A few minutes late to the airport cost her hundreds of dollars — is this right?

By | July 25th, 2017

Van Le’s daughter didn’t make her flight. And it cost her.

She had a nonrefundable Air Canada ticket to fly from Portland to Montreal for an athletic competition. But she arrived late and was turned away, and forfeited her $537 ticket.

“My husband drove my daughter to the airport and was delayed by traffic,” explains Le. “My daughter arrived at the departure gate seven minutes too late to board the flight.”

The gate agent didn’t book her on the next flight out. Instead she asked us to go online and buy a new ticket.

“My daughter had to take the next flight to make it in time for the competition. The new ticket cost $937. We were also charged a $200 change fee,” says Le.

Several days later, Le phoned Air Canada to complain.

“A representative told me to request a refund for the second ticket and change fee,” she says. “Air Canada only returned the $200 change fee.”

Le thinks Air Canada can do better.

But can it?

When Le bought a nonrefundable ticket, she agreed to Air Canada’s restrictions on the use of the ticket. When her daughter arrived too late to board the flight, Air Canada charged her a $200 change fee and the price of a more expensive walk-up ticket.


Le understood that the ticket was nonrefundable, but didn’t understand why Air Canada didn’t just charge the $200 change fee to the original $537 ticket. She didn’t understand why she had to buy a new ticket and pay a $200 change fee for a new ticket.

Related story:   Is this enough compensation for an interrupted Windstar cruise?

At first, our advocates didn’t understand either.

Le could have posted a query to our help forums, which are staffed by travel industry experts, and often read by company executives. Our forum advocates may have had helpful suggestions for her. And, she could have tried to escalate her complaint by directly contacting executives of Air Canada. We list company contact information for Air Canada on our website.

When our advocates reviewed Le’s tickets and receipts, it became clear that she was charged for the much more expensive walk-up ticket, but Air Canada allowed about $400 of the value of the original ticket to be applied to the new ticket. And it charged a $200 change fee for applying the value to the new ticket. After Le complained, and as a goodwill gesture, Air Canada waived the change fee and credited it back to Le’s credit card.

So, in the end, the seven-minute delay cost Le an additional $561. Waiving the $200 change fee was the best that she could get from Air Canada.

Hey Air Canada, ever hear of the flat tire rule?

Is Air Canada's waiver of the $200 change fee enough compensation?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


  • Chris_In_NC

    Yes, it’s unnecessarily harsh, but also the new reality with airlines. Unfortunately, the only way to prevent this is to leave earlier than you think for a flight to account for traffic, etc.

  • sirwired

    Could have been worse I suppose; they could have chalked her up as a no-show and pocketed the ticket entirely.

  • Bill___A

    But they didn’t have a flat tire, they didn’t plan to get to the airport on time. Why should the airline bear the cost of the seat not being filled? I think it was more than fair. And also, Air Canada hasn’t flown 747’s in a long time (picture).

  • FQTVLR

    It is hard to answer the survey today. International check in, even for Canada is 2 hours in advance. So what time did they plan to arrive at the airport and what time did they arrive? Saying she was 7 minutes late to the gate really does not tell us if they planned to arrive at the airport in a timely manner. I know I say this quite a bit, but important details are often left out. And in this instance knowing a bit more about their travel to the airport is just about as important as her being 7 minutes late at the gate.

  • Grandma

    There is no flat tire ‘rule’. It is a courtesy offer by some airlines in some cases. Heavy traffic is usually not considered a reason for this courtesy.

  • Randy Culpepper

    “Hey Air Canada, ever hear of the flat tire rule?”

    This has as much of a basis in reality as the 30-second rule if you’ve dropped food on the ground.

  • Alan Gore

    This is why whenever there are not multiple options for getting to the airport on time if your primary ride fails, you want to arrive near the airport a day early. Cost of an extra night at Hampton Inn, about $100; cost of violating some weird arbitrary airline rule: up to thousands and thousands.

  • Alan Gore

    And Air Canada doesn’t do courtesy.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “Weird arbitrary airline rule”

    Not weird, not arbitrary. She bought a non-refundable ticket. She didn’t show up for her flight.

    If you want refundable/changeable, buy refundable/changeable. If you want the discount associated with non-refundable/changeable, take responsibility for your actions.

  • LeeAnneClark

    And yet another story reminding me of why I completely changed my strategy about getting to the airport. I used to be one of those “wait until the last minute” folks…until I missed a couple of flights due to bad traffic. Fortunately, that was back in the days when airlines routinely put you on the next flight…but it’s still an awful feeling to arrive at the gate and see your plan still sitting there, but you can’t get on.

