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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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.


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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

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