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This was Alaska Airlines flight from SJC to LAX. We ran later than we usually do on our way to flights and so we ended up reaching the gate 2 min before the scheduled departure time.

On our way from the security check to the gate we didn't hear any call for our names asking us to make it to the gate asap. (Not that we were loitering around. We were running to the gate which was at the end of that terminal.)

So anyhow, we reached there 2 min prior but were advised that the flight already left and the gate was closed. We bought a ticket from SFO and continued with the rest of our trip because there was no point arguing as the flight had already left. We were very upset and I am looking into what can be done. A few things that I am not sure of here:

  1. Flights can leave ahead of time (but that is if all passengers have already boarded or there is a clear indication of no-show in that the gate is advised that some passengers didn't even checkin at the airport AND they have approval by the ATC of course). We did checkin and so we shouldn't have been marked no-show.
  2. Departure time is time to leave the gate and not take-off. Confirm this.
  3. How could I prove the airline left minutes ago? Could I ask the airlines for the record of the flight on that particular day?
  4. If I do prove this, can we ask for any sort of compensation?

Any other advice (other than "don't go that late"). As I said, it doesn't always happen but when it happens we should know our options.

  • 34
    The scheduled departure time is usually intended to be the time the aircraft physically starts moving away from the gate/stand. The boarding bridge general needs to be retracted at least several minutes before that, doors closed and secured, etc. – Henning Makholm Apr 19 at 19:19
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    And if the aircraft is parked at a remote stand, it can quite easily be that the apron bus needs to leave the terminal building ten minutes or more before the scheduled departure time. – Henning Makholm Apr 19 at 19:34
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    I’m struggling to understand why you would think you have any options in this scenario. It’s not as if ‘be at the gate by x minutes before the scheduled time’ is a recently-invented approach – Traveller Apr 19 at 20:27
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    Why were you "late" to the gate? Were you just late getting to the airport or were you on a connecting flight that was late getting there so you had to run to try and catch the next leg an missed it? – chadbag Apr 20 at 8:16
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    @perennial_noob I wasn’t suggesting the question is invalid. You appear to have flown before (“we ran later than we usually do on our way to flights”) and there’s nothing in your question about any extenuating circumstances causing you to run late. I was therefore just intrigued to understand why you’d think any compensation might be due or any other redress might be available to you apart from the tax/fees refund mentioned in Aganju’s excellent answer – Traveller Apr 20 at 10:07
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If you check your ticket, it will say something like 'all passenger must be at the gate and ready to board x minutes before the scheduled time, or they forfeit their flight'.
I have seen times required between x=10 and x=60 minutes, but never less than 10 minutes. In other words, if you miss this limit, it's your own problem, and they don't owe you anything.
For Alaska Air, it is here: https://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/at-the-airport/airport-boarding-times

Boarding:

You must be checked in with a valid boarding pass at the gate no later than 30 minutes before your flight. Being late may cause the cancellation of your reserved seats and/or your entire reservation.

You typically can apply for a refund of the tax and fee part of the ticket price, as they haven't paid those taxes/fees if you are not on the flight, but the remaining part of the ticket might be lost (as are all follow-up legs of the flight), depending on the airlines conditions.

If you ask at the counter right away and nicely, many airlines will get you on the next flight, for a small fee or even for free. But they do not owe you that.

  • I'm curious - do you know how this might apply to connecting flights? I once narrowly avoided this same scenario, however I was late due to my incoming flight taxiing for an extended period, not for simply arriving at the airport late. – That1Guy Apr 22 at 14:51
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    @That1Guy Depends. If you were traveling on two separate tickets/reservations, it's your own problem. If you had a single reservation for both flights, the airline is responsible for making sure you catch your connection, or offer you an alternative. – J. Hougaard Apr 22 at 16:18
  • @J.Hougaard That makes sense. My case was the latter - I had a single reservation, so its good to know the responsibility falls on the airline in those cases. Thanks for the info! – That1Guy Apr 22 at 16:31
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    Airlines in the US don't generally refund taxes and fees on non-refundable tickets. I'm not sure of Alaska's policy, and you can ask them, but it's not typical for US airlines to do this. It is much more common in Europe. – Zach Lipton Apr 22 at 19:23
  • If this is your case, and you bought your ticket with a credit card, you might check if your CC can help at all. – Wayne Werner Apr 22 at 21:57
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So anyhow, we reached there 2 min prior but were advised that the flight already left and the gate was closed.