    Unless you live right next to the airport, always give yourself at LEAST double the time you think you need to get there…and plan on arriving at LEAST two hours early (three for international). And that means arrival AT THE GATE. You should arrive at the airport with enough time to check in, get through security, etc…you should know your airport and have some grasp of how long it usually takes there. When I fly out of LAX, I assume 90 minutes for check-in and TSA. Burbank I assume an hour. Add 2 (domestic) or 3 (int’l) hours to that, and that’s the time I arrive at the airport.

    I’ve also become a heavy user of the airline lounges. Most of them allow you to buy day passes, if you’re not flying business or first class. If I’m going to have to spend many hours hanging out at the airport, I’m going to do it in comfort…the extra cost is worth it to me.

    The result of all of this is that I now find myself driving to places I used to fly to (e.g. Phoenix or Vegas). It used to not make sense to do a 7-hour drive when a flight takes an hour…but now, that hour-long flight requires half a day! Might as well drive.

  • I’m with you! Just got a cc with Priority Pass which entices me to get to the airport earlier! Less stress = better travel.

  • Hanope

    My husband annoys me to no end with his “last minute” get to the airport bit. Last time, we barely made it to the gate on time, and we had to jog from security. I’m recovering from a back injury and we have a flight coming up in 3 weeks. I’ve told him under no conditions are we not getting to the airport at least an hour earlier than he typically wants to. I’m moving slower and there’s no way I’ll be able to run from security to the gate. I swear, if he’s not ready to leave the house 3 hours before the flight leaves, I’m calling an Uber and I’ll just check in on my own.

  • Grandma

    You might consider public transportation – IF it is available. Portland has very cheap ($2.50), reliable, frequent running Max Train to the airport. (On Sundays, holdiays too.) (Seattle, Vancouver too.)
    On the other hand Portland has one of the worst. disorganized TSA :-(

  • MarkKelling

    There is no “Flat tire rule”. It doesn’t exist. Never did. It was, and is, only a courtesy provided by some airlines. The airline employees will laugh at you if you mention it. You can beg for their understanding and hope they will allow you on the next flight as a standby passenger at no additional charge, but no guarantee about that and it has a lot to do with your status with that airline..

    There are several questions unanswered in the article. Exactly how early before the flight did they arrive at the airport? Traffic was mentioned as an issue, but how much did that add to travel time? Did they have a large delay when checking in or checking bags? Was TSA backed up and if so how long did it take to get through? Did the daughter go directly to the gate or did she meander thinking she had more time?

  • Alan Gore

    Being stuck in traffic and arriving late for checkin is a fairly common situation, but she could just as easily have been the person who arrived at the standard time and found out that her airline is the one that closes out a flight thirty minutes earlier than the others. Or she could have arrived in plenty of time to fund a huge line at the checkin counter caused by some screwup. And of course, being late getting to the head of that line is still defined as being her fault and it still costs a new walkup ticket. Because they have power and you don’t.

    Both of these scenarios were recently discussed here. It’s a throw of the dice, and you have to hope it doesn’t come up snake eyes on the day of your trip.

  • Debbie_K

    This isn’t new. I was on a trip to the DR with a work group last yr. Due to late arrivals – our bus was delayed getting to Midway . I made it through checkin ok ( I was watching the clock like a hawk) but the last 2 people in our group dawdled and were the last in line…. Just as they walked up to the Southwest check in terminal – The system LOCKED – the minimum check in period had passed and the customer reps could not override it. They were left with a choice to cancel their trip or come back the next day to catch that flight. I felt really bad for them, as it was really the organizers fault that the buses were not given enough time to get from Milwaukee to Midway with plenty of time

  • Lindabator

    7 minutes after flight closes means she was there less than 0 minutes before the flight – she would NEVER have gotten to board in time — lack of planning is also discourteous

  • Lindabator

    it is not the airline’s responsibility to babysit you. Being late may be a “common situation” but the flights are on a tight schedule – you want open-ended flexibility, charter or own your own jet

  • Lindabator

    LOVE day pass idea — I actually use those for clients as well (especially Club MoBay in Jamaica, as arrival gets you expedited thru customs/immigration and departure a nice lounge with drinks and food)

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I think it depends on what they mean by traffic. In the DC area, anyone wanting to be on time would build in 45 minutes to virtually anywhere, and more if a flight was involved, just for normal traffic. So you need to leave that much earlier than the base time to arrive by the airline guideline time.

    Now if both sides of the beltway are closed, and there is a 3 hour delay, that wouldn’t be expected. So if the OP didn’t build in the normal time, I’m sympathetic, but they don’t have a case. If there was some extraordinary traffic situation, then I feel like the airlines should extend the same courtesy to the OP that they expect from passengers when they encounter mechanical delays.

  • MarkKelling

    Airline clubs have saved me on multiple occasions. By the time you add up the included snacks, drinks (even if they are only soft drinks), free WiFi, business services (like copy machines) and the higher level of assistance the ticket agents there provide, not to mention a comfy seat and the quiet, a day pass is very much worth the cost.

