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(Hypothetical)

If I am traveling for business, I may take a flight to e.g. Frankfurt just for a 2 hour meeting, and then immediately return. I would like to know what EU regulations stipulate if the outbound flight is delayed so much that I could not make the return.

I have seen one other question related to what the airline probably will do, but I would like a statement about EU regulations.

For instance, is the airline required to refund the whole ticket price? Presumably, if I see that I cannot make the meeting, it doesn't make sense for me to travel at all. So I would simply not travel. Or is the airline perhaps only obligated to make sure that I get to the destination and back? For instance, in this case, perhaps the airline just has to get me a new ticket which says that I fly to Frankfurt, and immediately return on the same plane?

I understand that if my original flight is delayed due to non-weather related events, and I miss my connection, then the airline is generally responsible to get me to my destination. Furthermore, I understand that the EU has regulations laying out what should happen if a delay is longer than X minutes. But it is unclear to me what should happen if the delay interferes with the return flight (not just the connection).

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    I don’t think this case is spelled out in the regulation. Note that in many cases you have the choice to get a refund rather than being rebooked, but that does not apply in all cases. – jcaron May 20 at 7:19
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    In many cases you can also claim "trip in vain", i.e. the delay invalidated the purpose of the trip (regardless of whether you can make the return or not). Unfortunately this is one of the gray areas where most airlines do have an internal policy but it's not written down for the public to see. I've done this and got a full refund (in the US) – Hilmar May 20 at 14:51
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The flights are on the same ticket, so the airlines should make sure you can take all flight (else they are actively blocking you to fulfill the travel contract).

The EU right allow you to cancel the flight and get full refund, in case of delays (instead of compensation). This has few rules, but it should be better than flying and returning without exiting the airport. I think you should prefer such option, when you see that the outbound flight is so delayed.

Reimbursement and a return flight in the event of a long delay (5 hours or more) at departure

If your flight is delayed at least 5 hours at departure, the airline must reimburse your ticket and, if you have a connecting flight, offer a return to the airport of departure at the earliest opportunity.

If you have less then 5 hours, it could be tricky (but 2 hour meeting, 1 hour buffer on both arrival and departure, and some time to reach the meeting), this could be the case.

This answer the question in the middle of your text.

The main question is interesting, and it is difficult to tell. The EU regulation defines the final destination as:

‘final destination’ means the destination on the ticket presented at the check-in counter or, in the case of directly connecting flights, the destination of the last flight; alternative connecting flights available shall not be taken into account if the original planned arrival time is respected;

so in theory this final destination should be your home airport, but this will make most of the rules non-sense, and contrary to the purpose of compensations.

I think with long delay and short flights, you should ask at gates for alternative. I think in such case they could help more: It is their interest (with long delay, the probably outcome is to cancel the flight and to get people in the next flights [if there are several flights per day, like the case in the question], so having less passengers relives them from compensations and cost to other airlines.

ADDENDUM: It was marked very prominently and on the TOP on EU passenger right:

The outbound and return flights are always considered as two separate flights even if they were booked as part of one reservation. In some cases the airline operating the flight (also known as the operating air carrier) may not be the same as the one from which you bought your ticket. In case of any difficulties only the airline which operates the flight can be held responsible.

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    I think the 5 hour rule probably covers 99% of this question. – bremen_matt May 20 at 8:15
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    I think your interpretation of "final destination" is wrong. – Moo May 20 at 9:29
  • @Moo: I think also it is wrong, but why? On the ticked you have both outbound and inbound flight. I cannot see also what to do in case of stop-over. But possibly it is a IATA thing, a ticked could have more destination (marked in some way). – Giacomo Catenazzi May 20 at 9:33
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    @GiacomoCatenazzi in every guidance and court case around EU261, outbound and return flights are treated as separately ticketed trips, even if colloquially you would say they were bought on the same ticket - you are actually buying separate tickets on a linked itinerary. – Moo May 20 at 9:36
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    @GiacomoCatenazzi just in general thinking about it, but if the "final destination" was the home airport on the return portion of the ticket, then an airline could conceivably delay holiday makers for weeks with no compensation so long as their return flight was unhindered... which obviously isn't the case 😀 – Moo May 20 at 9:49
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The other question already covers the 5 hour delay so I will not repeat that part here, but I assume you're also interested in smaller delays (in case of 2h meeting, a 2-3h delay is enough to ruin your agenda and make the travel pointless).

While such situation are partially covered by the EU regulation, you also have to consider tort law. The latter may not be uniform across the EU so you need to check for more details for a specific case.

The EU regulation stands that if your flight is delayed for over 3h (in case of connecting flight the arrival to the final destination counts) then you are eligible for a compensation. The amount varies from 125 to 600 EUR depending the delay time (below 5h it can be reduced by half, the amount for shortest flights - most intra-European - is 250, for the longest ones, all outbound it's 600). You're also eligible to some (limited) assistance.

This page about passenger rights within EU gives more details.

In addition to the EU regulation some national laws may give you additional rights. For example Polish tort law states that the company will be liable for any loss, however you need to be able to directly specify such loss. So if you cannot attend the meeting due to delay, your employer is eligible to request compensation for your time and other expenses associated with your trip. They cannot however claim a compensation for a potential loss (e.g. if you were flying to negotiate with the potential client and the negotiation did not take place you cannot claim the expected contract earnings, however if you had to pay some fine for not showing up on the meeting, that's reimbursable).

An airline might not be too willing to accept such claims in which case you may need to file the case to a court.

Not related to flights, but to trains (so very similar situation, there are also EU regulations about that) - when my train was delayed by 2 hours making it plausible that I will miss my plane, I've decided to catch a taxi at one of the stops (yes, taxi was faster) and go directly to the airport. Of course EU regulation doesn't cover that. I barely managed and claimed for the reimbursement of the taxi cost (some 35-40 EUR). It took me 3 months and a few formal letters but they eventually reimbursed the whole amount (even though they officially stated that they rejected my claim and that they pay this amount as an exception).

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