Knowledge Platform

Missed Connections

Aside from the rail regulation, which requires the carrier to provide reasonable accommodation in the event of a missed connection, the regulations are silent on carrier’s liability for missed connections – which tends to be dealt with, only briefly, in the terms and conditions of carriage – which would usually stipulate that the passenger should be mindful of ‘check-in’ times for onward connections. Where the passenger books consecutive legs of a journey on separate tickets, then it is their responsibility to observe the check-in times of each carrier.

In practice the majority of carriers strongly resist claims for compensation relating to missed connections for which they are not responsible, arguing that their liability is limited as per the regulations (and as set out above). This will be the case where that connection is carried out under a separate contract of carriage and not therefore an interline arrangement or carriage carried out by successive carriers under the same ticket (in which case the usual liability regimes are likely to apply). 

Whilst this principle is presently generally understood and accepted, it does cause concern when considered in the context of developing a seamless multi-modal transport system across Europe – whereby a passenger is able to utilise multiple modes of transport on just one ticket.

The EU are already looking to address this issue at least in the context of carriage by air under proposals for a new regulation to replace Regulation 261/2004, which currently deals with delay, cancellation and denied boarding. The Commission’s proposal is that the entitlement to compensation will be based on the length of the delay to final destination, rather than taking each flight as a separate ‘unit’ as is presently the case. Parliament’s position is that compensation should be on this basis, but only if the delay at the point of transfer is over 90 minutes. In addition, the Presidency’s latest compromise suggests that the ‘length of delay’ matrix should be increased from 3, 5 and 9 hours to 5, 9 and 12 hours.

Whilst the proposals are generally more favourable to carriers in terms of the permitted length of delay, the potential impact in relation to connection times cannot be underestimated and has already provided somewhat of a sticking point in discussions – with certain Member States counter-proposals being to limit any liability to the provision of care and assistance only. Low-cost carriers in particular are concerned that the proposed changes could significantly increase their liability exposure.

Taking the Commission’s position by way of example: if the first in time short-haul flight arrived less than five hours late but causes the passenger to miss their onward connecting flight, meaning that they arrived or would arrive to their final destination more than 5 hours late, the first in time carrier’s liability would increase from potentially Nil EUR (the threshold for compensation being a delay of over 2 hours) to up to 550 EUR, plus the costs of providing care and assistance. It is not clear whether the first in time carrier would then also be obliged to cover the cost of reimbursing the passenger for the connecting flight in the event that they chose not to take it due to the delay. 

The key questions therefore are:

Where will liability for a missed connection lie? 

Will liability comfortably rest with the prior carrier?

Will it be the responsibility of the connecting carrier to ensure that its minimum check-in times are sufficient to build in a contingency for any foreseeable delays?

Will minimum check-in times need to be revised in order to take into account of the various specificities each modes of transport likely to feed the connecting carrier?

Is the answer simply that liabil