    It important to note that most US based airlines do not allow for free club access unless you are flying internationally.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    I can not understand why ppl. doesn’t pay attention to the rules of the airlines, and especially when they have a non- refundable ticket. From now on we need to specify what “non-refundable” means? I don’t even know why she even made it to the gate, when she knew that she was already late.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    Some ppl. think they are special, and if they going to cry a bit and feel unjustly treated, someone will get on their side and make special rules for them. How about leaving 3 hrs ahead of departure, and watch airplanes landing and taking off, before boarding someone’s plane. It’s fun…..

  • LeeAnneClark

    Well, I don’t live anywhere near Portland, so that doesn’t really help me. ;-) I live in Ventura County, California – about an hour north of LA. There are few public transportation options available in this area, and none that work for me…especially for getting to the airport. There are no airport trains anywhere near me. My only options for getting to the airport are a shuttle service ($50!) or getting someone to drive me. Or, of course, I can drive myself and leave my car in a long-term lot, but anything more than a couple days and that becomes cost-prohibitive.

    As for disorganized TSA – LAX is pretty bad too. Although I must say they have improved -when I flew out of there last month I only waited 30 minutes in line. That’s certainly better than the 90 minutes I waited in line last summer!

  • LeeAnneClark

    Yes, the lounges are, IMO, a GREAT deal! My husband and I flew from Dublin to LA a couple weeks ago, and we were unsure how long the drive would take, or how busy the airport would be. Turned out there was no traffic, and the airport was not crowded at all, so we found ourselves with FIVE HOURS to kill. Fortunately we’d pre-purchased Aer Lingus first class lounge passes – what a great idea that was! The food was quite good – no big meals or anything but there was a surprisingly delicious cream-of-mushroom soup, Irish brown bread, various types of cheeses, good pastries, fruit, cookies…all we needed for a decent lunch while we waited for our flight. Oh, and all the Guiness we could drink it we’d wanted it! (We each had one.)

    The seats were large and soft and the area was quiet, the wifi worked perfectly, and the staff ensured they knew where everyone was going and would make announcements when it was time to head to our gate.

    It was a really comfortable way to kill a few hours. Certainly better than hanging out in hard seats at the gate!

  • greg watson

    I voted ‘no’ but would have voted yes if the ‘flat tire’ rule ? is not a valid reason for being late.

  • Annie M

    Unfortunately, this is the way they all work – since prices for a new ticket are the prices as of that day (not going back to when the passenger bought the ticket) they do have to pay the current price, a $200 change fee less whatever is left of their original ticket.

    Recommended time to arrive at the airport is 2 hours prior to a domestic flight, 3 hours for international. And this is an international ticket. I would bet if Dad planned the trip better to arrive by those recommended times, this wouldn’t be an issue. Sorry it had to be an expensive lesson learned about leaving early for the airport.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Fly Westjet and Porter, they are much more friendlier Canadian transporter. I was once Elite Aeroplan member of Air Canada in the pass and many year as Prestige member but let go now for awhile. PORTER Airlines never make a fuss when I am late or luggage overweighted. PORTER change my flight for a sooner flight if seat is available with a smile and NO CHARGE.

  • James Moninger

    I think this “compensation” is fair.

    What should be the cutoff for so-called flat tire rules? Thirty minutes? If so, how does a carrier handle the passenger that is 31 minutes late? Inevitably, someone will complain.

  • Lee

    I will never quite grasp why some folks don’t understand their responsibilities in getting to the airport in time – traffic/accidents happen all the time, you build in that unexpected possibility into your traveling time.

    And, really, if you want to be special in these situations, then buy a “refundable” ticket. I know my risks when I buy non-refundable tickets and do whatever possible to not mess up. It’s our part of the deal, as it were. (And, yes, I too, dislike all the hideously punitive rules of the airlines but, they are what they are).

  • Carol Molloy

    I agree. I loathe waiting in the airport, and now drive for shorter trips. O’Hare is my home airport, and it is always busy. Kiosks go offline, weather delays flights, traffic is hellacious, Air Force One commandeers the schedule…..always some reason that check-in is a struggle. The only solution is to arrive WELL in advance of check in time. My boredom is a small price to pay versus missing my flight and all that entails.

    Yes, there are people that feel entitled, but I think there are plenty who simply haven’t read all the rules. Hopefully, they will only have one expensive lesson.

  • joycexyz

    For some people, it seems that “nonrefundable” means (1) it applies only to those who change their minds, or (2) applies only to other people, never to themselves (the “I’m special!” rule).

