What if missing a connecting flight wasn’t awful?

18th Jan 2024・13 min read

App design for helping airlines to handle delays and missed connections

In 2023, my girlfriend and I were about to fly back after the trip of a lifetime. In a form of protest against the end of the warm months, we had spent October delaying the onset of the cold by spending five weeks in South East Asia. Aside from a couple of days of dealing with the dodgy stomach, the trip had gone off without a hitch. But now our ephemeral paradise was over and it was time to make a journey home.

We’re not exactly veterans of trans-continental travel. Even though the journey on the way out from London split into two legs with a stopover, at over six hours both of those flights were longer than any flight either of us had taken before. We’d coped on these flights nonetheless, perhaps aided by the excited of our destination that laid tantalisingly close ahead of us.

Because of our success on the way out, we weren’t too apprehensive of the journey home, even though this time we’d be taking a ten hour flight before a shorter four hour hop to get up back to Heathrow.

The night before the flight we headed to bed a little sad that the adventure was coming to an end, but relaxed and even a little excited to get home and catch up with friends and family.

Time to check-in, kind of

From here it started to go wrong. In fact before we’d even gone to bed, our first minor inconvenience occurred.

Our airline alerted us 24 hours before your flight that we should check-in online for our flight before getting to the airport. So before going to sleep for the night, I checked-in using their app. It was all reasonably straight forward and took no longer than two minutes, given I had already entered most of the information when I booked we had all our passport information at hand.

After submitting everything they wanted, I was met with a confirmation page. But we were unable to access our boarding passes through that app and were instead told that we would receive our paper boarding passes once we checked-in at the counter in the airport.

Maybe it’s a small thing but I find printed boarding cards infuriating to carry around; . You need to keep them in a place that is readily accessible for passing through security, the gate, once you’re onto the plane and any purchases you make in the airport. Combine this with their not-quite-pocket-size dimensions and they end up battered and bruised before you even get to the gate.

Checking in

Add all the information you need to check in before you get to the airport.

A minor delay to your journey

As we turned in for the night, little did we know that our plane had already looking like it would be late for it’s previous journey. This set off a chain of events that culminated in a series of minor annoyances we would endure over the next two days.

Our airline sent us an notification at around 6am letting us know that our flight was going to be delayed by a couple of hours, maybe more. With our flight due to take off around 11am, we were still fast asleep when this notification came through.

When we did wake up, we saw the message and begrudgingly accepted the delay. Had we known earlier that the flight was going to be delayed, we probably would’ve set a later alarm and got a bit more sleep. Given the previous flight took off two hours late, they could’ve at least told us that our flight might be delayed.

We also didn’t know if this would be enough time to make our connection. Our app didn’t make us aware of the danger that the flight would be missed or what would happen if that did occur.

Fortunately, we were in Singapore which has the consolation of one of the coolest terminal buildings going, so the delay gave us a bit of extra time to check out the famed waterfall from the ceiling of The Jewel.

Upon arriving at the airport, we headed to our check-in desk to get our boarding passes for both of our flights and to drop off our hold luggage.

This was a relatively pain-free process, with many passengers having arrived earlier than us in order to be there just in case the flight was on time. They confirmed what we’d heard from the app and gave us a new boarding time nearly 3 hours later than originally planned, but they couldn’t tell us much about whether we would make our connection or not, nor did they offer up much information about what would happen if we did miss the connection.

As recompense for our extra wait at the airport, we were provided with a goody bag consisting of a bottle of water and a few snacks.

Early warning of possible delay

If the airline is already aware that the flight is going to be late, why not let passenger's know as early as possible?

Confirm the delay

As soon as the airline is sure that the flight is going to be late, let the passengers know. They could save hours of waiting around at the airport and they might get a little extra rest before their journey.

Up in the air

The time comes and we board the plane. Having received no further information about the status of our connection, we nervously settled into our seats for the longest flight of our lives so far.

