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I traveled on a connection with two legs. The first flight was delayed and I just missed the connecting flight and therefore was delayed by >12 hours.

The airline claims extraordinary circumstances for the delay of the first flight. However, according to EC261 (14), the airline needs to take all reasonable measures to avoid delays:

As under the Montreal Convention, obligations on operating air carriers should be limited or excluded in cases where an event has been caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. (Source)

The delayed flight arrived at 19:45 while the connecting flight departed at 20:00. If the airline had delayed the second flight by a few minutes, I would have been able to catch the flight and therefore would have arrived in time.

Is delaying a flight by a short time (several minutes) a "reasonable measure" under EC261?

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    "The airline claims extraordinary circumstances for the delay of the first flight": airlines often claim extraordinary circumstances improperly. You should ask for a detailed explanation if you haven't received one already.
    – phoog
    Dec 10, 2023 at 15:49
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    Yes I also questioned the extraordinary circumstances and this is currently with the responsible government arbitration board. I was just wondering about this question in case they can indeed prove extraordinary circumstances.
    – morxa
    Dec 10, 2023 at 19:24
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    And what of the other people on the second flight who need to make connections?
    – Chris B
    Dec 10, 2023 at 23:23
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    Note that your several minutes is more like half an hour or maybe 15 minutes under very optimistic circumstances. Delaying 200 other passengers by 15 minutes so you save 12 hours doesn't look like a reasonable measure to me. You increase total delay by a significant factor.
    – quarague
    Dec 11, 2023 at 7:36
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    The cited law has nothing to do with connecting flights, it's only about their right to claim the first flight as extraordinary circumstances.. If they could have done something reasonable to prevent the delay of the first flight, then they could not claim extraordinary circumstance. If the delay was caused by a snowstorm or a hurricane, then there is nothing they could have done. If it was caused by a missing pilot on the other end, they could have found a replacement pilot and that would have been reasonable
    – Tofandel
    Dec 11, 2023 at 14:51

2 Answers 2

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Is delaying a flight by a short time (several minutes) a "reasonable measure" under EC261?

I highly doubt it. Airline schedules are complicated with lots and lots of dependencies, so they can always claim that a delay to save one connection will jeopardize other connections.

The regulations (see full text at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX%3A32004R0261) don't specify what "reasonable" entails, so that would have to be decided in court on a case by case basis.

No one can predict what a judge might consider "reasonable" in your specific case but "a few minutes" is not precise enough to guess.

The decision to wait (or not) is done by the operational staff of the airline taking a lot of current data into account. Since you don't have access to this data, it would be quite difficult to prove that the decision was "unreasonable".

EDIT after delay details were added

The delayed flight arrived at 19:45 while the connecting flight departed at 20:00.

That would probably be a no go in court. Scheduled arrival and departure are typically defined as "set and release of the parking brakes of the aircraft" (which is easy to record automatically).

If you want to make a connection, there are whole lot of things that need to happen between these two points in time.

  1. The deplaning mechanisms needs to be connected (jet bridge or stairs) and doors need to be opened
  2. You need to deplane
  3. If required, you have to hop on a bus, wait until its full and then ride to the terminal
  4. Enter terminal,
  5. Potentially clear security, immigration and/or doc checks somewhere along the way.
  6. Potentially transfer to a different terminal
  7. Potentially make a bathroom stop
  8. Hike to your departure gate. There may be a doc check along the way as well.
  9. Arrive at the gate before the "gate closing time" which is typically 15 minutes (or a little more) before the "scheduled departure time".
  10. If you have any checked luggage, that also will need to be unloaded, routed, X-rayed (maybe), transferred to your connecting plane and loaded.

All of this adds up and depends a lot on your specific connection, the airline, and airport layout. Hence the airlines define "minimum connection times" (MCT) for different connection types and will only sell tickets that have at least that amount time between scheduled arrival and departure.

The shortest MCT I'm aware off is Vienna airport with 25 minutes for a Schengen to Schengen connection, but that's an outlier and most MCTs for "normal connections" are in the 45min-60min range. Some can be substantially higher (for example US international to domestic connections where have to clear immigration, customs and security on arrival).

Unfortunately, MCTs are not well documented or published, so you would have to do some digging for your specific case. Assuming an MCT of 45 minutes (which is on the low side) and a difference between arrival and departure of 15:00 minutes, the airline would have to delay the plane by at least 30 minutes to give you a reasonable chance of making it.

Personally, I would not consider that "reasonable" since it's likely jeopardizing downstream connections and other flights. Aircraft these days are often scheduled to fly back to back to back, so there is little slack to absorb even smallish delay.

Some airlines are more hard-nosed than others. Personal anecdote: My inbound was delayed so I had an extremely short connection with the gates being far apart (Denver). However, I got off the plane quickly, I know the airport and I can run fast, so I made it to the departure gate with 2 minutes to spare. I then scan my boarding pass and it beeps red. The gate agent looked at and it said "Sorry Mr. XXX, we didn't think you would make it so we have given your seat away already".

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    Ouch, that last anecdote sounds painful. You ended up taking another flight, I assume?
    – justhalf
    Dec 11, 2023 at 11:11
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    On number 10, it's frequently the case that the luggage doesn't make the connection and arrives later. But that of course generates additional costs for the airline, namely providing the passenger with essentials and delivering the luggage from the final destination airport to the passenger.
    – phoog
    Dec 11, 2023 at 14:04
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    @justhalf That's United for you. Pay a premium to get treated like garbage.
    – A. R.
    Dec 11, 2023 at 15:29
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    @justhalf: I did make the flight. I pointed out in no uncertain terms that I DID have a confirmed ticket and I DID show up at the gate before the gate closing time and hence they are legally required to move me from A to B. I also had a fairly high status with United at the time (Platinum or 1k) and the gate agent knew they had screwed up. So they found me a seat. I don't know if they had to bump anyone but I don't think so. Even if they did, I'd feel sorry for that person but it's really not my mistake.
    – Hilmar
    Dec 11, 2023 at 18:04
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It seems this is a grey area, the airline can try to not pay compensation and you can try to argue with that decision. I imagine it could go either way. However, this is only related to compensation, the airline is still liable to pay you assistance.

If I would be in your shoes I will try to claim compensation on my own, and if that's unsuccessful, I would try to get it through a service. They are sometimes more successful in their claims, but they take a 20 or 25 % off your compensation.

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    So such companies are never a good deal (and they are also spammers). To claim 20% to 25%, they should have a much higher success rate. Note: airlines too often make it difficult (like many insurance companies): one should just continue, and not allowing a simple "no". And doing personally, one can get better deal (e.g. if you have already plan with same airlines).. Dec 11, 2023 at 9:27
  • I almost agree with you, I did such claims on my own many times. However, once the airline refused my claim and I used this service, better getting 75% than zero.
    – André
    Dec 11, 2023 at 13:28
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    @GiacomoCatenazzi it's a good deal if the cost to you of pursuing the claim is around 25% of the claim or greater (keeping in mind that "cost" could be measured in things you're willing to pay for, such as more time to do other things and less aggravation, not necessarily only by monetary value).
    – phoog
    Dec 11, 2023 at 14:06
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    In Germany, there is an arbitration body run by the government that provides free arbitration in case the airline refuses to pay: formulare.bfj.bund.de/ffw/action/… . There may be similar services in other EU countries.
    – morxa
    Dec 11, 2023 at 15:10

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