When Having an Empty Middle Seat is a Bad Thing

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This weekend we flew to what should be our last out-of-town getaway before the baby is born thanks to the US Airways $99 Companion Certificates and a booking made at The Phoenician before the most recent SPG category increase. To say we needed some family together fun time would be a little bit of an understatement. Between the stress from the months that my husband was between jobs, to the time he started his new job that keeps him away from home much more than we are accustomed, we have been operating in different circles more often than not. We needed some fun together in the sun, and a resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, seemed like the perfect destination.

The Phoenician - an SPG Luxury Collection Hotel in Arizona

The Phoenician – an SPG Luxury Collection Hotel in Arizona

It was somewhere we had never been, offered something for all of us, but it was a pretty short nonstop 2 ½ hour flight from Houston so a weekend getaway was realistic. We booked our flights out of Houston for Friday evening after work since vacation days don’t really exist for Josh right now.

My daughter and I headed to the airport after school on Friday and looked forward to meeting Josh there since he was coming straight from work. Then the first call came. Traffic was bad. Worse than normal bad. Not moving at all for the last hour bad.

That got us a little worried, but we stayed optimistic as we have cut flights pretty close before and been okay. He was checked in, he had Pre-Check, he could valet park, he wasn’t checking bags, and with a little luck he could still make the flight.  Fingers were tightly crossed.

C and I cleared security, had some dinner in the terminal, kept our eyes on the clock, and then the next call came. Traffic hadn’t improved, and while he was a little closer than he was on the first call, he wasn’t going to make the flight. Our family weekend away together was going to at least start without a very key family member.

We debated about what to do, but our realistic options were pretty limited since this was already the last US Airways flight operated for the night and we only had the weekend to work with. We could have potentially booked a brand new ticket for him on a later United flight, but there was no saver award availability, and a new ticket wasn’t really in the budget.

After talking to the US Airways agent at the airport we decided that my daughter and I would fly as ticketed and he would get rebooked for the first flight the next morning without penalty as long as he arrived at the airport within two hours of the original missed flight.  Every time I have had to deal with a missed flight situation the airlines have outlined similar “flat tire” policies that do often help get passengers rebook without penalties on the next flight possible assuming they were reasonably close to making the original flight.

Naturally, he arrived at the airport while we were still on the ground, but as the boarding door closed. He was re-booked for the morning flight (which meant at 3AM wake-up call) and we flew to Phoenix that evening with an empty middle seat.

Sad empty middle seat

Sad empty middle seat

In the end of course it wasn’t a huge deal as we all eventually made it without further incident.  However, considering that we were all looking forward to time together, it was a pretty sad and empty middle seat.

Fun in the sun once we all made it to Phoenix!

Fun in the sun once we all made it to Phoenix!

For us it was a good lesson as this was our first trip booked after he no longer had a pretty flexible schedule. On almost any other day he would have made the flight with the time he had allotted, but he no longer has the sort of job where he can just leave at any point. Booking evening departures at the end of a work day is now a risky proposition for us unless the departure really is truly a late departure well after the risk of traffic gridlock has subsided.

I’m grateful this was just a simple nonstop flight to Phoenix instead of a big first class trip to Australia. We have already become much more conservative with booking weekend getaways than we were in the past, and it seems even that has to be reigned in further to risk potentially being split up again in the future.  These are all realities of our ever-evolving family, and our style of family travel has to continue to adjust to align with the realities of our lives.

Do you have any “missed flight” stories?  If so, I’d love to hear them!

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. We were coming back from the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and got stuck in Sunday traffic to Denver. We were barely going to make it on our Southwest flight. I had my husband drop me, the kid, and all the bags curbside. He drove the bazillion miles back to car rental, dropped it and took off running. I NEVER pay for fuel refill but this time it was going to be worth it. (Nice surprise – since the car rental company had accidentally given us a van with expired tags, they waved the fuel surcharge!) Was a little tricky with a full flight but I managed to flail across the middle seat until the last second just in case. Luckily since the flight was so full everyone took a while to board and he slipped in last second. The sad thing is we had paid for early boarding and none of us got to use it. But at least we all made it home that night! The moral of that story is don’t drive back from Beaver Creek on a Sunday.

  2. It happened to me once. I was in a group returning home from Ensenada, Mexico (40 minutes south of San Diego) and got stuck in heavy traffic near the border and missed our flight home. We were rebooked on a later flight.

    Austin traffic can be a nightmare as well. I had a close call once, on an AUS-JFK flight. There was a massive traffic jam to the airport which would put me very close to the cutoff point for boarding the flight. Fortunately the flight was delayed 30 minutes and had no problem making the flight. One of those times where a delayed flight is a good thing.