  • kittymocha

    My husband and I just drove through Portland, OR and their traffic is not easy to negotiate. If I was to catch a flight out of Portland, OR I would leave about an hour and 1/2 early or more. Same with Seattle where I fly out of. You need to be watching the TV traffic reports to know what to expect. I feel her Dad thought it would be easy to make it to the airport and didn’t account for traffic.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    Nobody is “special” any more on a commercial airline flight, unless they want to travel by their own Leerjet….then they can make the rules. But I also find it “cheeky” to be in the wrong and try to blame the airline for her shoortcoming. I really enjoy reading your comments Joyxyz…

  • LeeAnneClark

    Bravo! ;-) These days it’s just not worth the risk.

  • ctporter

    If you purchase a trip online, then there is NO excuse for not knowing things such as the time to check in (typically 24 hrs in advance), the time to be at the gate (can range from 40-10 minutes prior to boarding), and time of departure – which is the time printed on your boarding pass, which misleads many people because if you arrive then you are too late. This information is available at just about every airline’s web site. You can also search the TSA wait times at any airport here: https://apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa/wait_times_home.aspx . NOTE that the site says: Wait times are reported by fellow travelers. TSA urges all travelers to arrive at the airport well in advance of scheduled departures. It is also very easy to use google maps or other traffic apps such as Waze to see what traffic is like to your airport. I do this all the time for my return flight because I do not know what traffic is like in the cities where I end up traveling, but I also use it when going to my home airport just in case there is unexpected heavy traffic and I need to plan for an alternate routing. When you book online you are stating that you understand exactly what you are doing, you know what non-refundable means, basic economy, luggage fees, and you also understand what is a reasonable connection time at various airports. If you do not, then you really should consider talking to an experienced travel agent that can explain all of this to you so that you understand exactly what you are purchasing.

  • ctporter

    I use airport lounges a lot also, they do make my life so much easier. However, I will still take a flight rather than drive because when I finally do arrive at my destination I am not tired from driving, I have had a chance to get work done in a comfy place with power outlets (my trips are mostly business trips), and I can relax and enjoy people watching, or I can get some steps in by walking the terminals when there is not a lounge available.

  • Stefan de Winter

    I’m honestly sick and tired of the numerous obstacles one has to endure when flying these days. If you follow the advise of the airlines, you arrive at the airport no less than two hours prior to your scheduled departure time, factor in another 30-40 mins if you have to park your car or return your rental car, and you’re up to 2 hours and 40 mins, plus flight time, plus time to claim your luggage, plus time to get a rental or your car or a bus…. And I haven’t yet even touched on delays!
    I recently missed my Alaska Air flight from Houston to Seattle because I arrived at the terminal 50 mins before departure and the Alaska Air ticket counter in the departures hall was not staffed – the agents had been sent to the gate, leaving the check in counter unstaffed and multiple people stranded.

  • Carchar

    Just a little amusing story. We were running late getting my brother-in-law to the airport, so we warned him about what was going to happen to him and that he would probably be gouged. He got through security and barely made it to his gate. Turned out he had plenty of time. His plane had a flat tire.

  • Maxwell Smart

    don’t understand why she got any compensation at all. She missed the flight, whether it’s actually 7 minutes or 3 hours is totally irrelevant. I would not have given her $200, as it sends the wrong message. Why have policies if you don’t stick to them.

  • jae1

    If I were to fly out of Portland, OR (and I have), I’d use public transit and skip the traffic entirely. They have an excellent system that gets you right to the airport with no fuss.

  • joycexyz

    Thank you, Maria. Nobody is “special” when it comes to ignoring the rules.

  • UAPhil

    Chris, I know you are not a fan of frequent flyer programs, but there are cases where miles can be a lifesaver.

    For example, one can usually obtain a domestic one way ticket for 30,000 miles or less on AA, UA, and AS, even on short notice and at high demand times. These miles are fairly valued at about $450 – a much better deal than a walk-up cash ticket which can cost $800 or more. This can be very useful if you miss a flight, run into an irrops situation, need to buy a ticket on short notice (think bereavement), or have your flight cancelled by Spirit Airlines.

    For international tickets the savings can be much greater. For example, I just randomly checked buying a one way ticket from SFO to Paris on United tomorrow. The cash cost would be $2700; the miles cost would be 30,000 miles + $80 – a fair value of $500-$550. (The “miles benefit” is not always this great, but a stash of miles is definitely a good tool to have available.)

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    And that’s my biggest issue with everything in this world…”People ignore things, and they are the first to feel offended and complain”

  • RightNow9435

    Which is why I drive most all trips these days. Adding to the 2h40min you mentioned is allowing lots of extra time to get to the airport, so now we could easily be at 4hrs, then even a “short” 1-2hr flight brings it to 5-6hrs, and 7hrs with baggage claim and rental car. In 7 hours I could easily drive 400 miles without any of the following(1)worries that something will delay me even further (2)TSA hassles (3)rental car costs (4)plane ticket vs gas cost (5)flight delays or cancellations.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.