What Happens If You Miss Your Connecting Flight?

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There's nothing that gets a traveler's heart racing like the impeding doom of missing a connecting flight. We've all been there: wildly sprinting through the airport terminal, hoping against hope that the boarding door hasn’t closed yet. Then, the worst feeling of them all: finding the door closed shut but the plane still there—and you're not allowed on it.

At some point, every flier misses a connection, whether it’s due to airline delays, storms, or planning a layover that was just too tight. While it can certainly throw a wrench in your travel plans, there are certain strategies that will get your itinerary back on track as quickly as possible.

For anyone who finds themselves in this unfortunate, but common, travel ordeal, see below for our complete guide on what to do when you miss an airline connection.

What to do if you miss a connecting flight

First, don’t panic. Missing a connection is a fairly routine occurrence in the air travel system, and airlines are equipped to help you get back on track.

In most cases, US airlines will put you on the next available flight for free. (Even some ultra-low-cost carriers, like Spirit and Allegiant, will rebook you on the next flight for free if the missed connection is due to a flight delay.) Sometimes the rebooking process is totally automated, and you may get a text or airline app notification telling you you’re on a new flight. But that’s not something fliers can bank on. “Airlines will try to rebook travelers automatically, but it doesn't always work,” says Brett Snyder, president of Cranky Concierge, an airline assistance firm. “If there are no obvious flights available, or if the travel involves multiple airlines, it can be much harder for the airlines to auto-rebook people. And even if they do auto-rebook, it may not be an option that's acceptable to the traveler.”

If an airline can’t rebook you automatically—or you don’t like the flight you’ve been placed on—you’ll have to speak to a customer service agent either in person at the airport, on the phone, or online. Head to a customer service kiosk in the terminal or call your airline’s customer service number. “Try everything,” Snyder says. “Get on the phone with reservations, stand in line at a desk to see an agent, send a tweet, try chat. Whatever options the airline gives, the traveler should take advantage and use the first one that comes available.”

It’s a good idea to also be looking at flight options while you wait to speak with an airline representative. This will help move things along faster and ensure that you’re prepared with your ideal scenarios.

If you booked your airline itinerary through a travel specialist, you’ll definitely want to reach out to them for assistance. “If a travel agent has made the booking in their system, they can often just put the travelers on the next connecting flight if they miss it,” Snyder says. “It saves a great deal of hassle. Even if that can't be done in the system, agents can be watching and helping while the traveler is stuck in the air or in an airport. It helps take the pressure off, and it can end up getting the problem solved earlier.”

What if you miss the last connecting flight of the day?

If the next available flight isn’t until the following day, most airlines will provide you with hotel and meal vouchers. This is especially true if the missed connection was a result of airline error (also called a “controllable flight delay.”) Some ultra-low-cost-carriers are more stringent with compensation. Spirit won’t provide a meal voucher if a delay isn’t their fault; Frontier doesn’t ever offer hotel vouchers.

If you’re unsure of your airline’s policy, you can check the contract of carriage agreement, which spells out all of an airline’s rules and policies. (Simply search online for “airline name + contract of carriage,” and scroll to the missed flights section.) The Department of Transportation has a dashboard of what amenities and compensations every major US airline offers to fliers during a controllable flight delay, which is usually the cause of most missed connections. The dashboard also links out to each airline’s corresponding customer service policies.

How to avoid missing a connecting flight

The best way to avoid missing a connecting flight in the first place is to plan a layover with enough time to get through the terminal. But how should travelers calculate this? “There is no fixed answer,” says Snyder. “It depends on the airport and terminal configuration. If someone is flying in the morning via a smaller airport, they might not need more than half an hour. But if it's an inbound international flight landing at JFK that requires changing terminals, then two hours might make sense.”

A good benchmark is no less than an hour layover for connecting domestic flights and no less than a two-hour layover for international flights. However, even those guidelines could be too short for certain large airports or international hubs—like London Heathrow, for instance—that have additional security screenings for connecting passengers whose travels originated outside the UK. Do as much research as possible on the layout of the airport and any regulations you might need to meet during your layover.

During peak travel seasons, you may want to pad those estimates even further. “There are more people traveling and especially during the summer, there is a higher chance of thunderstorms that can disrupt travel more,” Snyder says. “But it really is up to individual preference.”

If you find yourself on board a plane that’s running behind and your next flight is with the same airline, speak with the cabin crew on board. They may be able to help you get off the plane faster by asking non-connecting passengers to stay in their seats, and help find out key information—like the departure gate for your next flight—so you can hit the ground running once the plane lands.

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler