We missed our flight by minutes — should we be forced to pay extra to get home?

Michal Escobar and her husband were returning home from a special vacation in Italy. But when they tried to check in for their flight on British Airways, the check-in agents prevented them from flying. The Escobars had to pay for a hotel room for the night as well as expensive walk-up rates for tickets home on Aer Lingus the next day.

American Airlines, which was operating the British Airways flight as a code-share, offered the Escobars 15,000 AAdvantage miles as compensation for the new airfares and the hotel fee, but the Escobars aren’t happy with this resolution. Unfortunately for the Escobars, our advocates feel that this is the best that they can hope for from the airline.

The Escobars had booked an Italian vacation package, including flights from Chicago to Rome, to celebrate their fifth anniversary and first pregnancy. They enjoyed a successful outbound flight and a one-week stay in the Tuscan region of Italy – up to the moment they departed for their return flight from Rome, which was scheduled to depart at 11:15 a.m. Boarding was scheduled for 10:45 a.m.

When the Escobars arrived in Rome, they discovered that they had gone to the wrong airport and hurried across the city to catch their flight. They returned their rental car at 10 a.m., obtained a time-stamped receipt for the car, and hurried to the American Airlines terminal to catch their flight, where they arrived at the check-in counter at 10:15 a.m. But the airline agent told them that they were too late to check in for the flight, which was full.

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Says Escobar:

I said: “We still have 30 minutes before we are scheduled to board the plane and 45 minutes before the gate closes. We can make it through security and run there.” She started making some calls, asked us if we were business class, and then told us that the gate was already closed and we would have to talk to another agent. I was in shock. I knew we were late, but I also knew we could have made that flight if the airlines had given us just a little bit of help.

The Escobars then asked American Airlines’ customer service representative for help, but she told them that “her hands were tied.” Because the Escobars had booked their flight through British Airways, she instructed them to call British Airways to ask for assistance.

But when the Escobars called British Airways’ customer service, its agent told them that American Airlines should be able to book them as standby passengers on one of its own flights. All British Airways could do for the Escobars was to rebook them on its next flight to Chicago, departing the following day, for approximately 3,000 euros (about $3,525), an amount that the Escobars did not have.

They asked British Airways’ agent to speak to the American Airlines representative, but both airlines’ employees suggested only that the Escobars purchase new tickets on one of their airlines.

After two hours of searching for cheaper air tickets home, Escobar finally found and purchased two tickets on Aer Lingus for $1,800 for a flight departing for Chicago the next day. She then booked a hotel room for the night, and the next morning, she and her husband took the Aer Lingus flight to Chicago.

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Escobar contacted American Airlines to ask for compensation for her Aer Lingus airfares and the hotel room. (Executive contact information for American Airlines is available on our website.)

American Airlines offered each of the Escobars 5,000 AAdvantage miles. When Escobar complained that this was insufficient compensation for their incidental expenses, American offered them 5,000 more miles but told them that they could do nothing more for them. Escobar then asked our advocates for assistance.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do for the Escobars either.

The American Airlines agent to whom Escobar spoke mentioned that the airline’s policy requires passengers on flights going to or from the U.S. to check in at least one hour prior to their flight’s scheduled departure time.

Although both the agent’s reply and American’s website use the words “scheduled departure” to describe the cut-off time for check-in, Escobar mistakenly believed that this time was the take-off time listed on her ticket. But the correct cut-off time was one hour prior to the boarding time — 9:45 a.m. And neither British Airways nor American Airlines was responsible for the Escobars’ mistake, which resulted in their arriving too late to check in for their flight.

All we can offer the Escobars is the hope that despite the problems with their return home, they enjoyed their trip — and we congratulate them on their new baby.

But we can warn our readers to check airline websites for correct check-in cutoff times, to make sure they go to the correct airports, and to allow themselves sufficient time to check in for their flights. Otherwise, like the Escobars, they may find themselves not flying and perhaps paying walk-up fares and unexpected costs for the next flights to their destinations.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • finance_tony

    I wonder why AA offered them anything at all. It gives the impression that a request for compensation is reasonable in this case, when it isn’t

  • The Original Joe S

    I feel for them, because I’m chronically late for most everything. Late for packing up, late for getting to the airport, etc. etc. OR: 2 hours too early for doctor because I didn’t double-check the appointment time. Can’t get it right. MY FAULT.
    As sad as it is, they didn’t check to make sure of the airport to where they were going, and when they had to be there. They had to bite the bullet. Sorry for them.

  • Bubbles

    AA shouldn’t have helped them and they hopefully learned that it’s important to read your travel information. Their mistake, their problem. I travel for business frequently and even for a one hour flight, I arrive 2 hours early. Who knows when security is bad, traffic, anything… it’s important to be able to deal with any hiccups. Given, I’ve never gone to the wrong airport because I read my ticket.

  • y_p_w

    I’m guessing they got directions from a mapping tool or GPS. Entering “airport” might bring up directions to a secondary airport or possibly even a general aviation airport.

  • cscasi

    This is just another case of travelers not ensuring they know where they are supposed to be going; as in, going to the correct airport for departure. It certainly is not the airline’s fault. People need to be responsible for themselves and not try to blame everything that happens on someone or something else; as they did in this case.

  • Blamona

    They didn’t miss their flight by minutes, more like at least 90-150 minutes

  • The Original Joe S

    Like the guy who drive his Mercedes into the Baltic Sea because the GPS indicated a pathway. Pathway was a FERRY, not a road. Bra-ha-ha-ha-ha.

  • ctporter

    The internet and our smart phones make travel very different now, as a result, we should be more responsible for our decisions. What are the airport codes for the airports you fly out of and into (so you are sure your bags are headed to the correct airport) How long does it take to get from my hotel to the airport – or rather, where is the rental car return and where is the nearest motor fuel dispensing facility and how long will it take to get there, and how long will the shuttle take to get me back to the airport? What kind of security will I have to go through – what kind of documentation will I need, and how long will it take? When can I check in, what is the latest I can check in, if I check in online when can I drop any checked bags, and what are the typical times it takes to do that? With the internet and all the various search engines out there is it easy to find the answers to these and more questions so that one can really be prepared and have an enjoyable time traveling. It is on me if I do not know the answers to these questions when I travel, not on a service provider (rental car agency, hotel, or airline) because they all have that information online.

  • Gilmore Tuttle

    Couldn’t they at least apply the value of the tickets they paid for but didn’t use as credit toward a re-booking?

  • JohntheKiwi

    Ultimately their fault for going to the wrong airport. When I worked for an airline we always did whatever we could to ensure passengers got to their flight. It’s possible the airline gave away their seats when they no showed. But one other thing, this: “approximately 3,000 euros (about $3,525), an amount that the Escobars did not have“. When traveling internationally, you are required to have a certain amount of money accessible. If you can’t afford to deal with situations like this, you shouldn’t be taking international vacations.

  • SirWIred

    While certainly going to the wrong airport was on them, I DO wish that the “large print” time on boarding passes was when boarding is going to close. Who cares when the plane actually pushes back from the gate? That’s an airline operational stat, nothing more; it’s of no interest to passengers.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Well at least she had enough sense to search for a lower fare instead of being “scared” into buying immediately at the request of BA or AA with them. Other than that I have no sympathy for them — how hard is it to read your itinerary and make sure you’re going to the right airport – and with plenty of time to spare – like 3-4 hours before the flight.

  • C Schwartz

    Oh wow it sound as if they went to Ciampino instead of Fumicino airport. Ciampino is for charters, special state aircrafts, and also Ryanair and another low cost airline. The two airports are not close to each other. When driving on the GRA, the ring road around Rome, there are symbols for the airport (airplane) and it says either Ciampino or Fumicino.

