Two months ago we were traveling to Japan. After checking in the luggage we realized that we forgot the voucher for the Railway Pass at home so we hurried back to the city to get it. But pure luck we got back just before boarding even started.

But we were curious recently. What would have happened in a parallel universe, where we didn't make it back on time? I know that they are not supposed to take off without you if you've checked in your luggage. But I guess that at some point they will do something about this.

Just to give a full account, there were no further flights from the airport to the connecting airport (where we had to spent a few hours anyway, so if there was a second flight two hours later, it would have been fine); and we weren't physically at the airport for the most part.

So what would happen if we had only managed to get back to the airport 30 minutes after boarding, an hour after boarding, or even two hours (say due to a minor train accident or whatever)?

(The airline was Turkish Airlines, if that matters, and we were flying from within the EU.)

| improve this question | | | | |
  • I am totally not sure about the tags. if anyone has better suggestions, please do. – Ink blot Feb 22 '18 at 19:16
  • 27
    In general terms, they simply won't wait for you. You mention examples of "an hour", it's inconceivable they would wait that long. Note that if you haven't check in it's extremely unlikely they will wait at all. If you have checked in (and you are "lost in the terminal!") they may wait a few minutes. If you don't show, they'll pull your bags off and fly. – Fattie Feb 22 '18 at 19:56
  • 2
    It may vary a lot based on the flight: they may have a lot more margin on a 12-hour intercontinental flight with quite some buffer and a long turnaround at arrival than on a one-hour quick hop which is supposed to leave again very quickly... – jcaron Feb 23 '18 at 14:21
  • 1
    It depends entirely on the country and airline's attitude to punctuality, which passengers were delayed (international? domestic? high-fare? low-fare?), how many, whether their delay was foreseeable (e.g. immigration) or just dawdling in the departure area. Also how security-conscious the airport is, and how expensive a gate is and delay compensation (if the next flight at gate is delayed). Assuming they'd checked in of course. – smci Feb 24 '18 at 8:47
  • 5
    @emory: Induction does not fare well in real life. – Ink blot Feb 24 '18 at 22:16

Eventually, and this won't take that long, they will remove your bags and the flight will depart without you. I have had this happen on a couple of flights. The airline may be slightly more patient about doing this on the last flight of the night, if it's not going to impact any other operations, but they won't wait forever.

Personally I doubt most airlines would wait more than 15 minutes or so, unless you were a very, very good customer of theirs or your group comprised a significant amount of the passengers on the flight (e.g. 8 passengers out of 50 seats). Remember, they're making the other passengers unhappy by waiting for you.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • 17
    With the last flight of the day they might be the opposite of being patient - at night starting and landing is forbidden at many airports due to noise regulation. Also working times end and delaying causes overtime. – johannes Feb 22 '18 at 20:07
  • 4
    Anecdote: Circa 2010, flying over the pacific into Japan our flight arrived as our connection was scheduled to depart: They had staff guide us (as a group) to get our bags, through the airport (bypassing security, which seemed reasonable since we all just got off a flight) and out onto buses to board our plane, which departed ~30 minutes late. But the passengers from our flight were at least a quarter of the passengers on the connected flight (transitioning from a 747 to a smaller aircraft for the hop to Okinawa). – TemporalWolf Feb 22 '18 at 21:44
  • 3
    @TemporalWolf I had a broadly similar experience on a connection flying FLL-YUL-YYZ-... - over a hundred of us needed to be on the YUL-YYZ flight from the FLL-YUL one, so they held that flight for over an hour. We had to clear Customs and Immigration in that span, too. But it all got done. – Jim MacKenzie Feb 22 '18 at 21:55
  • 3
    @Johannes At least in the U.S., I've both had the last flight of the day wait on me and been on it while it was waiting for others on several occasions. Granted, all of the ones I can recall were due to connecting passengers delayed on their inbound flight, not passengers simply not showing up. In the event that the delay was the airline's fault (rather than, say, weather,) they have some incentive to do this, as they're otherwise required to provide hotels and food for the passengers at the airline's expense. Granted, these delays have been on the order of 15-20 minutes, not an hour or more. – reirab Feb 23 '18 at 5:07
  • 1
    @TemporalWolf your previous flight being delayed is a lot different than someone checking in and not showing up at the gate at boarding time. – Kat Feb 25 '18 at 0:30

Not at all. This is a scheduling matter and any delay is likely to cause them issue as most airlines run a tight operation. They do a last call but your luggage will be removed as soon as they can once they decide that the gate is closing.

This is even the case if you are delayed by their own fault. Several times I had connecting flights that were delayed and arrived at the gate within 5 minutes of closing and was simply advised that that was the scheduled time and that was it. Instead of keeping the door open a few minutes, they preferred to schedule me and dozens of other passengers on future flights.

If they do delay the flight for a passenger, consider yourself lucky. Maybe the plane is not going further that day and they count that other passengers do not have any connections later but that would be the rare exception. Remember that in your example, they had no idea you were going to make it, so there is little chance them to be expecting you, as opposed to them knowing you are on the incoming flight for a connection.

