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


When Lara Wallace arrived at the airport for her recent flight from Denver to Columbus, she was dismayed to see it was delayed with no anticipated departure time. 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?

Wallace’s experience should serve as a warning to travelers. When you are at the gate and your flight is delayed 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,” she 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.

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.

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

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

Unfortunately, she took the wrong approach.

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.”

Lastly, she told them 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 missive.

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.

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

But if you do not wish to miss your flight, you should heed this advice. Flight delays are not an exact science, and they can be suddenly reversed and updated. When a flight is approved for takeoff, the airline is not going to go hunting for 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.

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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.

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 to never use them again, we can guess this voucher will go unused.

Should an airline be required to locate all missing passengers before takeoff in a delayed flight situation?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • jim6555

    Perhaps a better question would be “if a flight has been delayed and the passenger has provided the airline with e-mail or texting information, shall the airline be required to notify the passenger of the new departure time at least 20 minutes prior to the boarding doors being closed?”

  • LDVinVA

    Usually the gate agent will tell passengers on a delayed flight to remain near the gate area to stay informed.

  • cscasi

    I don’t think that the airline and probably ultimately the gate agent, should have to do that because it would be time consuming and the gate agents always announce that this is an estimated new departure time that is subject to change and to stay around the gate area.
    Passengers should be somewhat responsible for themselves and not need a minder to ensure they get back to the gate in case the estimated delay time is changed because the airplane issue got fixed sooner than estimates (or whatever it is that caused a delay).

  • Jeff W.

    Even with the rewording of the question, I would still have to vote no.

    During a delay situation, there are so many variables to consider. Having to wait twenty minutes before waiting for every passenger to re-arrive may be the difference between an even longer delay or a cancellation.

    * Smaller planes do not need 20 minutes to load all passengers
    * When there are thunderstorms (and possible lightening), sometimes a “break” in the weather occurs and there is a mad dash to get everyone on board in less time.
    * What about when you have been on a plane and need to get off so maintenance can do their thing? Sometimes the airlines let people disembark during the delay and others stay on.

    The gate agents always tell you to stay near the gate. The OP had a friend. Someone could have acquired the food while the other stayed at the gate, listening for announcements.

  • Kairho

    I have also experienced agents, knowing that the delayed departure could not happen before a certain time, announcing people could leave the gate area but must return by some certain time. An example is the flight is waiting for a very late arriving inbound plane and there is no possibility of substitution.

  • Annie M

    Again, someone who made a bad decision and refuses to acknowledge they caused their own problem.

  • El Dorado Hills

    A delay can be caused by the airline, or by the airport/tower because of many factors. If a new departure time is posted that is one thing, but if it is only a boarding/departure delay how long is uncertain and the flight can get permission to board and depart anytime. Staying in the board is good advice unless a new departure time is certain/firm.

  • Carchar

    I just had a flight that had 8 departure time changes, some later and some earlier than the time before. In the end, we took off a little earlier than the original delay time. I received texts for each change of departure time. Some were just two minutes apart. The notification can be done.

  • michael anthony

    When a flight has the words DELAYED displayed, any reasonable person is going to expect it to not take off earlier and up to the original departure time. That’s common sense. Thus, the carrier does bear some responsibility. It also has the ability to text paxs, so they should utilize that system too
    On the other hand, the delay could end up being 5 minutes or 5 hours, so until you get a revised departure time, then u should keep close contact.

    Thus i think both the carrier and pax each own part of the problem. In the “old” days, every flight departure used to be announced over the PA. Now, it’s only used for certain flights. In my observations, it’s often used for flights that have been delayed and the announcement usually is like “XYZ Flight 2 is preparing to depart for x city. Doors will close in x minutes”. At least with a text and a page, they’ve tried to reach all.

  • pauletteb

    Depending on the carrier and reception, not all texts/voice mails are received immediately, so that wouldn’t always work.

  • pauletteb

    To me “delay” is ANY amount of time later than scheduled, whether 5 hours or 5 minutes; I would not automatically presume the former. No one’s fault but those who left the gate area.

  • DChamp56

    You would think they would have at least announced throughout the airport, if people were missing. A reasonable try for the airline would have been nice.

  • Lindabator

    correct – and the fact only 3 people missed the flight speaks volumes as well

  • Lindabator

    Denver is very large – and those announcements can easily be missed or misunderstood – since ONLY 3 peolpe missed the flight, I think that speaks volumes

  • RightNow9435

    While it seems the OP didn’t handle her dealings with the airline as well as she should have, I don’t feel referring to the manager as a “suit” mattered.

  • Jenny Zopa

    Frontier knew they had at least two checked in passengers somewhere in the airport. Did they do an airport wide PA announcement? It doesn’t seem so. Spirit and Allegiant are the 2 worst airlines flying the American skies, with Frontier a close third.

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