The Hero, often an Unlucky Every Dude, is relying on the bus/train/space shuttle to take him to his destination. In Fictionland, nine times out of ten he'll arrive too late. To rub some salt into the wound, he might get there just in time to see it leave.
In a mundane, slice-of-life series, it can mean as little as having to walk to work or school. In more dramatic works, it can have dire consequences, especially if The Hero is left stranded somewhere (or when).
A common variant is taking the wrong bus, which could get you just about anywhere.
- In Saki, the girls from Nodoka and Yuuki's old school try to reach the prefectural finals to cheer on their upperclasswomen. They miss the train, catch the train in the wrong direction, fall asleep in the train and miss their stop... and arrive at the finals just before Nodoka's turn to play. Which also means they missed Yuuki's turn for several hours.
- In Seinlanguage, Jerry Seinfeld says that missing a bus is at least better than missing a plane because on the ground, you have other options like taxis or trains. But he gets nervous driving to the airport because if you miss the flight, there's no alternative.
Well, you missed the flight. We do have a cannon leaving in about ten minutes. Would you be interested in that? It's not a direct cannon. You have to change cannons after you land.
- Persepolis: Marjane oversleeps in the morning and misses the train out of Vienna by a few seconds. This causes her to catch her boyfriend cheating when she goes back home.
- In the Trinity (2008) comics, Clark Kent notes that the trains in Metropolis are always on time — and that he makes a point of missing his train at least three times a week. Why? Because nobody would ever associate a guy who can't catch the morning train with a hero who's faster than a speeding bullet.
- One of the many Running Gags in Blondie is Dagwood running after the bus when he goes to work. Recently, he switched to a car pool... which he misses just as often.
- The title character of Crankshaft takes a sadistic pleasure in ditching kids when they're running to catch up to his school bus. Ditto with mothers running to bring forgotten lunches ,books, etc.
- Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius misses the school bus, which gives him the perfect opportunity to test out his new bubble transport system, which doesn't work out well.
- Inverted in The Adjustment Bureau. Matt Damon's character was supposed to miss the bus. The problem lies in that he didn't.
- Blind Chance is probably the Trope Codifier for "Character misses the bus, character's whole life is changed".
- Clockwise: Brian Stimpson's ordered world unwinds as a series of unfortunate circumstances delay him en route. He mistakenly boards the wrong train, missing his connection for Norwich, owing to a lingering habit of saying "right" as emphasis in situations where it would be mistaken for a direction; then, in his desperation to board the departing correct train, he leaves the text of his speech behind on the wrong one, and is finally left at the railway station by his wife, who thinks he departed on the train.
- In one of his famous cameos, Alfred Hitchcock can be seen narrowly missing his bus in the establishing shots of North By Northwest.
- The film Sliding Doors is based on the difference it makes to this woman's life whether she gets or misses a Tube train.
- The opening of the Spider-Man movie, has Peter Parker chasing a bus down the street. Even the bus driver is in on it, since he's chuckling along with the Jerkass students and gets annoyed when Mary Jane asks him to knock it off.
- Tommy Boy opens with a young Tommy Callahan missing his school bus (and being mocked by his friend Richard Hayden), before switching to the adult Tommy missing the bus as a college student.
- Train: After a night of wild partying and missing their train, a group of American college athletes is invited to board another that is going their way. Once on board, members of the team start to go missing, and their would-be saviours claim to have no idea what could have happened to them.
- The eponymous character of Watermelon Man "misses" the bus on purpose — he races it to work every day.
- The Graveyard Book: Scarlett ends up at the graveyard after missing her bus and taking the wrong one.
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dobby blocks Harry's access to Platform 9 3/4, causing him and Ron to miss the Hogwarts Express and take alternative transport. Hilarity Ensues.
- The main character of The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight misses her flight by four minutes and has to wait multiple hours for the next one. As a result, she meets the love of her life who also has to catch the flight she is waiting for.
- The Banana Splits had a sketch wherein they would run and shout, "Hold the bus!" while being chased by... something different every sketch.
- Grange Hill: The original opening titles (which resemble a comic strip) begin with a girl running after a bus as it pulls away, meaning she will be late for school.
- In episode "Lucky Penny" of How I Met Your Mother, Ted missed a plane to Chicago for a super important job interview. He thought it was his destiny to make it and get his dream job. He and Robin contemplate what lead to them missing that flight. Had Ted got that job, he would have had to eventually relocate to Chicago. This way he stayed in New York and met his future wife.
- In the Keeping Up Appearances episode "Sea Fever," Hyacinth and Richard miss the departure of the QE2, due to Hyacinth's poor directions when trying to avoid congestion on the motorway. She even runs up to the dock as the ship is leaving and shouts for it to stop.
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: One episode dealt with the theme of buses in which Cookie and several other students miss their bus and have to find other ways to get to school.
