The Flat Tire Rule

Airport Checkin

It all starts with a flat tire, right? It’s a passenger’s version of “the dog ate my homework.” You show up late at the gate and your flight is taxiing to takeoff. You had a flat tire, or some other zinger. It was unforeseen. Gate agent, lighten up, please? It’s not my fault.

The flat-tire rule on Southwest Airlines was up for discussion in a thread this week on FlyerTalk. It’s well worth the read. Go there. There’s not much The Tarmac can add. But let’s review.

The basic premise is that bad things can happen to reliable travelers, like a flat tire on the Santa Monica freeway en route to LAX. In these legit cases where a passenger shows up at the airport but misses their flight, some airlines will cut you some slack and let you fly standby on the next flight to your destination without charging you a fee.

Some airlines, like Southwest (the champion of the underdog), want you to call at least 10 minutes before flight departure and tell them you won’t be at the gate. Only then, they say, will they apply the flat-tire rule. Maybe. But gate agents everywhere have some room to maneuver.

Other airlines? Well, it seems to be an unwritten rule. Again, gate agents have some leeway (hint – play to the emotions of the agent rather than the subject), but if you miss a flight most of the time, you’re out of luck.

Some FlyerTalk threads suggest US Airways has a “two-hour” rule that reads: A passenger who has missed their scheduled flight based on unforeseen causes, i.e. flat tire, accident, traffic delays, may standby without penalty or charges provided (1) The passenger arrives at airport no later than two hours after departure of their confirmed flight, except if it’s the last flight of the day, in which case, they can standby on first flight next morning, 
(2) The passenger must standby on flights of the same airline as their ticketed flight.

I called Delta, United and American to ask about their flat-tire rules. Spokespersons for all three carriers told me there was no flat-tire rule. But every one of them advised “if you’ve missed your flight by a few minutes, go to the gate anyway.”

The Tarmac’s View: Politely plead your case with haiku-like intensity. Remind them about the flat-tire rule or two-hour rule. Ask why not – not why. Show proof of the cause of your delay. You’ve got nothing to lose by trying and an interesting FlyerTalk post to show for it. And maybe more.


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Comments (Showing 1 of 1)

  • PatrickWilliams at 7:01pm June 04, 2014

    Alaska Airlines has a new flat tire rule: “Never” I’m working on a new flight plan, to fly Alaska “Never!” :). Glad that Delta is now flying many of the routes I fly up to 50x yr. Delta won my admiration when they took great care of me on a missed connection at the end of a long flying day. Another passenger pushing-back on airlines.

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