport – that’s when things started to go sideways.

Keep Yourself Informed

Because we weren’t checking bags, we went right to security and then to our gate. When we settled down in our seats, I pulled out my phone to check our flight status using one of my favorite iPhone travel apps, FlightAware.

Using the app, it’s super easy to check your flight’s status. What I find really useful is the button on the top of the screen that says “Where is my plane right now?” With this, you can track your inbound plane (the plane you will be getting on) as it flies to your airport. This was not what I wanted to see while I was seated at Charlotte Airport (CLT).  (Note: these screenshots are from after the flight)

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 4.49.17 PM

So while the plane left on time, Charlotte’s new arrival time was 5:14 PM because of the weather. Considering that our plane was supposed to leave at 5:15 PM, I knew we would be delayed. We had a 90-minute layover in Atlanta so even with a 45-minute delay we should still make our next flight, albeit with a dash through the airport. Around 4:45 PM, the posted boarding time, I received a text message from Delta telling me the flight was delayed (I knew this about 15 minutes before; I had checked on my app). Shortly after that, the Delta agents announced our plane would be delayed (as if the concert of phone messages a minute before wasn’t enough) and our new departure time would be around 6:00 PM. They asked anyone with connecting flights leaving Atlanta before 7:30 PM to approach the counter so they could work to accommodate them on different flights. This was a proactive move that I don’t often see and kudos to the Delta agents for this.

Don’t Paint Yourself Into A Corner

I try never to book the last flight of the night and I did remember there was at least one, or maybe two, flights from Atlanta to Orlando after the one we were scheduled to be on. I figured if we missed our connection we could make it onto one of those flights.

I next checked the status of our incoming connecting flight. Sometimes all flights are running late and you have nothing to worry about if you arrive late, because everyone else is, too. No such luck there.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 5.09.52 PM

Our inbound flight was on time and even arrived early. The bad weather was all by us.

It looked like our connecting flight would be leaving on time whether we were on it or not. Not much I could do right now. It looked like we would be fine but I was still ready.

Everything went in order (as much as these things can during a flight delay) until we boarded our plane in Charlotte. It started off fine – everyone had managed to get into their seats and get all their carry-on baggage stowed. But that’s when the captain thanked us for our patience and informed us we were on a ground hold. In short, we were all ready to go but didn’t have the clearance from Air Traffic Control to leave. The weather was still not great in Charlotte and we had to wait about 15 minutes to be cleared to fly.

Keep Informed

We eventually were cleared to take off at 6 PM. With the additional delay, we’d be at a real risk of missing our connecting flight.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 4.25.39 PM

That storm just wasn’t cooperating with our travel plans!

When we hit cruising altitude, the captain told us that despite his attempt to make up some time, he couldn’t do much on a short flight since we were flying into a strong headwind. I was fortunate that the Delta plane we were on had Wi-Fi. This meant that as soon as we were over 10,000 feet, I could start looking for options.  If the aircraft weren’t Wi-Fi-enabled, I would have been working on options the second we landed and could turn off airplane mode on my phone.

Know Your Options

I spent almost the entire flight figuring out our options. Knowing that sometimes you can use the official app on the Wi-Fi for free, I was able to do most of what I wanted with just Delta’s app but I would have gladly paid for Wi-Fi access if I needed to; it would be a small price to pay if it helped me get home that evening. When I opened the Delta app on my phone, I immediately received a pop-up box offering to re-book me on different flights because of my delay. I thought this was a fantastic feature until I was shown the options, all of which were for flights the next day. Staying overnight in Atlanta wasn’t the preferred outcome, so I kept looking. I used the app to search flights leaving Atlanta that night. Neither of the later flights to Orlando showed up (I guess they were all sold out) but there was a flight from Atlanta to Tampa leaving later that night. I filed that away in my head, as it’s only about an hour’s drive and if need be, we could rent a car or even Uber back to Orlando.

The Delta App had another excellent feature that showed how to get from your arriving flight to your departing flight. It provided step-by-step directions with an approximate time. We were departing from different yet adjacent terminals. So we’d have to get from our plane to the underground train over to the next terminal, then to the gate. It was estimated at 10 minutes. I knew exactly how to get there, so there would be no wasted time.

Here was my plan for when we landed:

  1. Sprint Walk as fast as we could to the gate and hope we make the connection.
  2. If we missed the flight, find the nearest Delta Sky Club and see if they could get us on stand by for any other flights that night to Orlando or even Tampa, since the agents who work there tend to be the most knowledgeable for solving problems. (I had access to the Sky Club at the time with the American Express Platinum Card.)
  3. If there were no flights that night, find a hotel near the airport so we can get some sleep before having to fly out at 6 AM the next morning (and keep my receipts to make a claim with my credit card travel delay coverage).

