by Natalie Paris, The Telegraph, August 7, 2017
It was one of the worst moments of my life. I was on my own, heading out to Copenhagen to meet someone, and was in danger of missing my flight.
The man at check-in shook his head. “You’re too late,” he said simply. “You’ve missed it.” My heart sank. What on Earth was I going to do? There was no way I could afford another flight and I was only going away for a weekend.
As it turned out, when he saw the look on my face, I wasn’t too late after all. If I dashed madly through the airport (thankfully I only had a tiny wheelie case) and got lucky in the queues at security, I would get to the boarding gate in the nick of time – my flight had been delayed by 20 minutes.
There are plenty of Britons who would want to see people like me suffer. A recent survey suggested that more than a third of holidaymakers think those who are late boarding a plane should be punished for making others wait.
More than one in 10 people said they had zero tolerance for poor timekeepers and thought that latecomers should get some kind of fine.
Eleven per cent, meanwhile, thought they should be barred from the flight altogether, though 16 per cent were kinder, thinking that a ticking off from cabin crew, and a dirty look from fellow passengers, would suffice.
“During peak times people are keen to get to their destination as quickly and smoothly as possible, so frustrations caused by latecomers are understandable,” said Ant Clarke Cowell at Holiday Extras, the company that commissioned the survey.
But just what are the rules that govern how long a plane should wait before taking off minus a couple of tardy passengers?
It is up to individual airlines to chase up people who have yet to reach the boarding gate for their flight.
Sometimes they do so by making announcements over the tannoy, but in recent years, some have also been able to limit the likelihood of someone missing a flight by sending the passenger messages on his or her smartphone.
If a customer used an app to book a trip, such as easyJet’s, it is designed to send you notifications if your flight is delayed as well as telling you when the boarding gate is open.
Excuses that are sometimes acceptable for being late to the gate include having been one of a fair few passengers who have just arrived on a connecting flight that was delayed by bad weather.
But, in the vast majority of cases, airlines say that they adhere strictly to gate closing times – whatever the circumstances.
“We can’t delay other passengers who arrived at the boarding gate on time,” the Ryanair website states, “so passengers arriving late at the boarding gate will not be accepted for travel.”
It dictates that passengers be at the boarding gate at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure and that boarding closes 20 minutes prior to departure.
One thing you might think prevents an airline from leaving without tardy passengers is the fact that their large bags may have already been loaded onto the flight.
In such cases, largely due to security fears, luggage will be tracked down and unloaded, stored in the cabin in case a passenger does eventually turn up, or left at the airport. Airlines are understandably keen to avoid the potential delays caused by efforts to find a suitcase or two inside a packed hold.
“If a passenger is not at the gate 30 minutes before departure time and has checked bags we will begin the process of removing their bags from the hold,” said an easyJet spokesman. “If the passenger arrives at the gate whilst this process is still being carried out it is an operational decision between the captain and the ground staff as to whether the passenger will be able to board the flight or not.”
“We want to help passengers to make their travel easier and so if they arrive at the airport late, but within two hours of their original flight's scheduled departure time, they can transfer to the next available flight for a rescue fee of £80.”
easyJet also sells missed flight insurance for £7.50 one-way, which should see latecomers booked onto the next available flight or given a full refund given, as long as they did not miss the original trip by more than four hours.
Ryanair’s website states: “For travel on a later flight, you will be required either to make and pay for a new reservation or to pay the Missed Departure Fee to move to the next available flight.”
The fee, charged per passenger, is currently €100/£100 and only available less than 40 mins before and up to one hour after the flight departure time.
Airports are investing in ways of making it easier for passengers to get around the airport in a timely fashion.
“We are in the process of developing our mobile app further,” said a spokesman for Heathrow. “It already provides passengers with real-time travel notifications and maps, but we’re looking at how we can use ibeacon technology to provide step-by-step support throughout the airport journey.”
Such technology could apparently deliver step-by-step directions to a passenger that could lead them from one location in the airport to another.
With such innovation, those who dally (like me) are running out of excuses.