Here’s why you shouldn’t show up late to the gate

Stephen Oualline and his daughter showed up late to the gate in Kona, Hawaii, for their Alaska Airlines trip to San Diego. How late? The plane had already departed. Now he wants us to help him — but can we?

Oualline’s says they arrived at the airport more than two hours before the flight. They checked in, checked their bags, transited through security and stopped to eat at one of the airport restaurants before proceeding to the gate.

Showing up late to the gate

According to Oualline, they arrived at the gate 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time. He says the gate agent told them the flight had departed 30 minutes prior to departure. And he told our advocacy team that the airline’s representative refused to rebook him at no charge. He then had no other choice but to purchase new tickets for himself and his daughter — with a 13-hour layover in Seattle.

They found the gate assigned to their new flight, but the next flight to board at that gate was to Oakland, not Seattle. Oualline decided to trade in his tickets and go to Oakland instead. Once they arrived in Oakland they were told that no Oakland to San Diego flight existed.

Oualline says, “Alaska Airlines dumped us there. My daughter and I had to spend the night in the Oakland airport with no food, no hotel, no luggage.” They booked flights on Southwest Airlines home to San Diego the next morning.

Showing up late to the gate doesn’t lead to involuntarily denied boarding compensation

With a total of $5,800 in unplanned expenses, Oualline asked Alaska Airlines for a refund. In his complaint, he asserted that Alaskan Airlines had involuntarily denied them boarding. He cited FAA regulations regarding overbooking. Alaska offered him a $150 credit towards his next flight, but he refused. So he filed a complaint with the FAA and never received a response.

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That’s when Oualline reached out to our advocacy team. He could have reached out to the executives for Alaska Airlines that we list on our site. But he believes that the airline stonewalled him and showed a “total lack of concern” about his predicament.

Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, agreed to review his case and asked for clarification on his arrival at the gate. Oualline stated that he arrived at the gate 15 minutes prior to the flight’s departure.

Unfortunately for Oualline, Alaska Airlines sets forth rules on when travelers must arrive at the gate. According to his own recollection, he arrived late to the gate. The airline specifies on its Check-in & boarding cut-off times page that all passengers must be at the gate, with a valid boarding pass, no later than 30 minutes prior to the flight’s scheduled departure.

If a guest isn’t present 30 minutes prior to the flight, Alaska may cancel your reserved seats — or your entire reservation.

Dwayne provided all of this information to Oualline. But Oualline continued to insist that he and his daughter were indeed victims of involuntary bumping — and he started arguing with our advocate.

What does The Department of Transportation say about gate arrival times?

Oualline insisted that the FAA dictates that passengers must be at an airline’s departure gate a minimum of 10 minutes prior to a flight’s departure. Since he arrived at his gate 15 minutes prior he was not late to the gate he maintains. But he fails to acknowledge the text on gate arrival times included in the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights website:

Each airline has a check-in deadline, which is the amount of time before scheduled departure that you must present yourself to the airline at the airport. For domestic flights most carriers require you to be at the departure gate between 10 minutes and 30 minutes before scheduled departure, but some deadlines can be an hour or longer. Check-in deadlines on international flights can be as much as three hours before scheduled departure time. Some airlines may simply require you to be at the ticket/baggage counter by this time; most, however, require that you get all the way to the boarding area. Some may have deadlines at both locations. If you miss the check-in deadline, you may have lost your reservation and your right to compensation if the flight is oversold.

The text clearly indicates that each airline sets its own rules for check-in and gate arrival. Oualline simply didn’t arrive at the gate on time and was unavailable for boarding. So Alaska Airlines either allowed their two seats to fly empty or reassigned them to passengers on stand-by.

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Alaska Airlines’ responsibility

Alaska Airlines personnel may or may not have had the authority to rebook his flights at no charge, but they clearly didn’t have to do anything for him. If Oualline argued with them the way he argued with us, and made the threats about FAA complaints that he claimed to us, they may have decided to stick to the rules instead of bending them for him.

We’re not sure why Oualline decided to exchange his newly purchased tickets to go to Oakland. Alaska Airlines doesn’t have a direct flight between Oakland and San Diego — in fact, they would have had to fly from Oakland to Seattle (where he was originally scheduled to go), and then on to San Diego. This may be why, when he arrived in Oakland, the airline couldn’t accommodate them onward to San Diego. The amount they paid for the Seattle to San Diego flight was likely less than the cost of an Oakland-Seattle to San Diego flight.

Since they seem to have arrived in Oakland without onward flights, the airline does not owe them accommodations or meals for their layover. Their bags likely were on the original flights from which they chose to deviate — hopefully, the luggage eventually caught up with them back in San Diego.

The bottom line

Alaska Airlines offered Oualline a $150 credit on a future flight. Had he negotiated rather than flatly refused and moved on to the FAA, he might have been able to get a better deal from Alaska. But the reality is that Oualline made a series of bad decisions that directly resulted in his multi-day flight debacle.

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We can’t help Oualline, but we can help other airline passengers by advising you to learn the airline’s rules on flight check-in and gate arrival time — and follow those rules. If you do follow them and still find yourself sitting at the gate after your flight departs, we’ll be glad to help.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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