I missed my flight to Paris – is my vacation over?

When Robert Kinkley misses the first leg of his flight to Johannesburg, he’s stuck at the airport. What should he do next?

Question: I was supposed to fly from New York to Johannesburg, but I missed my first flight, and I need help getting my itinerary restored.

Here are a few details: The first leg of my flight is from New York to Paris on American Airlines. From Paris, I’m flying to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and Johannesburg on Etihad Airlines. I booked the trip through Priceline.

I left Manhattan just before 6 p.m. for a 9:10 p.m. flight to Paris. I have taken the subway to the airport many times before, and one hour is the usual amount of time it takes to get from midtown to John F. Kennedy Airport.

While on the subway, I encountered some delays, and the trains stopped for some time. I arrived at the airport with a little less than two hours before the flight’s departure.

American Airlines wouldn’t let me check in for the flight. I called Etihad and was told I could get a 10:30 p.m. flight to Abu Dhabi. But when I got to the airport, there were no agents to help me change my ticket. Now I’m stranded at the airport. Can you help? — Robert Kinkley, St. Catharines, Canada

Answer: American Airlines should have been able to rebook you on the next available flight to Paris. Like most major airlines, it has what’s known as a “flat tire” rule that allows its agents to put you on the next available flight without charging you a penalty.

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But that wouldn’t have fixed the second portion of your flight, the leg from Paris to Abu Dhabi that you would have missed. This was a job for your online travel agency, Priceline.

This case unfolded quickly and in real time. You contacted me on my Facebook account while you were still stranded in New York.

But before we get to the resolution, let’s talk about how this situation could have been avoided. You probably were cutting it close when you left around 6 p.m. for a 9:10 p.m. flight. Three hours may be enough time to make it for a domestic flight, but international flights cut off their check-ins earlier, so you really were only giving yourself about an hour to get to the airport on time. That’s not enough.

I contacted Priceline on your behalf. It asked Etihad to invoke its “flat tire” rule, which is pretty much an industry standard, and unfortunately, Etihad refused. If you were doing this alone, you could have sent a polite, written appeal to one of Priceline’s executives.

Our next stop was Etihad. I contacted the airline, and you also wrote and called the airline, asking it to put you on the next flight to Johannesburg.

The airline finally agreed to rebook you on a flight at no charge — something it should have done in the first place.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • AJPeabody

    Leaving Manhattan 3 hours before an international flight is not safe. All international flights I have taken from a NYC airport say to allow 3 hours at the airport for check in and security. Good work saving the OP from himself.

  • Bob Davis

    Although irrelevant, why book that kind of flight via Priceline?

  • BubbaJoe123

    Wait, he arrived at the airport two hours before departure, and AA wouldn’t check him in? That makes no sense at all. The check in cutoff for int’l flights on AA is 60 minutes prior to departure.


    Also, why didn’t the pax just check in online before leaving for the airport.
    Leaving Manhattan three hours prior to int’l departure from JFK is more than ample if you’re taking the subway. I routinely leave Midtown <2.5 hours in advance, and have never missed a flight.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It’s tremendously safe. Less than 2 hours is tight, but anything beyond that is fine, if you’re not driving…

  • cscasi

    Sorry, AA states, At least two hours prior to departure to complete all necessary international requirements, not 60 minutes!

  • BubbaJoe123

    Where does AA state this is a REQUIREMENT? I cited AA’s checkin REQUIREMENTS in my post. They’re below as well, for your reference.

    “For flights originating outside the U.S. or flights departing the U.S. for an international destination: Minimum check-in is at least 60 minutes before scheduled departure except in Buenos Aires, Dublin and Maracaibo, Venezuela”

    “For flights originating in airports outside the U.S. or flights departing the U.S. for an international destination: Check bags at least 60 minutes prior to scheduled departure”


  • jim6555

    Here’s a tip that could save American Airlines travelers 10 or 15 minutes when taking the JFK Airtrain from the subway to airport. The Airtrain’s first stop in the airport is at Terminal 1. Your destination for AA is terminal 8. There are several time consuming stops between T1 and T8. What you should do is exit the Airtrain at T1. Directly across the platform is the track for a train that runs on the inside track in the opposite direction. Board that train. The next stop will be T8. This train route is designed to make quicker connections between terminals on the opposite side of the airport. There is no charge for using this train.

  • judyserienagy

    If he arrived 120 minutes ahead of time, what was the problem? While I’m glad you got it solved, Chris, can we get the rest of the story?

  • KarlaKatz


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