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Travelling from place A to B with Lufthansa with intermediate stop in Frankfurt (F). We started on time from A. Expected wait time in F, 1.5 hours. The flight from A to F was bumpy and the pilot chose a long path which delayed the flight for more than an hour.

We arrived in F about 30 minutes before the departure time and we were in hurry to get out of the plane and find the gate for the flight to B. We found the gate which was on the other side of the airport. Unfortunately, we arrived five minutes after the scheduled departure time and the gate was closed since 5 minutes ago. We went to the passenger service of Lufthansa, and they put us in the next flight to B which was, 4-5 hours later.

After 4 hours we get into the plane. The time was passing and the airplane was not moving. Suddenly, the pilot speaking. I quote: "We are sorry for the delay, we have two extra passenger and we wait the catering company to bring us two extra sandwiches".

Question: Is this something that happens frequently? Is there any safety net for passengers in such situations? By safety net I mean particular regulations that help the passenger in such situations. Does Lufthansa (or any airline) have the right to deny boarding when they know we are on a marginally delayed flight?

Update: Apparently, according to EU regulations and as pointed out in this question, the EU compensation scheme should apply to my case. Unfortunately, no compensation was given and no option offered: they just rushed us in the next flight. I wrote a letter of complaint to Lufthansa, received a complaint id, but there was no answer from their side. Does anybody have any idea if there are any alternatives to pursue my rights as an EU citizen and traveler?

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    If you were let on board, what was your problem? – JonathanReez Mar 7 '17 at 15:02
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    @JonathanReez I guess the problem, and the situation that I try to understand, is that since they knew we were on delayed flight, why they did not wait for us? In the 2nd flight they were happy to wait 30 minutes for extra catering. Are there any regulations for such cases? – PsySp Mar 7 '17 at 15:07
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    Some flights cannot wait more than a few minutes, because otherwise the destination airport might close before the flight arrives, forcing it to divert. Many others have a landing slot reserved at the destination airport and risk losing it if they don't leave nearly on time. These flights almost always either take off or are cancelled. I don't know what happened with your delayed sandwiches. – Michael Hampton Mar 8 '17 at 0:36
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    Could have been worse. They could have been waiting for small lemon-soaked paper napkins. – Tom Zych Mar 8 '17 at 13:13
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    @DmitryGrigoryev "Safety net" is a figurative phrase commonly used to mean systems and procedures that are put in place to prevent bad things happening. For example, unemployment benefits are a safety net for people who lose their job. – David Richerby Mar 8 '17 at 13:32
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Lufthansa is free to close the doors and complete boarding at the time they had scheduled. If they were to wait for all the late passengers, then that flight would also be delayed and this would cause extra issues for more passengers than the few that missed it.

The other aspect is the slot for a plane to take off. If the plane is missing the allocated slot, the next one might be 1 or 2 hours later in busy airports. So they don't want to miss it.

I fully understand your frustration. I had this situation a number of times and in this situation, we all tend to see our own issue rather than the full picture. This is a natural reaction.

The good thing is that they have found a slot for you in another plane later. Sometime, some companies will leave it to you to find a solution and complain later, even if they are by law forced to find a solution for you (and not the opposite).

For the missing food, I am not 100% sure of the law. I guess it is more a service requirement than a law. Basically, passengers have bought a ticket including some catering so Lufthansa makes sure to have enough sandwiches for everybody to not piss the last passengers that wouldn't get one. It is a good service practice but it shouldn't justify 1 hour delay... In that case, no more than few minutes should be ok.

Also, on a side note, sometime, airline companies use fake reasons to justify a delay. I am not saying this is the case here but I saw that a couple of time with other airlines. For instance, I have seen a company saying that they didn't had enough crew to service the plane and so they bumped passengers to the next plane. This is a common practice for some airlines to fill one plane rather than having two 50% full planes.

