Why Are Some Flights Held for Late Connections and Not Others

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The airports were surprisingly busy early Saturday morning and had their fair share of cranky passengers. I arrived at my connecting gate in time to hear the irate women next to me complaining that they hadn’t held her flight when they knew her first flight was late arriving.

It was something like “I showed up at the gate at 7:59 and they said the flight was supposed to leave at 7:55 and was already taxiing. I don’t know why they couldn’t have held the flight, it’s the same airline, they knew my flight was arriving late, I mean they even had new tickets printed for me. Now I can’t leave until 1:20PM. I’m never flying this airline again.”

She found herself in a common situation. Your first flight gets in late, you make a desperate dash through the airport with mixed results. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t, sometimes you’re lucky and they hold the plane for you.

So when do they decide to hold the plane?

I don’t know what the official policy is, but I have a theory. (I’d love to hear from someone who actually knows)

They’ll hold the flight if a significant number of people are connecting to that flight and/or if it’s the last flight in/out of the airport.

To rebook a handful of people to later flights, while maddening to the passengers, is not very costly to the airline. But if they have more than a few people all needing seats to the same destination, then it takes more to find seats on other flights rather than holding their original flight.

Delaying a flight that has to go on to other destinations can have a domino effect on the schedule that wouldn’t be worth it. But if it’s on its last segment for the day, such that a delay in arriving won’t make a difference, then the airline might be more likely to wait (they also would then be able to avoid hotel and meal vouchers).

In this particular person’s case, it sounded like she was the only person affected by the delay and they could easily accommodate her on another plane leaving later without having to throw off the entire flight schedule for one person. Not to mention if missing one flight would cause her to “never ever ever fly them again” she’s probably not a customer worth keeping.

Fortunately I had enough sense, even at 8AM, to not volunteer any of these thoughts. 🙂


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  1. Pingback: Why Didn’t You Hold the Plane for Me? Don’t You Know Who I Am!?! - View from the Wing

  2. Alex (@NoviceFlyer)

    May 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    I cannot count the times I’ve heard passengers complain like she did. Just suck it up and be a trooper. Ask for a voucher or something, that’s what I did.. and it worked! 🙂

  3. Marshall Jackson

    May 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    You’ve just gotta love some people. 🙂

  4. Art Carden

    May 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

    “Not a customer worth keeping.”

    An important point, and one people don’t often recognize.

    • John

      October 28, 2016 at 6:11 am

      Hope you don’t own a business or one counts on you to keep customers happy and returning. I think they should tell you before you leave your first if you are going to miss the connecting flight especially if it is the last flight of the night. Make it your call, stay home or risk it.

  5. Diane

    June 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    We were on a US Airways flight from Boise to Cabo and our flight to Phoenix (our connection) was delayed. We got in 10 minutes before the departing time. 25 people on the flight were going to Cabo. They closed the doors. Did not make sense. Obviously people were very angry.

  6. Denny F.

    September 5, 2014 at 3:31 am

    I had a bad experience with this. My first flight had a solid delay, but I landed at 8:55 with my connecting flight due to depart at 8:55. Since it was the last flight to my destination for the night, I was almost certain they’d hold it for the 10-minutes for a few other passengers and I to rush our way over! Of course this was a poor assumption, as we were then given the “here’s a hotel, see you in the morning” treatment. Surely it wouldn’t have damaged the schedule to hold for 10 simple minutes being the last flight of the day?

  7. Helen

    November 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

    We had an experience this weekend. 64 passengers on our plane to Charlotte International were booked on a connecting flight to London Heathrow. Last flight of the night. We were 3 hours late landing in Charlotte due to weather conditions. The airport had been closed briefly and nothing had left or been allowed to land.

    When we arrived our flight had taken off. So the staff were stuck at 12.45am trying to rebook 64 passengers on another flight. We ended up leaving 2 days later, on Sunday evening, and having to fly via Munich

  8. Dk

    November 12, 2014 at 1:15 am

    Disagree. Planes build in buffer times to make up time in the air if they need to. They should have waited if it was their fault for her being late. Or at least send a cart to the gate to transport her to her gate.

  9. BH

    April 24, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I’m not sure who at AA makes the calculations for when and how to make the call to hold the connecting flight…but all I can say is that I boarded my first flight(delayed to the point where arrival time = next departure time), tweeted AA and asked them to hold Flight 2 for me. Within minutes Flight 2 was delayed for precisely the right amount of time I asked for. Love that.

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