Say the flight "departure time" is 10:40:00

You simply can't arrive very close to that time. You have to arrive before the "gate closes".

That's that.

The time the gate closes is indeed given on the boarding pass stub, and elsewhere in many places.

It's usually ten, twenty or thirty minutes before the stated departure time. Perhaps 10:20:00 in the example.

Regarding your four questions:

1) You checked in, but, did not make it to the gate before the gate closed. This is totally commonplace. (Indeed, I'd guess that most folks who don't make it to the gate in time, were already checked in.)

2) "Departure time" is neither literally the time the aircraft leaves the gate nor take-off time. So there's nothing to "confirm". "Departure time" is a nominal time. {Note too that FWIW, the airbridge moving away, doors being locked etc, are all different from literally "the wheels beginning to roll".} The gate closes at a certain time (10:20 in the example) and that's that. Everything after that simply depends on airport operations.

3) You can get that info on the various tracking sites, eg flightaware.com. But it's totally irrelevant because (sorry for the bad luck) you did not make it to the gate by the "time the gate closes".


(Interestingly, I've noticed that many/most boarding passes now only display the gate closing time, rather than displaying the "departure time". I guess this is sensible but I find it confusing, personally!)

  • I wish airlines would list a time that I had to be at the airport entrance for - instead of needing to make assumptions about how long check-in, TSA/security, and getting to the gate takes. This would be useful for airports I'm not familiar with. As much as missing one's flight sucks, it isn't much help when you waste 2-3 hours because you're too early. – Dai Apr 22 at 18:20
  • @Dai Airlines can't really do that because it varies dramatically even at the same airport for reasons that the airline often won't know in advance. Most airlines do have a time by which you must check in for the flight, though, especially if you're checking baggage. This is typically at least half an hour prior to departure. I've seen as much as 1.5 hours, especially for international airlines that may only have one service from that airport on a particular day and, thus, shut down the check-in counters once they're finished with that flight. – reirab Apr 22 at 19:49
  • "The time the gate closes is indeed given on the boarding pass stub, and elsewhere in many places." This is airline-specific. Some do, some don't. It's less common in the U.S. However, all of them will at least tell you "you must be at the gate ready to board by at least X minutes prior to the scheduled departure time." – reirab Apr 22 at 19:50
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I ran into this problem twice about 15 years ago with American Airlines – first time at the gate 10 minutes before scheduled departure, the second 15 minutes before, and each time already gone. Both times they rebooked me for later flights, but weren't apologetic about it. Second time, it completely messed up my itinerary (I needed to connect with someone else arriving at the destination about the same time, for further travel by car to somewhere I didn't have the address for, and everyone else involved had unlisted numbers. Disaster.) Oh well.

Several years later I was very interested when The New York Times wrote a story about the fact that this had become official policy of AA, and that it had finally become enough of a PR black eye (as social media grew in prominence) for them to stop it. But what was interesting was why they did it in the first place - because they found in focus groups/surveys that:

  • travelers glanced at their watches as they pulled back from the gate, and this moment anchored their future impression/recollections of whether the airline was efficient and timely;
  • travelers assigned blame for delays to the airline if they left the gate late;
  • but not if the airline was delayed out on the tarmac, waiting for clearance to takeoff – then they blamed the airport, or just rotten luck.

So it made sense to game their impressions by always leaving early, and if the occasional traveler was inconvenienced, too bad.

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    That's is the official policy of pretty much every airline: the departure time is the time the flight is scheduled to depart, and you're expected to be at the gate at least a certain time before that. It is true that American has been particularly focused on getting flights out on time in recent years, and has left standby passengers behind as a result. – Zach Lipton Apr 21 at 4:18
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    Note that in many cases “the flight as already left” actually means “the gate has already closed”. The aircraft may have not moved yet, especially if it’s at a remote stand. – jcaron Apr 21 at 9:14
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Most boarding passes will have two times printed, the boarding time, and the departure time. Boarding time is typically 45 minutes before the departure time.

Boarding is usually open for 15 minutes starting at the boarding time. If you do not get to the gate within 15 minutes of the boarding time, you are counted as a no-show.

In Heathrow, you have to be there a full hour before your flight's departure time, or else the security gates will not even let you enter the secure zone of the airport. This happened to me once. Got stuck in London traffic, arrived during the fifteen minute boarding time, but the service counter for the airline had already closed, and the security gate scans the boarding pass to let you in. It would not accept my boarding pass. The airline counted it as a "no-show" so I had to buy another ticket.

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