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    Usually, they wait as much as they can to be able to catch max numbers of passengers while not delaying too much the plane to not cause further issues. This is a trade off... – Laurent Mar 7 '17 at 15:15
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    If it was a very stormy winter day, the take off slots were probably stricter for them so they couldn't afford to miss them. It could also be that they haven't done their job properly (yes this happens!) :( – Laurent Mar 7 '17 at 15:21
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    @PsySp the problem is, they know when the incoming aircraft is scheduled to land, but it may not land at that time - it may have to go around and try a second time, there may be delays taxiing to the stand, there may be delays opening the doors, and (this one is extremely likely) there is absolutely no guarantee that the passengers will expedite their transit from the incoming flights gate to the outgoing flights gate - passengers love to dawdle, shop, grab a coffee on the way etc. So they simply dont wait for them. – Moo Mar 7 '17 at 15:22
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    @Moo Fair point. In our case: we landed 25 minutes and got off the airplane about 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. Till we actually find and arrive at the new gate took us 20 minutes. They knew that we have arrived. They did not announce on the speakers (as I have heard countless times in my life). – PsySp Mar 7 '17 at 15:24
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    @Laurent The fake reasons, yes, remember when Lufthansa pilot was stating that the plane got cancelled because of bad weather (some turbulence and rain showers were around). And in reality they managed to fit everyone from two flights into a B735 when both flights had an A320 scheduled. My boarding pass was to a row that didn't even exist on the new plane but I didn't have a problem finding a free place to sit... – Vladimir F Mar 7 '17 at 19:08
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The problem is, you weren't unlawfully denied boarding according to the language of the EU Denied Boarding Regulation:

  1. This Regulation shall apply:

(a) to passengers departing from an airport located in the territory of a Member State to which the Treaty applies;

(b) to passengers departing from an airport located in a third country to an airport situated in the territory of a Member State to which the Treaty applies, unless they received benefits or compensation and were given assistance in that third country, if the operating air carrier of the flight concerned is a Community carrier.

  1. Paragraph 1 shall apply on the condition that passengers:

(a) have a confirmed reservation on the flight concerned and, except in the case of cancellation referred to in Article 5, present themselves for check-in,

  • as stipulated and at the time indicated in advance and in writing (including by electronic means) by the air carrier, the tour operator or an authorised travel agent,

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32004R0261

(emphasis mine)

You arrived five minutes late, and boarding had already closed. There is a variety of reasons why an airline wouldn't let you board after boarding has closed, most of it operational in basis (weights and balances etc). They are completely within their rights to do this.

Is there any safety net for passengers in such situations?

Yes, you are rebooked on the next flight. Airlines are fined for late departures and arrivals, so they won't hold aircraft for connecting flights because then they may have to end up compensating entire aircraft loads of passengers rather than one or two.

Does Lufthansa (or any airline) have the right to deny boarding when they know we are on a delayed flight, and without even announcing on the speakers?

Yes. But again, you weren't denied boarding under the definition as given in the EU regulation, you missed the flight. There is no requirement for an airline to delay a flight for connecting passengers, and there is no special exemption to the fines they receive for delays caused by waiting for connecting passengers, so they simply don't do it.

After 4 hours we get into the plane. The time was passing and the airplane was not moving. Suddenly, the pilot speaking. I quote: "We are sorry for the delay, we have two extra passenger and we wait the catering company to bring us two extra sandwiches".

Catering for all passengers is a requirement for departure, the aircraft cannot depart with a short catering inventory, which is why you waited the second time around - the airline would potentially have received a fine for that, but that was unavoidable in that circumstance. They can't send catering on the next flight, while they can send passengers on the next flight...

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The air space around Frankfurt is also notoriously a crowded region. The first flight probably needed to start in the time allocated.

Flight corridors are not like highways, when you hit the road when you want. There's a time-frame when you are allowed to flight. Otherwise the route will be put at disposition to other aircraft by the air traffic control.

The first flight could also have had the air bridge already removed, or it was being removed.

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    Thank you. I would agree with you 100% (and that was my initial guess) unless they were not waiting on the 2nd flight for almost an hour for the extra catering when they could have very easily avoid it (for example asking on boarding if anyone is willing to give up). – PsySp Mar 7 '17 at 20:36
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    @PsySp: delaying an airplane for this reason happens: abcnews.go.com/Travel/… Asking someone not to eat sounds unprofessional to me. – Quora Feans Mar 7 '17 at 21:40
  • It's usually more a problem of needing to have an available runway slot at both the origin and the destination rather than of limitations of the airspace itself. Airspace is large and aircraft can be routed around it in all three dimensions. Runways, not so much. – reirab Mar 8 '17 at 3:18
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Useful tip for the future: If it seems like your current flight might arrive late and make your onward connection difficult, let the crew know. I have known some airlines to radio ahead, and to prioritise disembarkation for passengers with a tight connection.

  • Yes, I should learn now. Notice that this is not the first time that happened to me. The previous time that my connected flight was late, the 2nd flight was waiting for me. The delay was less than 30 minutes. – PsySp Mar 9 '17 at 8:00

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