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The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 171-2):

[22] i When we get there, they’ll probably still be having lunch. [aspectual meaning]

ii Will you be going to the shops this afternoon? [special meaning]

iii When the meeting ends we’ll be flying to Bonn. [ambiguous]

(Discussion of [22i] and [22ii] omitted.)

The distinctness between the two meanings is seen clearly in the ambiguity of [22iii]. On the progressive aspectuality reading, we will already be flying to Bonn when the meeting ends; on the ‘already decided future’ interpretation, the when adjunct says when we will leave. The first is imperfective, with reference to a mid-interval; the second is perfective, just as in the non-progressive we’ll fly, which, however, suggests that the decision is being made now. This use is particularly common with will, but it is also found with, for example, the idiom be going, as in Are you going to be helping them again this year? (where the non-progressive might again be construed as a request).

In the special meaning (aka, the ‘already decided future’ interpretation), [22iii] seems to mean that we're the ones who participate in the meeting, and that we're scheduled to fly to Bonn right after the meeting ends.

Am I right?

Also, what if will be flying was replaced with are flying?

(1) When the meeting ends we’re flying to Bonn.

Can (1) have both the aspectual meaning and the special meaning? Or can (1) have only the special meaning?

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  • I'm not sure will you be going to the shops this afternoon is quite the same as the are you going to the shops this afternoon, but you have them both down as the 'special meaning'. For me the use of the present progressive in (1) forces the 'already decided future' meaning, whereas the future progressive is ambiguous between (a) an 'already decided future' meaning which is somehow addressed more to the imagination than is the case when the present progressive is used, and (b) the progressive meaning in which the people on the plane are not the people at the meeting. – user339660 May 19 '19 at 11:16
  • 'Sometime after May, we'll be emigrating to Elbonia' shows that there may just be a temporal rather than an [overt; doubtless there are reasons for any non-immediacy] conditional modification involved. The nature of the modifier (when the meeting ends / after the meeting / sometime after May / within the next 20 years/century ...) is what determines the likely variability in the precise moment; you wouldn't say 'when the [2-hour] meeting ends' if you meant 'possibly tomorrow or Thursday'. // And it would be infelicitous to use 'when the meeting ends' if this were not ... – Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '20 at 11:28
  • some form of a constraint; you'd use a more general time / period marker (in a few hours; perhaps next week ...) if the completion of the meeting were not a constraint. Of course, you could be waiting for news of a decision, for an attendee to join you, for a chance to turn the television off, bundle your family (who have been watching the televised meeting) into the car and lock up .... – Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '20 at 11:28
  • (B) The aspectual reading of 'When the meeting ends we’re flying to Bonn' is very marked. It would only be used in a certain type of dramatic narrative. And by a certain type of writer. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '20 at 11:35
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iii When the meeting ends we’ll be flying to Bonn.

This doesn't strictly specify that "we're the ones who participate in the meeting". That would be the most sensible explanation for why the sentence includes these two clauses, but the sentence could be logically true even if the meeting has nothing to do with us. The dependent clause "When the meeting ends" doesn't actually contain any element that is grammatically connected to the word "we" in the independent clause.

Sentence iii does mean, more or less, that "we're scheduled to fly to Bonn right after the meeting ends". I wouldn't necessarily use the word "scheduled", because that seems to suggest that there has to be a formal or communicated plan: in fact, I think the sentence could just as well refer to an informal plan. I would say that "we'll be flying to Bonn" in this sense is synonymous with "we're going to fly to Bonn".

(1) When the meeting ends we’re flying to Bonn.

It is not strictly impossible for this sentence to have the aspectual (progressive) meaning of "be _ing", but that interpretation would be rare, because with an aspectual reading, there aren't many circumstances where the present tense is appropriate. The best frame I can come up with is a "historic present" or a present-tense narrative, like this:

They call me while I'm getting on the plane to tell me that the meeting is starting. When the meeting ends we’re flying to Bonn.

It feels weird, but actually, even iii seems awkward to me in the "aspectual" interpretation, because it's hard to imagine how someone could already be in the process of flying somewhere right at the end of a meeting. I had to imagine that the meeting is going on somewhere else, and so the people who are flying on the plane just hear about it on the phone.

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There is a useful chart at: How do the tens­es and as­pects in English cor­re­spond tem­po­ral­ly to one an­oth­er? It may not be perfect, but it is a good guide.

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