- Power Rangers Lost Galaxy manages to combine Missed the Bus with Put on a Bus: Because actor Jason Narvy left the series to attend college, Skull sleeps in and misses the departure of Terra Venture.
- In the pilot episode of Smallville, Clark Kent misses the school bus, causing the other kids to laugh at him. He shrugs and uses his Super Speed to get to school first.
- The West Wing episodes 20 Hours in America have Josh, Toby and Donna miss the motorcade in Indiana, being stuck with a broken down truck, missing Air Force One due to time zone changes and getting on a train heading in the wrong direction, all so Donna can teach Josh and Toby a lesson about not losing touch with the real people they work for.
- The Arctic Monkeys' Mardy Bum includes the lines "And yeah I'm sorry I was late / But I missed the train and then the traffic was a state"
- The Buzzcocks song "Something's Gone Wrong Again" includes the lines 'Nothing ever happens to people like us. 'Cept we miss the bus'.
- The hip-hop duo Kris Kross had a song aptly titled "I Missed The Bus".
- Bob Newhart is convinced there's a school where bus drivers learn to purposely close the doors and pull out just as someone is running to catch the bus. Pulling out just slowly enough to give them the false hope they can catch it is even better.
Notice how he slammed the door right in her face that time? That's going to take a little practice, but before long you'll all have the hang of it.
- You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, or at least the revival.
"Get on the bus!"
"Get on the bus!"
"Go ahead, get on the bus, Charlie Brown!"
"Don't wanna be late for school!"
- Crash Twinsanity invokes this when Crash Bandicoot ties a blimp owned by Cortex to a school bus for use as an anchor, but it floats away anyway.
Cortex: My airship! Without it, we're stranded! (Tie it to something secure, I said.) Hurry Nina, or you'll miss the bus.
- Final Fantasy XI has various methods of transporation you can take and they operate on a real time schedule. It is not surprising to hear many players that missed their ride and are stuck waiting for the next one.
- In Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, Sanjuro tries to catch a train to cross Maritropa to meet with Kura, but he ends up missing it and having to take an alternate route. By the time he reaches her, the CMC has closed in and captured her
- One quest in Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines has you chased by a werewolf and just missing a tram that would have taken you to safety. It's four minutes before the tram will be back, and in the meantime, the werewolf is still chasing you.
- Around the World with Willy Fog: As in the original novel, Fog and his companions arrive in New York too late to catch the ship on which they planned to sail to England. However, unlike their counterparts in the novel (who arrive forty-five minutes after the ship has sailed) they reach the dock just in time to see the ship pulling out to sea.
- Fairly Oddparents: "A Mile In My Shoes" starts with Timmy missing his bus walking all the way to school in the rain. Just the beginning of his bad day.
- In the Family Guy episode "Road to Rhode Island", Brian and Stewie's cross-country adventure begins with the two of them missing their flight home because someone stole their bags (and their tickets). The later spiritual successor episode, "Road to Europe", has a strange variation of this: they fail to get off the plane before it takes off, AND it isn't even the right plane!
- One episode of The Flintstones had a bus stop being moved into another location, forcing Fred and some girls to chase after the bus. Wilma believed the girls were chasing Fred.
- Looney Tunes: 8-Ball Bunny begins with an ice show packing up and leaving an engagement in the big city. A beat or so after the trucks head off, a performing penguin rushes out from the stage entrance and tries to catch them.
- Mighty Mouse had an episode where he offered a ride to a student who missed the bus.
- ¡Mucha Lucha!: It happened at least twice with the Three Mascaritas.
- The first episode of My Dad the Rock Star featured Willy missing the bus on the first day of class. However, since he still hadn't been registered as a student, he probably wouldn't have been allowed in.
- A recurring occurrence on The Simpsons, especially for Bart & Lisa to miss the school bus.
- The early version of the series' intro had Bart steal the sign from a bus stop while riding by on his skateboard, resulting in the bus passing right by the waiting crowd of people standing there, forcing them all to chase after it.
- Once Bart's missing the bus eventually led to him being tried as the head of the Springfield Mafia.
- Marge once tried to catch up with the bus. Otto the bus driver thought Marge was trying to race him and Milhouse commented it looked like Speed 2 with a bus instead of a boat.
- In "Trilogy of Error", Lisa misses the bus to school on the day of the science fair. She desperately tries to get to school to show her project and keeps failing.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- The episode "Rock Bottom" has SpongeBob and Patrick board the wrong bus and end up in the eponymous town. Then when SpongeBob tries to leave, he keeps missing the bus. Over and over.
- In the episode "The Abrasive Side", Spongebob misses the bus by doing favors for people.
- The Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Cheer Up Star" begins with Marco missing the school bus and chasing after it. His friend Star, who has magical powers that would easily help him get on the bus, doesn't help him because she thinks he's exercising. The driver somehow doesn't notice him at all and Marco ends up smacking into the bus when it stops. His jacket then gets caught and he's dragged the rest of the way to school.