    The rental car return must have also have been At Fiumicino.

    I wonder where they landed and picked up the car — maybe Florence or Pisa? If they landed in Rome it would be hard to mistake the two airports in name and the roads are very different — FCO is further away and there is a larger freeway to and from it.

    This was a costly mistake.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Wrong airport, ha !

  • Chris_In_NC

    Ultimately, it is Escobar’s responsibility and no one else is to blame.
    However, the penalty in this situation is really pretty extreme and frankly unfair. Unfortunately, this is the new reality in travel.

  • Marc

    AA couldn’t have put them standby on the next available flight, even if it was the next day?

  • C Schwartz

    I think they may have counted as no shows and that is a forfeit of the ticket. Just a guess…

  • C Schwartz

    Some airlines have a boarding starts and boarding ends — I have seen it on UA boarding passes.

    However that would not have helped these people as they never got to check in.

  • Bill___A

    It is an unfortunate and expensive mistake. It would have been nice if the airline could have done something to help, even if they weren’t obligated to. I don’t really get the demanding of compensation for something that was not the airline’s fault.

  • Lee4You

    I just flew back from Rome FCO – the line for passport control alone was nearly 60 minutes. Never has been that lengthy in my experience at that airport but I was there 3 hours pre-fight time and while this line was extreme, I never felt worried because I knew I had the time.

    Not sure how one ends up at the wrong airport – Ciampino flights do not fly directly to and from the states – Tough lesson for them to learn but this entire fiasco was wholly their doing.

    I think the airline was generous in giving them anything at all. To want more is acknowledging one’s own responsibility to read details as to requirements. My check in email from the airline noted specifics about where to check in, time needed, when check in time is cut off, etc – It’s all there – paying attention is all that is required.

  • Annie M

    They are lucky they got anything. They carelessly didn’t verify the airport they were flying from and didn’t plan to arrive 3 hours before their flight was scheduled to depart. I am willing to bet if they had planned on arriving 3 hours before- they would have been st the right airport more than an hour before their flight was to leave.

  • Mark Orwoll

    I’m a bit surprised at the less-than-generous blame-shaming of many of the commenters. My first response is, could the airline have treated this couple as human beings? You know, try to help them? Just a little bit? I suppose the couple didn’t check in online 24 hours in advance, which I always do. (But that leads me to a question: If you check in online in advance, but, as with this couple, you show up at the gate just 30 minutes before boarding, would the airline be able to prevent you from boarding?) Beyond that, a little civility on the airline’s part, some tiny bit of understanding and assistance to a distressed couple, would not have been out of line. In years past (many commenters may not be old enough or experienced enough to know this) it would have been expected. Finally, any of us who have never made a tactical mistake while traveling, please reply, “I’m perfect.”

  • jerrymandel

    AA or BA could have put them on a later flight even if next day.

  • uwphotog

    Interesting! 3 years ago I missed my flight back home from London Heathrow because of no fault of my own. The bus that was to take me from my hotel to the airport was 45 minutes late and then traffic was so heavy, I didn’t get to the ticket counter until 20 minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off. The agent couldn’t allow me to continue because i would never have made it to the gate in time. She referred me to the Customer Service desk and I explained to the agent there what happened. She understood the problem and then re-booked me on the next flight home as a “stand-by” that was to leave in 4 hours. She told me not to worry because I was the first one listed as “stand-by” and that there are always a few “no shows”. I then waited in a lounge for a few hours before I headed to the gate. When my name was called, I got on the flight with no issues and arrived back home only 4 hours later than I originally intended. No extra costs were incurred – just 4 hours extra of my time.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I think the customer is solely in the wrong here. However, I would like BA / AA to be more compassionate than other commenters.

    1) going to wrong airport. This is a common travel trap. No one’s fault but the customer’s. It is especially important when in a foreign country. But we can be sympathetic to a frantic cross-city dash.

    2) did the customer have checked bags? If not, then arriving 30 mins before boarding is plenty of time in most airports to get through security. Heck, if they had the AA App and checked in, they could have still shown up at that time and gotten on the flight. But just because they needed a BA / AA person to print a boarding pass, they were denied the chance at trying to make the flight. However, if they had checked bags, where they have to fly with the passenger internationally, then I agree in denying check-in.

    Don’t forget, AA, BA, and Aer Lingus are all partners (BA and Aer Lingus are both owned by IAG). It would have been nice if the airport agents who wouldn’t let them try to make the flight at least let them cancel it, since it was before departure time, and apply value minus change fee to another flight.

  • Noah Kimmel

    there are responsible and irresponsible people of all ages and generations.

    While we are calling out generations, the older generation loaded up on debt (household and national), created a healthcare crisis, and is on the verge of a retirement savings crisis. But I’m sure none of it is your fault, right? And someone else should fix your perceived problem?

  • BubbaJoe123

    If at all possible, check in online (or via the app) ahead of time. Then, you avoid these hard cutoff issues. Still can be a problem if you want to check luggage, though.

  • BubbaJoe123

    They certainly COULD have (heck, they COULD have brought in a 777 just to fly them to Chicago), but they weren’t under any obligation to.

  • Mark

    Some airlines will have an (unpublished) “flat tyre” rule, where if you suffer an incident beyond your control, such as a flat tyre, a vehicle accident, unusual congestion, or delays / cancellations to public transport, they may offer to re-accommodate you on another flight.

    Unfortunately the Escobar’s situation doesn’t fall under any of those categories. The delay in arriving at the airport was entirely within their control.

  • Lindabator

    because those tickets were too costly, they sought other options

  • Lindabator

    it is standard for a cutoff prior to BOARDING not departure from gate – and they are far stricter internationally

  • Lindabator

    But it is also NOT the airline’s responsibility to hold your hand and make excuses for you. At the end of the day, they are a business and not a charity. So they can only offer what is available to them to do so with – such as offering new tickets, but you are still responsible for the price difference, and that can b high last minute.

  • Lindabator

    it all depends on what may actually be available – if the only flight that day is actually overbooked, , there is no standby offered. And when a carrier has limited flights, your options may shrink substantially

  • Lindabator

    International flights will still require a passport check – so thy still would never have made it

  • Lindabator

    still would have to go thru passport check, so NOT enough time — and Aer Lingus is NOT a member of OneWorld yet – just AA and BA at this time, so not an option for them to just put her on Aer Lingus

  • BubbaJoe123

    Having arrived < 1 hour before departure for int'l flights, with my boarding pass on my phone, I wouldn't be so sure.

  • Travelnut

    I think the question “are you in business class” is relevant here; if they had a FC/BC ticket or status, the airline might have done more to help. I made my own booboo last year, arriving a little too late for an international flight, but they put me on a later flight (not without a little shaming, which I deserved tbh), and being in BC probably didn’t hurt.

  • Mark Orwoll

    No one said the airline was responsible to hold their hand. Courtesy, humanity, some semblance of customer service–too much to ask? Guess so.

    Jeez, tough crowd in the room tonight…

  • Kevin Nash

    Nice strawman. No commentator said that OP was required to be “perfect” but that simply OP could have planned this a bit better.

    OP didn’t have a flat tire, a medical emergency or something completely out of the blue. Instead, OP screwed up and went to the WRONG airport in a foreign country. I’m sorry, but that’s on them and they should just learn from their mistake and move on.

  • Michael__K

    Even if the traveler was late the standard policy is to allow late arrival standby on the next flight.
    And if they really were in line more than 60 minutes before scheduled departure time, and AA is re-defining that phrase in Orwellian ways that it doesn’t even document anywhere, then compensation is more than reasonable.

  • Michael__K

    Although both the agent’s reply and American’s website use the words “scheduled departure” to describe the cut-off time for check-in, Escobar mistakenly believed that this time was the take-off time listed on her ticket. But the correct cut-off time was one hour prior to the boarding time — 9:45 a.m.

