What Happens if You Miss Your United Airlines Flight? [2022]

What happens if you miss your United Airlines flight?

Well, you may not be in as bad of a situation as you think. In fact, if you arrive to the airport shortly after your flight or after check-in closes, you might still be able to get put on the next flight headed to your destination.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the United Airlines flat tire rule and try to get a sense of what their policy is for those of you who happen to miss your flight.

What happens if you miss your United Airlines flight?

If you miss your United Airlines flight you still may be able to get put on the next available flight or take advantage of the standby list. Keep reading below to find out just how you might be able to take advantage of a lesser known exception called the “flat tire rule.”

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Flat-tire rule explained

The concept behind the “flat tire rule” is that if you were on your way to the airport and experienced something out of your control such as a flat tire which forced you to miss your flight, the airline would not hold that against you and work with you to put you on another flight.

While the name flat tire rule sounds like it’s limited to automobile issues and unexpected circumstances out of your control it can usually be applied to any type of scenario regardless of your own fault.

So for example even if you slept late, forgot to set your alarm, had the wrong departure time, etc. you would still be able to take advantage of this flat tire rule.

The biggest thing to know about this rule is that it’s sort of an unofficial/unpublished type of rule. No doubt, United employees should be well aware of the rule but it’s not something that’s really advertised much.

There are multiple reasons for that.

One of the reasons is that if cheaper flights were available later on in the day, this rule could incentivize people to intentionally miss their flight to take advantage of a cheaper flight.

It could also cause issues for logistics for the airline by making it more difficult to predict how many passengers will show up for each flight.

How does the flat tire rule work?

If you miss your flight but arrive at the airport you can proceed directly to the check-in desk and let them know about your situation.

(If you don’t want to waste a trip to the airport you could also call customer service and potentially sort this out.)

You’ll need to act within the recognized cut off time in order to take advantage of this policy.

According to the United Premier rep I spoke with, this window is 30 minutes before departure and two hours after your departure time.

Why 30 minutes prior? Well, because there is a cut-off for check-in usually about 30 to 45 minutes prior to departure.

When speaking with a representative, you should proactively bring up the flat tire rule and request for them to accommodate you since you are arriving to the airport within two hours from your scheduled departure time.

A good check-in agent should acknowledge the flat tire rule but it is possible for an uninformed employee to not know about it or to perhaps even feign ignorance because they don’t want to deal with that type of situation. Just be ready to request a supervisor just in case you get push back.

You need to know that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to the flat tire exception. Even if you show up within two hours from departure, it’s possible that there will not be any available flights for you to be put on.

If there are no available flights and/or no way for you to utilize standby, then you will be forced to purchase a walk up fare which is basically just the standard rate available at that time.

If there is a flight open for you, you may be placed on the next available flight, or if there are no spots on that flight you’ll likely be put on the standby list which is sometimes called the “late arrival standby list.”

United reiterated that if you are placed on the next available flight you do not have to cover the fare difference but if you are placed on the standby list you will have to cover the fare difference.

According to United, you should know if you have been selected from the standby list at least 30 minutes before departure for domestic flights and 60 minutes for international flights.

United Airlines publishes the information about the standby list and they state the following.

First, the people put on the standby list usually consist of three types of people:

  • Involuntary standby customers – Customers who did not travel on their original flight because a flight is canceled or an itinerary is changed by United.
  • Voluntary standby customers – Customers on eligible fares who are voluntarily standing by for a different flight from their original flight.
  • Pass riders – United employees or their eligible dependents standing by on a space-available basis. Pass riders are prioritized last, and are only assigned seats after all other standby customers are accommodated.

Note that as a late arrival you don’t really fall into any of those categories.

I guess you could say you are voluntarily standing by but you don’t really have a choice so it’s hard to say that you belong to one of the three groups.

As far as how they prioritize people on the standby list, they first are prioritized by elite status. The elite status order would work in the following order:

  • Global services
  • Premier 1K
  • Premier Platinum
  • Premier Gold
  • Premier Silver members
  • other MileagePlus® program members
  • All remaining customers

If there are multiple members with the same Premier status, the fare class originally purchased is used to determine priority.

And if there are passengers with the same elite status and for a class, they then use priority based on whether or not you have a Chase United credit card, are a member of United corporate preferred participants, and then finally the date and time that you were added to the list.

Interestingly, there is no explicit mention of late-arrival passengers.

Reports online indicate that as a late arrival, you would be last on the list by default but I’m not sure if that is always the case. Recall that above United states that pass riders are prioritized last.

I tried to get clarification on the priority order for late arrivals but I was told by United that they cannot provide me with this.

So it’s still not clear to me if you have elite status are you able to jump up higher on the list as a late arrival?

Related: Why You Should (And Shouldn’t) Check in Online for Flights

Does United still honor the flat tire rule?

You can find reports of United officially confirming that they do have a flat tire policy but some of those claims are almost 10 years old.

Airlines are also notorious for making changes to policies like this every few years so things can definitely change.

However, I confirmed that United still does honor the flat tire rule as of 2022.

Next day flight

If you have missed the last flight of the day things might be a bit more complicated.

I found mixed reports with some indicating that you could get put on standby for the first flight on the next day and others indicating that you are just out of luck.

But when I checked with United they said that they would try to put you on the earliest available flight the next day (morning) or the standby list if no flight was available.

Connecting flights

Note that if you had a flight booked with United Airlines and because of a delay by United you missed your connection, they are responsible for finding you another flight or providing you with compensation.

This also applies if you had booked with a codeshare partner like Lufthansa. You will not have to resort to the flat tire rule in those situations.

However, if you have a flight booked with an entirely separate (non-partner) airline and you missed your connection to a United flight, that is on you. In that case, you will have to rely on the flat tire rule or look into booking another flight.

Final word

Missing your flight with United Airlines does not have to end as badly as you might suspect.

If you arrive 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure or within two hours of that time, you might be able to get put on the next available flight or on a standby list free of charge.

You may not be guaranteed a spot on one of these flights but at least you have a fighting chance in a lot of cases.

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