Behind the scenes: the story of missed connections

We have mentioned missed connections a few times over the last month, remember Shelley Hadley and her fellow travellers unwanted overnight stay at Frankfurt en route to Turin from London Heathrow due to a one minute missed connection on a Lufthansa flight.

Stories from delayed passengers due to missed connections are so commonplace now that EUclaim thought we take a look behind the scenes.

To connect or not connect 

So, imagine the scenario, you have taken a flight which involves a connection, maybe because it’s cheaper or it is not possible to fly directly to your destination. You purchase your ticket with the airline, in Shelley Hadley’s case Lufthansa sold the tickets on their airline for the whole route. You naturally presume that all will be well, after all the airline sold tickets for the seats on the connecting flights – they must know what they are doing, it’s their job! Back to our story, you are on the first of your series of flights and for some reason there’s a delay, a slight one but a delay all the same. You flag up your concerns to the flight attendants who pacify you ‘you’re booked on that plane, it will wait, don’t worry’.   But, and here’s the rub – planes don’t wait.

Run to the gate – you will catch that plane

You land, and voice your concerns to the ground staff – ‘don’t fret, run to the gate it will be fine.’ Shelley and her team ran through Frankfurt Airport, remember  they were only delayed by a minute. You reach the gate, other passengers are starting to board – relieved you join the queue, you’re on time and you checked in at the beginning of your journey, what could go wrong?  Boarding cards are presented. ‘Sorry, the plane is full!’  without your knowledge you will have been booked on to another flight and your seats will have be sold to passengers on the wait list. And like Shelley you could potentially face an unwanted overnight airport stay, or, if you are lucky like the Hadley party, a long journey to a grotty hotel,  no luggage and days holiday lost before you have even begun.

It’s all down to minimum connection times

So, what happened in the background? You could be in the air, your initial flight hasn’t even landed but once an airline knows that a passenger will potentially exceed the miniumum connection time, that’s the time they allow you to get through the airport to reach your connecting flight. Guess what, they rebook you onto another flight and the seats, your seats, are released to passengers on the wait list for that flight. And if there  is no one on the wait list the airline simply returns the tickets for the seat for sale. We think that’s shabby.

Shelley Hadley, a frequent flyer felt convinced that Lufthansa knew all along her connection would not be met. She was right. Lufthansa ran the flight connection 109 times, but, in 63 out of the 109 flights it was impossible for passengers to catch their connecting flight. She complained to the airline, they ignored her. We took up the case with Lufthansa and they tried to ignore us, but a piece on You & Yours on BBC Radio 4 and the small detail of legal proceedings made the airline sit up and listen. They have offered to pay compensation, which is great. But we think that they and other airlines should never sell connecting flights that they know can not be met. It’s not right and not fair on the passengers who buy their tickets in good faith. We could list the important events that our delayed customers have missed out on, but that’s another story for another day…

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