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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36 Comments on "Why Did My Connecting Flight Leave Early Without Me? (Ask Cranky)"

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David SF eastbay
Member

Those were two good answers to why a plane leaves early. If a plane has someone sitting in all the seats, they is no reason to delay departure if everything is a ‘go’. Sadly it may not be the people who have a ticket for that flight if they were delayed in some way.

A storm rolling in will get things going quickly also.

Ed Casper
Guest

It seems to me that the best response a carrier can make to this problem is brutal honesty. If the plane was full already, tell the customer. If the crew was close to timing out, tell the customer exactly that. If the flight left early to avoid incoming weather, say so. I truly believe most people will be understanding if they’re simply told the unvarnished truth.

Nick Barnard
Member

Ed, Sadly Airlines suck at this. I think partially they do it because people would jump on their case if they were given more information. “The crew was about ready to time out? Why would I have wanted to get on that plane to begin with?”

Tom
Guest

What I don’t get is how they don’t reimburse people for this. I don’t care what “the rules” say, if you are late for a flight because of the airline, then they should be responsible for the consequences.

This entire industry is messed up from the bottom up due to the fact that it is one of the most government controlled industries out there, so it’s really just a lose-lose situation. If the airlines did assume responsibility for these situations, they would go bankrupt and be back to begging for federal dollars.

BN
Guest

Every airline’s official policy is to close the gate 5 or 10 mins before the scheduled departure time for an on-time departure. However, given the weather scenario on that particular day, it’s more likely that the flight must have been boarded full before the connecting pax arrived. Confirmed seats must have been given away to other standby customers after a certain threshold time before departure.

Tony
Guest
If the airline sold the connection and it fell with in the domestic minimum connect time, then the customer is guaranteed all the way to his final destination. Did the bags make it on to the connecting flight? That would be the most important question….because if they did, the airline has just stated by action that the customers connection was in fact guaranteed. The 15 min rule applies for CHECK-IN at an origin station. If the plane pulled from the gate prior to official push time, and if the connecting customers bags made the flight I would say regardless of… Read more »
Gene
Guest

When this happens to you, always ask if anyone was offered or given VDB/IDB compensation. If so and if VDB/IDB would have been due to someone if you had made it to the gate on time, you are due the VDB/IDB compensation. The airline certainly isn’t going to voluntarily give you the compensation, so be sure to ask if the plane went out full, was oversold, etc. to determine if you may be due compensation.

Nick Barnard
Member
I have another reason that a plane won’t be held for you: passenger discontent. I was on a USAir DC-9 (this was back in the late-80s) and the pilot came on and said they’d be holding for some connecting passengers as this was at the end of the day. The load factor was uber low (30-40%) but there was a general sound of discontent (and as a preteen I booed pretty loudly, I WANTED TO GET HOME.) and the pilot called up the operations guys and got us sent out. I hindsight it was a bad thing for the passengers… Read more »
Wes
Guest
I experienced something like this once, and it seems like US did offer some compensation when they weren’t required to…. SNA-PHX leg was delayed quite a bit because someone jumped the fence at SNA and was running right down the middle of the runway. When we finally arrive in PHX and were taxiing to the gate, I saw the plane I was hoping to get on to DSM still sitting at its gate. Unfortunately it was one of the longest be-boarding processes I have ever been a part of, especially considering that we were on a CRJ. Once finally off… Read more »
AC
Guest
I’ve been stranded by US Airways in Charlotte a few times. The most recent was MEM-CLT-BOS. The flight leaving MEM was delayed but we were told we would make it on time to connect. Flight tracker (on my Iphone) had us getting in with enough time to get from the E gates to the B gates. We were doing fine until the MEM-CLT flight had to abort landing and try again (rain/wind/something). Finally we landed and I had 25 minutes. I finally got my bag (planeside check) and started running-realizing my 5 months pregnant self wasn’t going to make it… Read more »
robert
Guest

The sad thing about this is Ryan et al were delayed through no fault of their own but tried their hardest to get to the connecting flight. In other words, they were trying to compensate for the delay by themselves but received no reward for the effort. They should get the compensation (or refund).

Donald
Guest
Dear Cranky, First of let me explain where I coming from. I have spent over thirty years in the pointy end of the aluminum shipping tubes, ie; This is the Captain speaking. Why does this happen? Blame, Lizzy Dole, former Sec of DOT, former Director of the American Red Cross, former Senator from NC. When she instituted the tracking of of departure and arrival times of flights, the days of holding a flight for connections came to an end. From then on pilots, agents, dispatchers, mechanics etc, have had answer for even a one minute delay off the gate. Remember… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member
Donald, Thank you for your discription of what’s going on behind the scenes. What a great example of the law of untended consequences. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would care if their plane left ontime, most people only care if they arrive ontime. A smart airline would make appropriate adjustments for this if they didn’t have to report the departure time. E.g. The last flight of the day out of a given hub would have an extra 20 minutes of block time to adjust for late connections. But since we’ve got all these rules the airlines have been micromanaged… Read more »
trackback

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Travelnate
Guest

here’s a sneaky trick by Piedmont & PSA agents.

You get to your gate, as an agent, and see its oversold by, lets say 6.

Here’s what we train them to do:

1. Look up the Unticketed list for passengers holding space on that flight but not ticketed, cancel those reservations.
2. Look up the inbound connection list, determine who is at risk of missing the flight.
3. If 1 & 2 fail, look at ways to get people to their destination, solicit volunteers.

I will be ya $1,000 that the customer was in fact a #2.

NextTimeIDrive
Guest

And I also bet that my case was a #2 (I posted my sad story below).

