Help! I’m Stuck on a Train and My Plane Is Leaving Without Me

Last December, I missed my flight from Frankfurt to Denver because of a delayed Deutsche Bahn train. When I called Icelandair from the train, I was told that because I had already checked in online the night before, the ticket was no longer changeable and that I would have to purchase a new ticket: $2,200 for the one-way flight set to leave three days later. I finally arrived at the airport right around the time my original flight was taking off.When you miss your flight but have already checked in online, do you really lose the full value of your ticket? Sabine

Sadly, you’re right — you did lose the value of your Icelandair ticket. But despite what you were told, it’s not because you checked in online. You could theoretically check in from Mars and still change your flight afterward. What matters most is your whereabouts — and ticket status — when the plane actually departs.

In purchasing a plane ticket, you agreed to Icelandair’s contract of carriage, a standard, if little-read, set of vows between a passenger and an airline. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, you’ll bring an I.D. and comply with onboard cellphone restrictions. In return, Icelandair will transport you from Point A to Point B and pay for a hotel (probably not the honeymoon suite) if you’re bumped involuntarily.

Now think of the flight like your and Icelandair’s big day. You’re both excited — you’re about to gaze upon the Rockies, and the airline is googly-eyed at the prospect of generating revenue from you. Then a train stalls, life happens and Icelandair is left alone at the altar, with only a chilled shot of Brennivín to drown its sorrows. Hence the term “no-show”: airline lingo for a passenger who checks in (by whatever means), but doesn’t get on the plane. If you’re a no-show, Icelandair, like all airlines, can cancel your ticket, thereby stripping it of its value, without picking up the tab.

Of course, you didn’t willingly stand up Icelandair, and you did the right thing by calling the airline to alert them that you were running late. That’s what the contract of carriage explicitly requires you to do. But when I reached out to Icelandair, I learned that simply informing a phone agent about a likely-to-be-missed flight isn’t enough; one needs to officially change the ticket — as in, pay the fare difference and applicable fees — during that call to avoid being marked a no-show.

You were misinformed that your ticket was unchangeable. Here’s the plain truth: Most plane tickets can be changed (often, although not always, for a fee), even after checking in, before the flight departs. Certain Icelandair tickets can even be changed after departure, but not your Economy Standard ticket, I’m afraid.

And because of this incorrect information, you didn’t have the opportunity to adhere to the golden rule of dealing with airlines: Don’t hang up until whatever you’re trying to do is formalized.

Unfortunately, Icelandair has no record of your call and — despite my multiple efforts to plead your case — remains unwilling to extend restitution. It’s disappointing; I’d be frustrated, too. And it would certainly be understandable if Icelandair has lost your favor. But if I may be so bold as to offer a post-breakup pep talk: Behind every cloud is a silver lining — and perhaps another airline waiting to whisk you away to your next vacation.

The Sept. 15 edition of Tripped Up, about a nonexistent hotel in Colombia, garnered considerable empathy from Times readers. In an email, Bruce H. wrote that he had experienced a similar mishap on St. Thomas: “Our solution was straight to the local bar, order beer and ask for help. About 30 minutes later we were well fed, thirst free and he had found us two rooms elsewhere. Having guaranteed the rooms, we stayed and drank and left with several new friends!”

Sarah Firshein formerly held staff positions at Travel + Leisure and Vox Media, and has also contributed to Condé Nast Traveler, Bloomberg, Eater and other publications. If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to

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