Why Did My Connecting Flight Leave Early Without Me? (Ask Cranky)

Hi kids. It’s time for another episode of “Ask Cranky.” Hooray! This time, the question comes from Florida, or as a friend of mine calls it, “America’s wang.” It’s a great question.

Last week, I finally got the chance to try out Melbourne’s much-acclaimed addition of US Airways. We were caught in the nasty weather up in New York which severely delayed our flight home, but somehow managed to pull up to a gate in Charlotte at 9:53, hopeful of making our 10:09 connection to Melbourne. We tore through the airport and arrived at 10:03, only to find the boarding door closed and our plane pushing back (The only flight to leave even close to on-time during our entire trip…).

My question is about this practice of leaving early when connecting passengers are in the terminal. They had to know our flight had landed — why not hold the plane until at least the scheduled departure time? I know the days of holding a flight for additional passengers are long gone, but surely just waiting until the scheduled departure time is an option?

(As usual, the airline refused reimbursement for our hotel expenses because our original delay was weather-related. Although I’d argue the real reason for our stranding was the early departure of our connecting flight.)

Ryan A – Melbourne, Florida

This is without question one of the most frustrating things that can happen to a traveler. For an airline, it becomes an operations call on how to handle the situation, and unfortunately, it sounds like you got on the wrong side of this one.

The Ask Crankybad news is that they don’t technically owe you anything, because the rules specifically state that you have to be at the gate 15 minutes prior to departure, even if it’s their fault that you weren’t there.

So why would they have left early? There are a couple of reasons that come to mind, one more likely than others.

The more likely scenario is that they had a ton of people trying to get on that flight from earlier delays or cancellations. As soon as that 15 minute mark hit, they were free to cancel confirmed seats and put other people onboard. Sucks for you, great for them.

The less likely but still quite possible scenario is that there could have been extenuating circumstances. Maybe the weather was rolling in and they had to get out early to beat it. Maybe the pilots were dangerously close to timing out on their duty day so they wanted to get on their way.

If neither of those were the case, then they probably would have looked at your arrival time and held the plane for just a couple minutes. After all, that plane was spending the night in Melbourne, so being a couple of minutes late wouldn’t have impacted any other connections.

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