: I was supposed to fly from New York to Johannesburg, but I missed my first flight, and I need help getting my itinerary restored.

Here are a few details: The first leg of my flight is from New York to Paris on American Airlines. From Paris, I'm flying to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and Johannesburg on Etihad Airlines. I booked the trip through Priceline.

I left Manhattan just before 6 p.m. for a 9:10 p.m. flight to Paris. I have taken the subway to the airport many times before, and one hour is the usual amount of time it takes to get from midtown to John F. Kennedy Airport. While on the subway, I encountered some delays, and the trains stopped for some time. I arrived at the airport a little less than two hours before departure.

American Airlines wouldn't let me check in for the flight. I called Etihad and was told I could get a 10:30 p.m. flight to Abu Dhabi. But at the airport, there were no agents to help me change my ticket.

Can you help? - Robert Kinkley, St. Catharines, Canada

Answer: American Airlines should have been able to rebook you on the next available flight to Paris. Like most major airlines, it has what's known as a "flat tire" rule that allows its agents to put you on the next available flight without charging you a penalty.

But that wouldn't have fixed the second portion of your flight, the leg from Paris to Abu Dhabi that you would have missed. This was a job for your online travel agency, Priceline.

This case unfolded quickly and in real time. You contacted me on my Facebook account ( while you were still stranded in New York.

But before we get to the resolution, let's talk about how this situation could have been avoided. You probably were cutting it close when you left around 6 p.m. for a 9:10 p.m. flight. Three hours may be enough time to make it for a domestic flight, but international flights cut off their check-ins earlier, so you really were giving yourself only about an hour to get to the airport on time. That's not enough.

I contacted Priceline on your behalf. It asked Etihad to invoke its "flat tire" rule, which is pretty much an industry standard, and, unfortunately, Etihad refused. If you were doing this alone, you could have sent a polite, written appeal to one of Priceline's executives:

Our next stop was Etihad. I contacted the airline, and you also wrote and called the airline, asking it to put you on the next flight to Johannesburg.

The airline finally agreed to rebook you on a flight at no charge - something it should have done in the first place.

Christopher Elliott is ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler." For more travel tips, go to his blog,, or email him at