Warning: When your flight is delayed, don’t walk away from the gate

Lara Wallace arrived at the airport for her recent Frontier Airlines flight to find that her delayed flight had no anticipated time of departure. So she and her friend decided to leave the gate area and have dinner. But as they settled in for their meal, they were alerted that their flight was taking off without them.

Now Wallace wants our help to get Frontier Airlines to reimburse her for the cost of the new flight that she was forced to purchase and incidental expenses. But is she entitled to this compensation?

Delayed flight? Don’t walk away from the gate

Wallace’s experience should serve as a warning to travelers. When you’re at the gate, faced with a delayed flight with an uncertain departure time, don’t walk away. If you do, you may find yourself left behind, and there is no policy that will protect you in this situation.

In her letter to our advocates, Wallace described her panic when she received the first indication that this impromptu dinner was ill-advised.

“It had not been 40 minutes yet, and we got the email about the revised departure time. When we received it, the departure was two minutes earlier,” Wallace recalled. “We raced back to the gate only to be met by two agents who flippantly told us there was nothing they could do to help us — they had just closed the doors.”

And with that, Wallace watched her flight push back and take off without her.

Complaining to the Frontier Airlines gate manager

She complained bitterly to a manager, to whom she referred as “a suit,” that she had not been alerted to the imminent departure of her flight.

Related story:   Frontier Airlines

The Frontier manager explained that Frontier could rebook her on the next available flight — in two days. Flying home in two days was not a viable plan for Wallace, so she booked herself on a Delta flight home the next day. This new flight cost her an additional $450.

When she arrived home, she began her crusade to get Frontier to pay for her Delta flight, her unexpected hotel stay, and her food expenses.

The wrong approach to a resolution

Unfortunately, she took the wrong approach. In fact, it would appear that Wallace broke almost every rule in our tips for how to write an effective self-advocacy letter.

Her letters were lengthy, accusatory, and threatening and they contained no awareness that she had made a risky choice in walking away from the gate when her flight status was unknown.

“Please make good on recompensing me,” she wrote. “I would also like for you to understand that I am very vocal on social media. What resolution story I tell in person, through word-of-mouth as well as on social media, about my experience with Frontier is in your hands.”

“I’ll never fly on Frontier Airlines again”

Lastly, she told Frontier that they had lost her as a customer forever and that she had contacted our advocates for guidance. Unfortunately, she did not contact us before she wrote this request. We would have advised a completely different style.

Our approach would have been a short, polite “mea culpa” type message.

Not surprisingly, Wallace’s letter did not result in a positive response from Frontier. They reiterated to her that it is a passenger’s responsibility to stay in the gate area during a flight delay.

Related story:   “I have never in my life experienced such disregard for human decency”
Don’t leave the gate area

Yes, not knowing when your flight will leave can be frustrating.

But if you don’t want to miss your flight, you should heed this advice. Flight delays are not an exact science.  Air traffic control can suddenly reverse and update a scheduled departure time of a flight. When a flight is approved for takeoff, the airline is not going to hunt down passengers who have wandered off. And other passengers — the ones that stayed in the gate area — wouldn’t appreciate that type of further delay either.

When we advocate a case, we must be able to point to a policy that supports the consumer’s complaint. In Wallace’s case, there is no policy that exists to protect passengers against missing their flight if they voluntarily leave the gate area during a delay situation.

The final word

Wallace took her case to our forums, where she received similar advice.

In the end, Frontier offered Wallace a “gesture of goodwill” in the form of a small travel voucher. Of course, she can only use it on Frontier. And since she has vowed never to use Frontier again, we can guess this voucher will go unused.

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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