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I arrived at the check in desk 5 minutes (literally) late for 'check in' and was given the standard 'nothing we can do' speech.

Well, what can I do? How would writing a letter to the airline requesting a refund or credit be received?

Some details:

  • Non-Stop Outbound flight from America to Europe.
  • I could see the plane on the tarmac (it's a small airport)
  • I was told that for international flights, I had to be 'checked in' no less than 1 hour before the plane took off. (I arrived 55minutes before take off)
  • Online check-in was not working -kept saying, 'we're sorry .....'
  • The Airline's website said online checkin was open until 30 minutes before takeoff

My specific details:

  • The airline was/is Air Berlin
  • This happened over 9 months ago
  • I did ask to 'see the manager' which was just some head mechanic because it is a small airport and he technically (apparently) had seniority -but still received the same response.
  • There were three other couples that were in the same boat (although they arrived a few minutes after me -just saying;)
  • What did your booking confirmation say about checkin closing times? That'll make a big difference to if you're out of luck or not – Gagravarr Sep 8 '14 at 17:59
  • @Gagravarr, I checked my ticket and it didnt say anything apart from look online. I go online and it says the counters close at various intervals but online/mobile checkin stays up until 30 mins... To me it seems a little ambiguous. – Matthew Peters Sep 8 '14 at 18:23
  • @pnuts, but was that pre-9/11? – Matthew Peters Sep 8 '14 at 18:48
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    @pnuts I'd agree with the overbooking theory - I fly Air Berlin regularly and have only once had a problem with them (and that was flying from Florence where the problem was airport made, not airline related really..). Arriving late for baggage drop off and/or check in was never a problem.. – greyshade Sep 9 '14 at 7:13
  • 1
    @pnuts I've seen crammed flights occasionally, but that's certainly not the rule - and I've never been turned down or had to take another flight.. – greyshade Sep 9 '14 at 10:22
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There is nothing you can do with certainty that falls outside the terms of the contract that you entered into. IANAL*, but your (paperless) ticket represents your acceptance of the terms offered. If they can be proven to have violated those terms you have a case. If not, you have no case. They may choose to "be nice", but that's their choice.

Some airlines have been shown to slow down the checkin process on occasion in order to reduce the number of passengers flying. They may do this due to overbooking but usually it is a gain for them from a paid fare and less loaded weight. Every $ helps when you are at the bottom of the pecking order in an industry where the average profit since the start of commercial aviation has been 0%.

If you have your bag on board and they cannot get it off you will fly :-). Hong Kong a few years ago: I puff up about 5 minutes late for complex and irrelevant reasons. They "I'm sorry sir - you have missed your flight". I - "But, my bag is on board". The wonders of in-town checkin. They could have given me a boarding pass and I would have run. Instead they conferred for about 10 minutes THEN gave me a pass, took me through the aircrew security route, made me hire a golf-cart type vehicle they use there (I could have and would have run faster). and got me on board. I'm guessing that the conferring was along the lines of "Can we get his bag off?"

On another occasion at Shenzhen for reasons not really my fault I was late at the gate AND they got my bag off when they could have got me on instead.

I would NEVER be late for a Ryan Air flight.
I'd be far earlier and more careful about timing than for most others.
If I was ever silly enough to fly Tiger Air (= Singapore airlines in a really ugly mood) I'd be really early AND have backup plans for when the flight was cancelled as "it happens" more often than is desirable.

Best advice, alas, is - If you care about losing your fare don't do things that cause it to happen.

Note that on any missed flight they are obliged to refund all taxes (and probably all or most non-airline fees.) You can stand on the counter and yell over a refusal to do that, or spread abroad that they have done so improperly, if that's your style. Or keep on bothering them until they refund it. [[Fuel surcharges are an interesting thought - can they legitimately charge these if you have not flown? Maybe]]. Note also that they will probably not offer a tax refund if you do not ask.

QANTAS gave me a Sydney-Gold Coast flight free when I was a day late because another airline failed to meet their obligations 1/3 of a world away and I had booked the last leg separately. Technically I had done my dough. They told me this. I said I understood but I knew QANTAS were good guys and I was sure they would work out something to help me as I had given them the money. After a while they gave me a "free' ticket. To achieve this sort of result you need to fly with the good guys. If it is eg Ryan Air, learn the expensive lesson and move on.

  • I am not a lawyer.
  • Good point about the tax refund -- I was wondering about fuel surcharges myself. I guess if you cancel early then they don't use the fuel -- but if you no-show and it's already loaded? Are planes only fueled after the check-in time closes (would make sense, actually -- I guess they need to know the weight of the luggage too). – SpaceDog Sep 9 '14 at 9:38
  • @SpaceDog At Beijing some years ago Australia bound. Flight delay 1 hour +. Finally board. Pilot comes on intercom. " ... and the fuel computer is STILL not working so we've just unloaded several tons of cargo and are replacing it with extra fuel ...". Still? First I'd heard. Charming :-). I think that was QANTAS. – Russell McMahon Sep 10 '14 at 10:50

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