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Flight Delayed, Oops Now an On-Time Departure

September 3, 2007 | Posted in: Airline News,Ask Rick


I had a couple of minutes this morning, so I picked another question from the Ask Rick Post (in the comments) to chat about.

Elliott Asks:

I have a question about posted delays that get rescinded. My girlfriend was on the last ORD – CVG flight on United, and got a message that it was delayed 2 hours several hours prior, certainly before most passengers would have arrived at the airport. Flight info. online and on the phone confirmed the delay.

We decided to go for dinner with the extra time. As our meals were arriving, she got another message, saying the flight was now leaving on time. So, we quickly got the food to go, and rushed to Ohare as fast as we could. She made the flight, but it was fairly close.

The question is about the airlines responsibility had she missed it. Since the delay was posted, and seemed pretty official, would UA have been held responsible for honoring her ticket,and any extra expenses? Or are passengers supposed to be at the gate on time, even if they know there has been a significant delay posted? Even as a fairly frequent traveler, I have never encountered a situation like this.

Excellent question Elliot.

You have run into a relatively “new” and increasingly common issue caused by the proliferation of flight status notification tools (SMS, Email).

There are several variations of this question I would like to address. First some background.

Who Posts a Flight Delay?

While the FAA does have programs such as the AFP (Airspace Flow Program) in place, they’re not responsible for posting specific flight delays. The AFP is used to proactively stagger flight departures from airports (specifically in the North East) that may be facing weather issues and constricted airspace. While AFP and other air traffic control programs can affect departure times, flights are also subject to local groundstop and delay programs (for more on AFP, visit Nuts About Southwest).

That being said, the airline is really who you’re dealing with when it comes to delays of specific flights. In fact, if you ask the FAA about a specific flight delay, this is what they’ll tell you:

“Sorry, but we do not have the resources required to research individual flight delay inquiries.”

Is a Posted Flight Delay Binding?

The most common case people have sent me recently is they get notification of a delay and they show up at the airport to check in (having not checked in online) well after their original departure check-in time requirements and are told they have missed their flight. (Ouch)

So, is the delay binding? Does the airline ‘owe’ you anything? Well, like most things airlines do, a delayed flight status posting is not binding. I wish I could say something else, but if you see your flight is delayed, you still should check in at your scheduled time and stay fairly close to the gate, because there is a chance the delay will be shortened. Here is a sample of what the legacy airlines have to say on the matter:

Continental Airlines will do everything practical to ensure we provide the most accurate flight status information at all times. However, situations change quickly and many factors affect our scheduled operations. Please understand that a flight listed as ‘Delayed’ may, depending on the circumstances, depart ‘On Time.’ Unless your flight has been listed as ‘canceled’ we suggest you always check-in for the original scheduled departure time of your flight.”

“Many factors affect flight operations and US Airways makes every effort to reduce delays. A flight listed as delayed may still depart on time. Unless your flight is canceled, it is important that you still arrive at your gate at the scheduled departure time…All flight information is subject to change at any time.”

Notified of Flight Delay – Check In Online (Web) – Show Up Later (without Bags to Check, With Bags to Check)

If you are a gambler — which I am not recommending — and have checked in online (with only a carry-on), the airline has no idea whether you are home or waiting diligently at the gate. So if you show up based on the delayed departure (posting/notification) AND the delay is not shortened — you have gambled and won — this time …

Checking a bag, makes this a moot point if you want the bag to show up with your at your destination on the same flight (which is a crap shoot in many cases already).

Remember that if the delay is shortened, you will be counted as a no show and your entire itinerary will be quickly and efficiently canceled (including your return) — so buyer beware.

Notified of Flight Delay and Then Flight is Canceled
If your flight is delayed and then gets canceled, your options change. When dealing with cancellations it’s important to know your rights, so take the time to look over your airline’s condition (or contract) of carriage (each airline has their policies available on their websites) — you will have plenty of time …

In the coming weeks we will be providing summaries of these for the major airlines (so you won’t have to get your magnifying glass out). This goes for extended delays, as well. Depending on airline policy, you could be entitled to food, vouchers, hotel stay, or transfer to another flight.

Flight Status is Most Useful for Passenger Pickup

For the moment — the bottom line is that flight status notification information is mostly useful for those planning on picking up passengers (or helping you notify those people picking you up). Once the flight is in the air its a pretty good bet it will arrive at the newly posted time (although tarmac delays and diverted flights can and do occur more than the odd few times, especially when weather is “iffy” at the destination).


I’ll be honest, when I am traveling (alone or with family) I just go ahead and head to the airport on time and try to be as patient as possible. I get the delays pinging on my Blackberry, which is oddly reassuring (yes technology works) and mostly ho-hum in a beaten down “here we go again” sort of way.

When I am picking someone up I check flight status frequently and try to factor in baggage delivery time to arrive as closely as possible where I don’t have to get shooed away by the airport security and “circle the block” multiple times (unless of course it is my wife where punctuality is … well worth it …)

Just know that if you come late, and that flight delay time has been decreased and you miss your flight — the airline won’t be held responsible.

4 Responses to “Flight Delayed, Oops Now an On-Time Departure”

  1. Palal says:

    What about the flat tire rule? If you check in online, the flight is delayed, delay is rescinded, and you show up for the flight late, how does the “flat tire rule” come into play?

  2. debbie says:

    My question is:My husband’s flight was delayed due to the weather in Lagos,Nigeria.As he was waiting there for the flight and which they did not know what time it would be leaving.He was beaten at the airport and taken to the hospital and which he had remind there for a monthThe security at the airport if there was any.let this happened.The ticket my husband had was for round trip.Not being able to leave on that flight due to what happened,and the when he was able to leave after the month of hospital stay .They infrom him that his ticket was cancelled.Q how can they cancell the ticket at the air port when it was from there he was take to the hospital ,due to be beaten there?Who do you see about the ticket?And how many other people do they do that to.Where are the passangers rights.

  3. Rick Seaney says:

    Contact your airline immediately. I would also contact your nearest embassy or consulate for further assistance.
    Hope this helps,

  4. Timi Agama says:

    @Debbie. This sounds really unusual. It is the first time I have ever heard of someone being beaten up in a Nigerian airport. My company publishes Nigeria’s domestic flight schedule by SMS and other travel related stuff so I travel around the country quite often and listen to industry related news. And I have an extensive personal network that tends to travel frequently as well.

    I’m not saying Nigeria has no security problems, it certainly has. But getting beaten up in a major airport, and badly enough to end up in hospital, sounds very very odd indeed.

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