Follow Your Plan (And Know Your Travel Buddy)

While we waited for what felt like forever for our fellow travelers to gather their belongings and leave the plane, we confirmed our plan. We pulled our bags from the overhead and were on our way. Off the plane, onto the jetway, into the terminal. Left turn. Find an escalator to train. Walk down the escalator to the train and the train doors close.
@!#?@! Sorry not sorry for the Q*Bert reference.

Quick decision: should we walk it? I looked up and it said, “NEXT TRAIN 50 seconds” That was the longest 50 seconds in history. On the train. Off the train. Up the escalator, walking up (no time to waste), walk the 4 minutes to gate A5.

At this point, I realized that no matter how hard Sharon tried to keep up with me, my long legs would get me to the gate before her. Using that to my advantage, I just went, jogging the rest of the way to the gate. A11, A9, A7,  The door is still open and people are there! Breathe, breathe. Almost There! A5!

Me: Can we still get on the plane?????

Delta Agent: Sure. Where are you coming from?

Me: Charlotte! Gate B18! (breath). My wife is right behind me. Wait a sec.

Delta Agent: Oh, the way you’re huffing there, I figured you were coming from the E Gates.

Forgive me for not laughing at her airplane terminal humor at the time as I still was catching my breath and looking for Sharon. She finally arrived, and we were allowed onto the plane after having to gate check our carry on bags because we were told the overhead bins were full (they weren’t, but we weren’t in the mood to argue).

We spent the next 10 minutes catching our breath (and the next 10 trying not to heave from the guy in our row spitting the juice from his chewing tobacco into a Gatorade bottle he brought with him for just such a purpose. Reminder, please don’t be this guy or gal on the plane). In all, we were grateful we could make it home on time with no further problems.

Final Thoughts

To be prepared for delays, it helps if you have these things:

  • Your smartphone (fully charged)
  • The app of the airline you’re flying with is installed on your phone.
  • FlightAware

With these tools, you should be able to stay ahead of most other travelers. That means you’ll have a greater chance to get to your destination with a minimum of inconvenience.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Our Weekly Recap 5/28/17 – 6/3/17 – Your Mileage May Vary June 3, 2017 - 9:03 am

[…] you can do if you think you may miss your connecting flight. Joe totally saved the day for us a couple of weeks ago when we were delayed because of […]

Daaaaar June 3, 2017 - 2:09 pm

Excellent points. Another way to do this would be to call reservations as soon aa you see a delay, tell them you will misconnect due to the delay, and have them rebook you on the later flight if you don’t want to rush. Even if they may hesitate, for whatever reason, they will normally take care of for you, and there will be no charge.

joeheg June 4, 2017 - 1:41 pm

Good point. If there isn’t a lounge at the airport you’re stuck at (or you don’t want to pay to get into one), calling is the next best thing. If you misconnect, I’d say to call right when you land and then head for the desk when you get off the plane. You can stay on hold while you’re on line and you have two chances to talk with someone.

Pamela Mohiuddin November 9, 2018 - 8:45 am

Great advice here. Will install the Apps as we have a Delta flight to Europe in April and a cruise to follow so we don’t want miss anything!

Airline Passengers' Rights - What You Need To Know - Your Mileage May Vary April 22, 2019 - 6:05 pm

[…] NOTE: If you have a connecting flight and might miss it because of a delay with your original flight, this post might be able to give you some advice. […]

Irina January 10, 2020 - 9:57 pm

That’s funny, this story is quite similar to what happened to me, also in Atlanta, only that I didn’t make it. Arrived 2 minutes after the doors closed. Went to the customer service desk and they already had me booked for first thing in the morning. That wasn’t good, I’d miss my next connection in Mexico City. They told me to call reservations but were having trouble themselves getting through. So I waited and started talking to the other stranded passengers, and was overheard by c.s. personnel. One of them put 2 and 2 together and realized there was a flight departing soon to my final destination, so when reservations finally answered, he personally took the call and did the arrangements. I ended up coming to my parents’ home 10 hours before arrival time… due to a delay.

02nz November 29, 2020 - 12:46 pm

I’d add: Bluetooth headset. In situations like this, I get on the phone immediately while I’m waiting in line. Most of the time I’ve gotten through more quickly by phone. That’s probably because of my frequent flier status, but always use every tool available.

Lara S. July 22, 2021 - 9:24 am

I’d also add that I have had an agent put me on a later flight and sort of hold the seat for you and if you make the connection, cancel it. I am not sure if this only works for a back up flight that is the next day or if it would work for one a few hours later. You essentially keep your original flight and get a tentative boarding pass for the later one. Now this was with United and I was a 1k and called the 1k line, so your mileage may vary.

Thanks for the article! I have a tight connection at DFW in September and I am a little worried even though I am only coming from Austin because I’ve had my plane not show up to take me due to weather somewhere else.


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