  3. My missed flight happened in Las Vegas where I had forgotten to give me enough time to return the rental car. When I got to the airport, I stated my woe and blamed the fault entirely on my own stupidity. As I too had missed the last flight, the wonderful check-in agent put me on the next flight to a nearby city with no payment penalty and I found my own way home later that night.

  4. We had a flight from Frankfurt and on the way to the airport there was a horrendous crash on the autobahn that caused a 3 hour delay so we missed our flight. Had to pay $150.00 rebooking fee for a flight the next day and made it back to the states.

  5. My family and I were traveling home on a red-eye flight from Oahu. We had to change planes in San Fran and our first flight was running a tad late. At this time our children were 1, 2, and 12. When we left Oahu we left our double stroller at the end of the gate, it somehow did not make it onto the plane. We were stuck carrying two sleeping, toddlers and carryon luggage to a far away gate.

    By the time we got to the gate they had already closed the door. They rebooked us on the next flight which was 3.5 hours later. The most frustrating part of this ordeal was that we would have made our second flight had we not been waiting for our lost stroller for so long.

    As soon as we arrived in PHX (our final destination) I peered out my airplane window and our stroller was comically, sitting on the tarmac waiting to be sent up to meet us at the gate. My hubby and I couldn’t help but laugh and that alone was enough to let go of the frustration we had just gone through. The frustrations of traveling have not deterred us from traveling with children.

  6. Friday’s rough Houston traffic downtown was brought to us by an evacuation of the largest building downtown from what I heard was a small fire in the parking garage. Can’t really plan for that.

  7. We had a missed flight experience once in Houston, flying to SLC from Belize connecting in Houston. This was during the end of Delta/Continental relationship. We were given 1:20 connection time. I confirmed with delta 4 times, 4 different agents, that it was enough time for connection even if I am traveling with two young children. Will, there were just a lot of people entering the U.S. on December 23 and we were at the gate 10 minute before departing time. The Delta agent at the gate said it was too bad that we were not at the gate 15 minutes before departure even though all 4 of us had our boarding passes to board. She even accused us of having to stop to use the restroom or stopping off to eat. …Which neither happened we were running with our kids in our arms and couple of backpacks on our backs. I even told my kids to pee in their pull-ups at the time because we couldn’t stop at the restroom. The delta agent said that it was completely our fault for not being at the gate so she cannot do anything further to help us. However, we were so fortunate that another Delta agent preparing for the next flight at the same gate was kind enough to want to help us in getting home as long as we wait for her to get the next flight out. At the end, this second Delta was able to confirm 4 seats the next day, hotel and meal voucher that night.

  8. Once while in NYC, I was going to save a TON of money by taking the subway from our hotel to JFK (instead of a taxi, like my sister wanted to do). I failed to realized how long the subway took and we missed our plane. My sister won’t let me forget it. Luckily, we were put on the very next plane 2 hours later at no charge.

  9. Scheduled a flight on Christmas Eve from Quito/Miami/minneapolis. I left a 9 hour connection in Miami on purpose, just in case of weather. The week that we left Quito, a volcano erupted in Ecuador (near the town we were in, thanks goodness we were traveling with a guide) and we arrived in Quito only to find that our plane was delayed on take off because the flight the night before had to divert to another town in Ecuador due to the ash cloud, and the flight crew had a mandatory time off between flights. You would think that American Airlines could have notified us prior to our early arrival at the airport, but NO. So our 9 hour window in Miami became 2 hours. I repeatedly asked the crew if this was enough time to get through customs etc.

    Long story short, we got delayed in customs, got our luggage, RAN through the Miami airport and realized that the security lines were too long and our plane was boarding – on Christmas EVE, the last flight to Minneapolis. We threw ourselves on the mercy of the folks in line, and miraculously, everyone simply let into the front of the line. We reached our gate just in time to be the last people on the plane.

    Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus!!!

  10. I always over plan for airport arrivals. I do not enjoy sweating bullets. Traffic is always the most unpredictable part of a trip.

  11. Just last night, my husband was flying US Airways/American Airlines from PUJ to CLT then CLT to SFO. The first flight was delayed, cutting his 2 hr connection time down to just 75 min for the CLT to SFO flight. Upon landing at CLT, there was no gate available, so the plane sat on the tarmac for 30 minutes. Lines at customs took another 20 minutes. Then he had to go through security again. He ran and arrived at the gate 15 minutes prior to the flight leaving, with the doors still open, but the US Airways agent had already given away his coach seat! They told him he couldn’t board the flight, even though they then allowed someone in first/business class to board (who arrived after he did to the gate). Major insult that they gave away his coach seat but saved the first/business class seat for another passenger. He was put on the next flight over 2 hours later and got home so late that the BART wasn’t running so had to take a taxi to pick up the car. I’m disappointed that US Airways/American Airlines can’t be counted on to save your seat when they should know that your previous connection flight is delayed.

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