We were accompanied on our journey by the welcome sight of the in-seat entertainment system with an impressive repertoire of the latest Hollywood blockbusters and Netflix documentaries.

To our delight, there was also a “Connections” section where you can theoretically view the status of your connecting flights to see if there are any delays or, as was our case, if you can make the flight at all.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it wasn’t working on our flight.

No matter, there is a section in the app and on their website that allows you to see the same information. I’ll just connect to the Wi-Fi and check it out.

The seat we were in didn’t offer free Wi-Fi as standard, which was fair enough as we went for the cheapest option, so I headed into the entertainment system to pay for Wi-Fi access. However, I wasn’t even able to pay for internet access as it wasn’t working on the flight. Great.

Perhaps the staff on board the plane can help us out? An hour or so before landing I asked a member of the cabin crew if they could find out if we had enough time to make our connection and whether they might wait for us (hey, I don’t know how flights work, they do it for trains sometimes?) but even they couldn’t offer us any further information.

Exasperated, we slumped into our seats and I nibbled away at what was left of my fingernails.

Queuing for the queue for the queue

As the plane touched down, we leapt to our feet. Before long we scrambled out onto the air bridge and headed for our next flight as fast as we could.

We weren’t even sure where to go but just followed the signs for connecting flights. Upon arriving at the gate and still without any idea if we had time to make our connecting flight, we flung our boarding passes as the gates and prayed for the gates to open.

Nothing. Our boarding passes didn’t work.

Panicked we frantically looked around for somewhere we could ask for help. At one point we joined a queue for help, but then realised it was a those looking for accessibility assistance—we weren’t the only people from our flight to make that mistake.

Eventually we saw our airline’s desk at the connecting flights gates, already complete with a queue of at least 200 people. At that point the reality started to set in that we would miss our flight.

We still had no idea what flights we might be rebooked onto or if they were even on the same day. If the flights were the following day, we didn’t know if accommodation would be provided or if we’d have to find somewhere ourselves.

After about half an hour of queueing and basically moving nowhere in the queue, another airline worker announced to the back half of the queue that they were opening another queue somewhere else and it would be faster for many of us to go there instead of staying in our present queue.

Dutifully, we set out on a mission to follow this man and find the other desk. It took some 15 minutes of walking through the airport until we reached the other desk, but to be fair the queue was much shorter and we were at the front with a few minutes.

We were dealt the death knell that the next flight they could get us on was the following morning. For some people who had urgent plans that night or the following day this would have been devastating news. Fortunately for us, we had no plans other than to nap and piece our lives back together before heading back to work the following day. We were given the option to collect our hold luggage if we needed it that night or if we wanted the airline to forwarded it on the the next flight for us. We decided to forgo collection and make do with the clothes on our backs for tonight, but that as nice to have the option. They also informed us that they would in fact be providing a place to stay tonight and transport in order to get there.

The problem was that they hadn’t assigned us to a hotel yet, and in order to get assigned to a hotel we would have to trek to another desk inside the airport. Fine, we received our new boarding passes for tomorrow’s flight and set off.

Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the desk to find yet another massive queue. By this point we were getting pretty hungry but didn’t want to leave our place in the line to grab something. All the while we were being entertained by the crowd of people gathered to our right, listening intently as a member of staff shouted names off a list. Amusing, we thought to ourselves.

An hour later and we were at the front of the line. Having been assigned our accommodation of the outskirts of the city, we wondered “where do we go to get our transport to the hotel? Surely it’s not that in that horde of people next to the queue listening to the names of the list?”. You bet it was.

Thus began our fourth queue. Comically, many people in the crowd couldn’t heard that names as they were called out from the list, which resulted in a succession of different members of staff attempting to recite the list at the appropriate volume until finally a man with lungs worthy of the opera house stepped up and placated the baying crowd.

After some time our names were called from the list, and after even more time we had collected everyone that was due to board that same bus. We were escorted towards the bus parking bays and boarded our transport, but not before our guide thought that we had too many people with us and began a farcical class register by calling out the names again and checking them off as they responded—thus guaranteeing that the people on the list were in the group but not ruling out that there were in fact more people in the group.