    Words have meaning, and that’s not what the words “scheduled departure time” mean in English…. If
    they wanted the policy to say “scheduled boarding time” they could easily write the policy that way.

    “Scheduled departure time” isn’t even ambiguous, given that flights are advertised and sold based on a “Departure Time” which corresponds to the time when the aircraft leaves the gate. But even if one wants to claim that it’s ambiguous, under the principle of “Contra Proferentem“, contract ambiguities are supposed to be interpreted against the party that authored the ambiguity.

  • finance_tony

    Your own link says the policy doesn’t apply for international flights.

  • Michael__K

    It’s supposed to be their POLICY, even if that isn’t a contractual commitment. http://pointmetotheplane.boardingarea.com/2017/11/25/theres-flat-tire-rule-miss-delta-american-united-southwest-flights/

    And check-in until 60 minutes before “scheduled departure time” is supposed to be a contractual commitment — and I can’t find where they re-define “departure time” to mean something other than the “departure time” they advertise on the ticket you purchase.

  • Mark Orwoll

    I bet you’re a much nicer, more charitable person than you seem to be in your comments!

  • BubbaJoe123

    If you follow the link from that webpage back through several, you get to the original USA Today story that discusses that policy. In that story, it says “American doesn’t allow standby travel for international flights, so the late arrival standby policy simply didn’t apply to his situation.”

    So, the policy didn’t apply in this situation.


    As for the 60 minutes, the policy (as stated on AA’s website) is that you “must be checked in” no less than 60 minutes before departure. The story says that they arrived at 10:15AM. Even if there’s no rounding down on their part (which I rather doubt), and they immediately spoke to the rep (possible), then that leaves <60 seconds for the rep to complete their checkin.


  • Michael__K

    According to the article, even 10:15am was 30 minutes too late.
    It’s also a little suspicious that one of the excuses was that the flight was full.

  • BubbaJoe123

    That makes no sense to me, certainly. It’s very clear on the website that it’s 60 minutes prior to scheduled departure, not boarding. The article just asserts that “the correct cut-off time was one hour prior to the boarding time,” and doesn’t source it in any way.

    Where do you see a reference to the flight being full?

    I don’t know if it was different last summer, but this upcoming summer, AA is only operating one flight FCO-ORD per day (11AM departure).

  • Michael__K

    “the airline agent told them that they were too late to check in for the flight, which was full.”

  • BubbaJoe123

    Got it. Would make sense, if they passed the 60 minute mark without checking in, the system would list them as no-shows, and then confirm standbys.

  • Michael__K

    In my experience, standbys and people with boarding passes without seat assignments don’t usually get confirmed seats until moments before the start of the boarding process (if not later).

  • jerrymandel

    Best comment.

  • jerrymandel

    They got a flight confirmation which clearly showed the right airport. Can they READ?

  • LonnieC

    Gee. A little harsh?

  • LonnieC

    Interesting that the airline asked if they were business class. Sorta suggests that the airline could have fixed this, doesn’t it?

  • LonnieC

    “You’re perfect.”

  • Mark Orwoll

    Ha! I’ve made so many travel mistakes I could write a book. It’ll be titled, “Please, Whatever You Do, Don’t Listen To Me!”

  • LonnieC

    Ha! 😀

  • Mark Orwoll

    Have you noticed that “boarding time” is (a) rarely if ever printed on boarding passes and (b) changes from one airport and one airline to another? How are you as a consumer supposed to know that? If boarding was universally, say, 45 minutes before take-off, everywhere, with the time printed clearly on your boarding pass and listed on the airline’s website, maybe you’d have a point. But I’ve boarded 20 minutes before a flight and 40 minutes before a flight. I’ve seen 30 minutes listed on the departure boards, but then we didn’t board until an hour after schedule. How can “boarding time” be a true barometer of whether a passenger is on time or late?

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