In my life, though I had come close at least once, I had never missed a flight. This changed last weekend, when I was told I arrived at the airport too late and was turned away, and lost a vacation in the process. I hope my experience can help others.
I had a 6:25 PM flight on Southwest Airlines and left home about 4 PM. The airport is about 25 minutes from my residence (more with traffic), so I figured I would arrive comfortably. The plan was going perfectly, until halfway to the airport when my father realized he forgot his passport. By the point it was 4:30. I calculated in my head and figured we could hightail it back home and make it back to the airport in time.
We made it back home at about 5 PM and then sped to the airport, arriving at about 5:40 PM. This gave us 45 minutes to print our boarding passes and go through security. However, when I attempted to print my boarding pass on the kiosk, the machine gave back an error. This seemed odd, so I went to another machine, but received the same result. I asked the Southwest agent what the problem was, and she stated that you must check in 1 hour before for international flights, a rule I was unaware of.
I was pretty annoyed because I had a carry on bag and the security line was basically empty, so making it to the gate wouldn’t have been a problem. However, the agent stated this was Southwest policy and was out of her hands.
To Southwest’s credit, my points were refunded without any questions, but I wish that there was some more bolded information during the online check in process regarding the strict 1 hour rule. I did think it was a bit odd that I was unable to print my pass online, and now I figured out why; Southwest wants to check documents in person (Southwest manually reviews every passport and stamps boarding passes with a DOCS OK stamp) so it sets a hard limit of 1 hour for international flight check in.
I’m not sure if this is a deficiency in Southwest’s IT (I’m able to print international boarding passes for other airlines) or just a buffer zone to get everyone checked, but they end up traveling with empty seats as a result on many flights is my guess. If someone had a refundable fare, he or she would have received a full refund for the flight and nobody would have been able to take that spot as Southwest does not overbook international flights. In addition, nobody can purchase flights within 60 minutes either for international flights, so that is also potential revenue that Southwest is losing out on.
By this point, we decided to just call off the trip, as it was just a 2 day trip to begin with and we would lose half a day if we left the next morning. It was a bitter disappointment, but a learning experience. Thankfully it wasn’t a particularly necessary trip, I could only imagine the utter disappointment if I missed a flight for a wedding or some other important event.
My 2 lessons learned from this experience are to make a checklist before traveling and to always read checkin rules for airlines beforehand. I hope this experience helps others so they don’t have to suffer the same fate that I did.