None of which seemed to matter because everyone in the group boarded the buses anyway and we were able to get on our way towards the hotel.

After a further half an hour of driving we arrived at the hotel famished and after our final queue of the day to collect our room card, we headed to the restaurant which thankfully has stayed open for us to grab a quick bite to eat, at our own expense, before getting to bed at around 00:30 ready to grab a few hours sleep before the return journey.

Confirm missed connection

Passengers want to know what they're facing. The anxiety of not knowing what will happen can be worse than the reality of missing the flight.

Confirm flight rebooking

As soon as the flight rebooking is confirmed, let the user know—even if the hotel and transfers are not ready yet.

Get your exploring shoes on

Passengers who aren't in a hurry to get back can advantage of the unexpected layover and explore a new city.

Homeward bound

At 4:35am our wake up call from the front desk helpfully jolted us awake. Bleary eyed, we trudged downstairs and hopped on our bus. After sneaking in a few more minutes of shut-eye, we arrived at the airport. Having grabbed a quick breakfast, at our own expense, we passed through security with our boarding passes and headed for departures.

The flight went smoothly enough and, after another blockbuster followed by a whistle-stop tour of the stadia of London from above, our rubber found the considerably cooler tarmac of Heathrow.

At this point we were still a little nervous about our luggage. We had been assured the night before that it would be loaded onto our new flight, but with the chaos of other processes, we had begun to mistrust every little detail.

The luggage belt whirred into life and soon enough after a few nervous minutes we saw the familiar sight of our bags gliding along towards us. Now a short train journey was all that lay between us and a well-earned nap.

Come and get your compensation (if you think you’re hard enough)

We’d heard somewhere along the journey that we would be entitled to compensation for the delay to our journey. But there was little more information than that.

After a little searching online, I found a post where some excellent stranger had put together a step-by-step guide of exactly how to go about claiming compensation from this airline along with the amount of compensation that you are entitled to receive depending on your delay.

In summary, it required us to submit a customer support claim to the airline outlining our request for compensation along side a bunch of relevant information and evidence.

We were required to outline the scheduled take off time and the actual take off time of the original flight, the take off time of our connecting flight, and then the difference between our expected and actual arrival at Heathrow.

In terms of evidence, we had to submit photos of passports, and all boarding passes.

We also had to request the specific amount of compensation that we thought we were entitled to based on the regulations.

After sending this all off and waiting 14 days for a response; we were rejected. But this was to be expected and exactly what the Reddit person said would happen.

We then had to repeat the process but this time applying directly to the air authority of that country, making sure to include evidence that we had applied to the airline and they had denied our request.

Another week later and we finally had a response that the air authority agreed we were due compensation. The airline confirmed that they were sending us compensation amount, but the value they sent was for one person only.

So we'll have to do this process all over again. This part is actually ongoing to I might update this with the outcome.

Proactive compensation

If the passenger is due compensation, don't make them run rings in order to get it. Be the airline that proactively gives compensation for delays.

That’s all folks

Wow, someone made it this far. Thank you for taking the time to read all of that, or at least for scrolling really fast—search engines might even think this is useful because of that.

My dream would be that this influences airlines in the processes, tools, and experiences that they provide for handling delays. Our experience was purely anecdotal and nothing I have done here is based in quantitive data or any kind.

But I do think most of these suggestions not only make sense for passengers, but also make sense for the airline from a business perspective. Allowing passengers to self serve removes the need for an army of staff to solve these problems manually.

Proactively sending out delay compensation may seem like business suicide (and it may well be) but how great of a statement does that make about the brand—marketing would have a field day.

And lastly I want to acknowledge the fact that all of this complaining comes from a place of privilege. We were incredibly fortunate for multiple reasons that we were able to go on a trip like this, and there are much more important problems to solve in the world.

Got any thoughts, reactions or questions? Hit me up on Twitter/X

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