American Airlines Updates Its ‘Flat Tire Rule’ to Help If You’re Late to the Airport

For many years there’s something that’s been referred to in airline parlance as the ‘flat tire rule’ — if you show up too late to get on your flight, your airline will put you on the next one without a penalty. After all, you may have had a flat tire on your way to the airport, why punish you further?

Little is free in today’s airline world any more. In fact “standby” or wait listed travel is no longer free at most US airlines (and not all international ones offer it to begin with). At American Airlines only full fare passengers and elites can stand by for free, and that’s generally only for US travel — otherwise it costs $75 to stand by for an earlier flight.

But what about when you miss your flight? Although unpublished, American has had a ‘Late Arrival Standby Policy’ that passengers turning up tot he airport within two hours of departure aren’t charged to standby on the next flight (unless the flight that was missed was the last of the day).

American Airlines updated their policy for passengers who miss their initial flight on February 15. They currently allow customers to stand by free of charge for the next itinerary as long as one of the following situations applies:

  • they arrive after check-in cut-off, but within 2 hours of their posted departure time, or
  • they don’t have proper travel documents and miss their flight, or
  • haven’t applied for or received an ESTA to travel to the US, or
  • have mobile boarding passes but turned up at the wrong airport (only for Washington National/Dulles and Houston Intercontinental/Hobby)

Naturally American’s new policy only applies for travel on American and not codeshares. If the itinerary connects to another airline and standby options will cause a misconnection to the other airline this is not allowed.

For the technically inclined affected passengers are listed with the RL priority code, and this is even available for basic economy passengers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Learned the hard way that British Airways has no such policy. I was transiting LHR two years ago – between two BA flights – and had to go through immigration to get my luggage to recheck for the next BA flight (two separate record locator numbers, and another story…). Fast Track took nearly 1.5 hours and by the time I collected my bags to recheck, the flight was already closed (though had not yet left). BA refused to put me on a wait list and instead required that I buy a completely new ticket. No apologies.

  2. So what is UPDATED about the policy. You say what the new policy is, but not how it differs from before.

  3. @ Gary — This could certainly be abused by someone with more energy and free time than me.

  4. Only mobile boarding pass qualifies but not a printed one? Is that their way of going green?

    Are last flights of the day still excluded? What if the next flight is at 12:05am?

  5. Must be nice. This happened to me when I was flying Qatar Airways from Dubai to Doha. I turned up at DXB only to be told my flight was actually departing from DWC. They would not even contemplate allowing me to fly out of DXB. Not a fun day!

  6. Airlines ability to radically change existing policies will be limited. For instance, a delay at a TSA checkpoint may not be the customers fault since TSA procedures supersede airlines policies. After customers can charge airlines for missed departure times,missed arrival times, cancelled flights, slow ticket counter service, random gate changes, random departure time changes, weather issues, etc, then customers can be charged for being at the airport but missing a flight due to a “flat tire”. AA should remember that airspace and airports are owned by taxpayers, so we are expecting win-win contracts, not onerous ticket terms.

  7. Had a good experience with being “late” back about 10 years ago. I was flying from Kenya, through Amsterdam, to North Carolina. I had made the flight many times and did not really pay attention to the times. I “knew” I had about 5 hours layover in Amsterdam so I decided to grab a nap in the comfy reclining seats they have in a sleeping lounge. After getting breakfast I walked to my gate only to see my plane taxing away! I was so upset at my stupid mistake! They had changed the time of the flight! Anyway, customer service was so helpful and although I was unable to get on a flight that day, they said they had a first class seat available the next morning if that was ok? My mistake totally, yet I was upgraded! This was NW/KLM.

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