SAN Greg
Guest
It’s the underside of all of the gloating about “having the best on-time record!”. This statistic plays to people’s sense of reliability and minimal inconvenience. What the statistics don’t show is the reality that the depth of inconvenience is of a much higher magnitude for someone who misses a flight by a couple of minutes and ends up waiting for a flight hours later or even the next day (as in the case presented). One airline seems particularly hung up on this lately and has dispatchers who feel that the trade off of touting “best on-time major airline” outweighs gross… Read more »
ATLguy
Guest
Even if this flight closed 10 minutes prior to departure… that’s 9:59 for a 10:09. He says he rolled up at 10:03, let’s say his watch is 2 minutes slow from the time used by the carrier. It’s bad weather, people likely have been misconnecting and it’s supposed to be a full flight plus many standbys. I’ve done this before at my mainline carrier in that situation – give the pilot a load sheet for a full boat, they go ahead and can do their weight and balance calculations before boarding ends. At a few minutes before flight close, check… Read more »
frank
Guest
Goes to show you……….statistics play an important role in these decisions. The DOT statistics show THE ON-TIME PERFORMANCE of the airlines, but has never shown the AMOUNT OF MISCONNECTS per month. Which is more important, to be on-time or be late with connectors? Secondly, on late flights into hubs, I have to tell you. You people board like you’re picking out furniture. NO ONE listens to the announcement to quickly take your seats. Stow your items quickly. We’re late, every minute helps to get going, but to get going, you need to SIT DOWN. You’re beyond, slow.
Sean M.
Member
I flew on Southwest from MSP to PHX via DEN last October. There were many delays due to weather and runway construction at MSP at the time. Our flight was delayed and the Southwest gate crew keep us up to date every 10 to 15 minutes on its status. They also stated that those connecting to LAX and PHX would make their connections, as they would hold those planes for us. The agent didn’t say this once, but he said this every 10 to 15 minutes for 2 hours. When we landed in DEN, about 10 to 15 of us… Read more »
Angela
Guest
I had a similar situation hapen to me on a trip coming from Houston to Atlanta back on January 11th. I got to the gate at exactly 14 minutes before departure and the plane was GONE.. I had arrived and checked my luggage over an hour earlier but got stuck in the security line for what seemed like eternity. They KNEW I was there, they had already boarded my luggage.. Really inconvenienced me because I then had to call my friend to come BACK to the airport, pick me up and we had hours with nothing to do until I… Read more »
Ben
Guest

You called a friend to come back and kill time with you for a mere three hour delay? That’s just weird. Most would just relax airside and wait for the next flight, and again at only three hours you were quite fortunate.

And another tip: When flying never promise your kids or family you’ll be home at a certain time. The kid card doesn’t fly, three hours is nothing to call Congress about.

SEAN
Guest
In 2005 I flew EWR/ LAX on Contenental. It was the first flight out at 6:45, wich I intentionally chose. Got to the airport three hours early with my girlfriend figguring we could sail through all the lines. To our surprise & dismay it took over two hours to get through everything & arive at the gate with bearly an hour till departure. We grabbed a quick bite & proceited to the gate. After about half an hour there was an anouncement that the gate was swiched & everyone there moved on mass. Thankfully the new gate was directly across… Read more »
Ben
Guest

Uh – what on earth does this have to do with the topic?

Just Sayin'
Guest

Another reason why gate staff are anxious to close the door: Fear of the repercussions from management in case of even a one minute delay. Many managers say that the A/C MUST be closed ten minutes before departure, even if there are people missing.

f9 ohio
Guest
” Just Saying” is absolutly correct. It’s a judgement call on this one but either way you play it someone is unhappy. For those of us who work at an airline who cares, or at least one that used to, two things happen after you take even a one minute delay. First would be you spend the next fifteen minutes of your life coding the dealy in multiple systems and writing paragraphs to explain the situation, second once again working for an airline that gives a shit you get a personal email account which they not only send you up… Read more »
Old airline guy
Guest
First of all, let me say that I used to do this job. I worked in the ramp tower of a major airline and it was my job to keep up with late inbound connections and offer advice as to hold for or leave without the connecting passengers. Where I worked, there were no hard and fast rules-save two. First, unless there were no other ways around it, hub to hub trips were not delayed. Secondly, the first flights (or first bank) of the day were not held for late red-eyes. If either one of these type of flights were… Read more »
f9 ohio
Guest
“Just sayin” has the right idea here. Three things happen after a delay if you work for an airline that cares, or atleast ones that used to. First off if you happen to be even of lead importance your cell phone goes off in your pocket with the powers that be wondering what the hold up is, second you waste the next fifteen minutes of your life coding delays in multiple systems with far fetched numbers and paragraphs, and if that wasn’t enough the good airlines have this thing called email, not sure if you’ve heard of it, but each… Read more »
f9 ohio
Guest
And a quick response to something Gene wrote up above, I’m sorry buddy but it wouldn’t make a difference if the flight was oversold by 32 people or not, if you’re not at the gate within the allowed time set forth by your airline of travel ( usually found online or in the ticket jacket) then you’re not entitled to a voucher. Same would go if you don’t meet the check in requirements at the ticket counter. Your flight could once again be oversold by 32, but if you try to check in at the ticket counter with 25 minutes… Read more »
NextTimeIDrive
Guest
It was a 21-hour nightmare to get from New Haven, CT to Gainesville, FL, thanks to US Air. US Air is the only airline flying to the tiny airport at New Haven and it does so from Philadelphia. I was the first one to check in at the airport. When I did so the weather was great and I asked about Philadelphia weather: no problems. Yet my flight was delayed over one hour. My flight from Philadelphia to Orlando, FL (easier to get there than Gainesville, so I often use that airport) was supposed to leave at 1:40 PM from… Read more »
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