In the case where you have already checked-in, they will make several calls in the terminal since, as you said, they do not know you left. They will rarely delay the departure even in that case and not by more than a few minutes, it could be too costly for them.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • Well. In my example they didn't even know we were away from the airport... – Ink blot Feb 22 '18 at 19:59
  • 2
    @Fattie I think Ink blot checked in, left the airport, and then returned, which is of course also possible. ("After checking in the luggage we realized that we forgot the voucher for the Railway Pass at home so we hurried back to the city to get it.", emphasis added.) That's why the airline did not know they were away. – phoog Feb 22 '18 at 20:03
  • 3
    In particular, any delay may mean that the airline incurs significant expense in terms of things like ramp fees but also possible compensation to passengers, rerouting passengers who miss connections and so on. – David Richerby Feb 22 '18 at 20:11
  • 2
    >>This is even the case if you are delayed by their own fault. This is less cut and dried in my experience If the airline knows there are transferring passengers coming in and the incoming flight was delayed but should let the passengers board within a few minutes of scheduled departure then they will keep boarding open after the normal closing time. But it is a balancing act between the needs of those connecting passengers and all the other passengers already on board who may also be making connections at the next stop – Dragonel Feb 23 '18 at 1:18

Where positive passenger bag matching is the policy, the process of locating your bag and offloading it begins some time before scheduled departure.

By most airline policies, you are required to be at the gate ready to board at least ten to fifteen minutes prior to scheduled departure. At that time, once the gate agents have scanned the boarding passes of everyone in the waiting area, they will be able to identify no-shows, and begin giving away their seats to standby passengers.

Around the same time, the ramp agent will begin tracking down any bags that those no-shows have checked, and may begin off-loading them. This does not take as long as you might think, and in fact might be faster on a larger plane of the sort typically used on intercontinental flights; the bags are scanned when placed in loading bins, so the handlers will know exactly which bin(s) to check for the bags.

On domestic U.S. flights, positive passenger bag matching is no longer required, as all luggage is inspected by the TSA. As such, the most likely scenario is that the flight would simply depart without you with your bag still on it, its final disposition dependent on your final disposition.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • But "have scanned the boarding passes of everyone" will not be more than a minute before normal boarding is completed?! – Hagen von Eitzen Feb 23 '18 at 20:50
  • 2
    @HagenvonEitzen: Depends on which airport, or even which gate. It is not unusual for boarding-pass scanning to take place when you enter a sealed-off waiting area at the gate, which may be before the aircraft even arrives at the stand. – hmakholm left over Monica Feb 24 '18 at 14:59
  • @HagenvonEitzen Many airlines will require you to be at the gate some time in advance of the departure time, and they aim to start boarding early enough to have boarding completed sufficiently before departure time as well. This helps avoid the situation where they don't know a passenger is a no-show until departure time; they can start looking for your bags earlier. – Zach Lipton Feb 25 '18 at 5:22

It depends entirely on the country and airline's attitude to punctuality, which passengers were delayed (international? domestic? high-fare? low-fare? frequent-flier status?), how many (2? 100?), whether their delay was foreseeable (e.g. immigration) or just dawdling in the departure area. Also how security-conscious the airport is, and how expensive a gate is and delay compensation (if the next flight at gate is delayed). Assuming they'd checked in of course.

One extreme example: In 2013 was in the Philippines, flying on Cebu Pacific Airlines (a low-budget carrier) from Cebu (domestic I think). There were about ~14 Korean tourists (business class). Everyone else got on on time. The Koreans were still in the restaurant or souvenir store, taking their time, knowing they were holding things up and not caring. But the staff didn't close the doors or announce any delay. They just silently held the flight (for 40 min) until the Koreans finally decided to come. No apology, no nothing. After 25 min I had asked the FA why could they not just close the doors and depart. She didn't give me an answer. I said if they'd told us, I could have used an extra 40min in the souvenir store myself.

Flight delay compensation in the Philippines and SE Asia is not strict like EU and US.

| improve this answer | | | | |

I once worked gates and check-in for a major airline at JFK. The IATA rules are the same everywhere, but culture/airline staff is different depending on where you are. You might have less time if Turkish is usually this good on-time: https://www.flightstats.com/v2/flight-ontime-performance-rating/TK/52/IST

Seems you would only have minutes to spare, perhaps 10 or 15. They check the boarding progress constantly so that they can make those "Mr. Smith, please get to gate xx, final boarding" announcements BEFORE any actual, expensive departure delay occurs where they will be fined ("departure" = pushback from the gate/off-block time). So you would have to start counting the "delay" from the time your name would be announced over the public address system, until the moment your bags were removed and the pilot was notified of the confirmed passenger manifest/door closed. Even LESS time if you are in the last boarding group to be called (if boarding by row) because they wouldn't notice you were missing right away.

| improve this answer | | | | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.