Miss your connection and your return flight is canceled? Let the blame games begin



When Richard Missett’s Dec. 21 flight from Buffalo to New York JFK on JetBlue was late arriving, he missed his connection on Emirates Airlines to Manila via Dubai. 

Missett, a medical student from Erie, PA, bought the entire trip through Emirates on one ticket and with one reservation number and had 2.5 hours to make the connection at JFK.  Emirates rebooked him on Delta and Gulf Air via London and Bahrain. However, when he showed up for his return flight from Manila back to Buffalo he was informed that his entire return itinerary had been canceled because he was deemed a “no show” on his New York to Manila flight. 

As a result, he was stranded in Dubai for 22 hours, eventually getting on a flight from Dubai to Dallas, then Dallas to Pittsburgh (which he paid for himself) and then had a friend pick him up for the drive back to Buffalo. 

“All in all, it took me 65 hours to get home,” he laments. “And by the way, Emirates refused to provide meals or a hotel while I waited for nearly a full day in Dubai.”

So why was his return flight canceled even though Emirates was aware of the “misconnect” at JFK on his outward journey and what lessons, if any, can you learn from all this?

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Lessons to be learned

First, let me say this. Missett did not have enough time to comfortably connect. Two-and-a-half hours is not enough time to make a domestic-to-international connection at New York’s JFK, especially in winter over the busy holiday travel period. You should never accept such a tight connection. Next time, insist on the maximum layover you can get (four hours sounds about right). If your first flight is on time, great. Enjoy the airport. Read a book. Get a day pass to the lounge. It’s worth it. 

Second, if you do miss your connection, do not get on the rebooked connecting flight without a printout of your complete new itinerary in hand, showing a confirmation of your return segments. Assume that the airline will cancel all of your return flights (even though they’re not supposed to do that). Don’t wait until you show up for the return to discover you’re stranded.

What happened?

Why was Missett’s return flight canceled? I contacted both Emirates and JetBlue, and although both are now offering some sort of compensation, I have to say I’m not satisfied and neither should he be. (Emirates is offering to pay for Missett’s out-of-pocket expenses, upon presentation of receipts, which is great, except it doesn’t compensate him for the agony of a 65-hour ordeal getting home; JetBlue is offering a $100 future flight credit).

Each airline, in the most polite terms, seems to be blaming the other for not “protecting” Missett’s return flights. Emirates’ customer service claims that, “It is the responsibility of the inbound carrier (in this case JetBlue) to protect a passenger’s booking when they become aware of a delay which could result in a missed connection.” 

Emirates further claims that their representative who booked Missett on alternate flights did attempt to reinstate his return booking, but his seat was snapped up by another traveler as soon as it went back into inventory “due to the busy holiday season.” 

JetBlue is saying that they, too, attempted “to find passage on any one of our 20 partners” but were unable to do so, at which point “Emirates stepped in to assist by confirming … travel on another carrier….Emirates indicates that a communication issue failed to recognize [the] outbound flight as flown.”

A communication failure

I think the key words here are “failed” and “communication.” As soon as Missett’s inbound JetBlue flight was recognized as being late (perhaps even before he left the ground in Buffalo) both airlines should have realized that he would miss his Emirates connection from JFK, and both should have immediately worked to protect his return flights. 

Whether because of human error or poorly coordinated computer systems, this was not done. I think Missett is entitled to a refund of the return portion of his flight homeward. And I’m shocked that Emirates refused him hotel and meals in Dubai, and made him pay his own way from Dallas to Buffalo. 

I thought they were better than that.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site