If you don't get to the boarding gate by 10 minutes before your flight, the deadline for most domestic flights, you can lose your confirmed status.
But what do you do if you're in a long line at the boarding gate, the clock is ticking away and it seems as if there is no way you'll reach the gate before the deadline?
Some passengers have discovered, to their dismay, that despite holding tickets with confirmed reservations, they have suddenly been rendered standby passengers. In that situation, you can also lose your rights to compensation for being bumped or your right to a seat in a no-smoking section if you do get aboard.
Airlines, recognizing the problem, often have personnel walking up and down the line to assist passengers with confirmed reservations and to make sure people are in the right line or need to be in a line at all.
Such service is more likely to take place when a flight might be overbooked, and during particularly busy holiday periods.
Last Person in Line
"Our procedure is to have a counter agent go to the last person in line 10 minutes before the flight and indicate that he or she will be boarded on a confirmed basis," said Mike Ferrua, regional director of airport operations for Western Airlines. "When that person gets to the gate, that's the last passenger we'll take on that basis. Anyone after that can be standby."
Ferrua said that since Western started this policy in 1984 it has not had any problems on this score. "Before we began doing this there were occasional difficulties," he said.
Western also alerts the check-in area that the 10-minute rule has been invoked. Passengers in the check-in area are advised that if they do get to the boarding gate before it is closed for that flight they are still subject to being treated on a standby basis.
"As long as there's someone in line, the 10-minute rule won't be invoked," said Chuck Novak, United Airlines spokesman. Someone who comes running up when there is no line, and after the 10-minute deadline has passed, may be assigned standby status.
If you feel you won't reach the gate by the deadline, and the airline isn't providing any assistance, the best thing to do if you're alone is to ask someone to hold your place and go up to the gate and bring up the matter yourself.
"Ask for a supervisor or for the agent in charge and tell this person that you're concerned about the 10-minute regulation," Ferrua advised. "Their response should relieve your anxieties."
Otherwise, Ferrua suggested that passengers with tickets check their luggage at curb side when feasible and go directly to the boarding gate. "You'll save a good deal of time going right to the gate, as passengers in line at the check-in area might have a variety of needs. You're better off standing in line at the boarding gate, which is a lot closer to the jet."
With international flights at LAX the situation changes. You are issued boarding passes at check-in which you need to go through security.
The rules on stolen or lost tickets may also differ between international and domestic flights.
Domestically, as a rule, if your ticket is lost or stolen you have to buy a new ticket. You can fill out a lost-ticket application, which has an indemnity portion that states that the airline isn't responsible for a refund if the lost or stolen ticket is fraudulently used.
After a set amount of time (three to six months) you'll get your refund minus a possible service charge (Western, for example, charges $25). Chances of getting a refund if the ticket is fraudulently used or refunded are slim.
Losing your airline ticket overseas can be another matter altogether, depending on the airline. In some cases you can get a new ticket reissued at no cost. But in other instances you may have to buy a new ticket and await a refund (after at least three months).
With either scenario, you would have to indemnify the airline as part of either a lost-ticket replacement or lost-ticket refund form. The former means that you might be billed if your original ticket is used, and the latter that you'll get a refund if it isn't.
The airline may initially ask that you buy a new one-way ticket and fill out a lost-ticket refund application. But the airline personnel usually have the discretion to issue a new ticket, pending verification of some details of your original ticket purchase. For example, the airline wants to learn the exact amount you paid. With all the discounting and rebating going on, it's possible that this figure might be different from the published fare for that flight.
"A passenger can get a ticket replaced if its purchase can be verified," said Stephanie Eisenberg, senior agent at SAS's city ticket office. "The passenger has to agree to indemnify SAS in case the original ticket is used, and we may bill the passenger later."