Your guide to air passenger rights under EU261

When it comes to air travel, both the United States and Europe have regulations in place to protect the rights of passengers. However, there are some key differences between the two systems and if you are a traveler from the U.S., it might be useful to be aware of your rights under European law. 

In the United States, it is the Department of Transportation (DOT) that is responsible for enforcing air passenger rights. The DOT requires airlines to compensate passengers in certain situations, e.g. when they are denied boarding against their will or when their luggage is lost or damaged. In the event of delayed or canceled flights, the airlines are obliged to provide meals and refreshments to the passengers, as well as sort out hotel accommodation and transportation in case travelers need to stay somewhere overnight due to a delay or cancellation. 

The U.S. regulations only apply to domestic flights and international flights departing from or arriving in the United States. So, if you are a U.S. citizen traveling in Europe or from Europe to other destinations, the DOT will not be responsible for enforcing your rights. 

Luckily, the European Union created Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, in effect since February 2005. The regulation, also known as EU261 or EC261, is a guideline accepted and implemented by all Member States of the EU that serves to protect air passenger rights on flights within Europe or departing from a European airport. We will break down and cover the main aspects of EU261 in the present article.

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Where is EU261 applied

Regulation No 261/2004 was adopted by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union and applies to the countries from the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA). This includes: 

  • the 27 Member States of the European Union;
  • Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands;
  • Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia;
  • Switzerland;
  • the United Kingdom.

The UK is listed separately above because it is no longer a Member State of the EU. Nevertheless, Brexit did not change anything in terms of EU261, and so the UK Parliament kept the same regulation in regards to British airlines, airports, and citizens.


When is EU261 applied

Similarly to the U.S. regulations, EU 261 protects passenger rights when:

All of the above scenarios could potentially get you financial compensation, however certain conditions must be met in order for you to be eligible for reimbursement. We will discuss each scenario in detail in the next section but the most important and universal rule for eligibility is that none of the above mentioned flight disruptions is due to extraordinary circumstances. 

This means that the delay, cancellation or denied boarding was caused by the airline and was not the result of external factors. Extraordinary circumstances include but are not limited to:

  • Air traffic control restrictions (including runway closures); 
  • Airport staff and union strikes (but NOT strikes of the airline’s staff);
  • Bad weather conditions (blizzards, low visibility, storms, strong wind, etc.); 
  • Bird strikes;
  • Hidden manufacturing defects (not to be confused with technical issues; these are the airline’s responsibility to prevent and take action for);
  • Medical emergencies;
  • Political or civil unrest;
  • Security risks (e.g. terrorist attacks).


Additionally, EU261 is applied to:

  • flights FROM the European Common Aviation Area within ECAA or to non-European destinations, AND
  • flights TO the European Common Aviation Area with an ECAA registered airline. 

This means that if you are flying from Europe to the U.S. and your flight is delayed or canceled at the European airport, you will be eligible for financial compensation under EU261. Similarly, if you are flying from the U.S. to Europe on board an EU airline, your rights will also be protected by EU261.


What are the conditions for compensation eligibility

Like we mentioned earlier, certain conditions need to be met in order for you to be eligible to receive financial compensation. Apart from the extraordinary circumstances we discussed, some additional requirements apply to each flight disruption scenario. 


Flight delay

The general rule is that a flight is considered delayed if the plane arrives at the final destination more than three hours after the originally scheduled arrival time. This means that in cases when your waiting time at the airport exceeds three hours, you won’t be eligible for compensation if you land at your final point less than three hours after the planned time.


Flight cancelation 

The two main factors in an event of a flight cancelation are whether the airline notified you about it on time and whether they offered you an alternative flight. You will be eligible for compensation if:

  • The airline failed to inform you of the cancelation 14 days or more prior to the original departure date;
  • The airline failed to inform you of the cancelation 13 to 7 days before the originally scheduled flight AND/OR offered you an alternative flight that departs more than two hours before schedule or arrives more than four hours after schedule;
  • The airline informed you of the cancelation less than a week before the originally scheduled departure AND/OR offered you an alternative flight that departs more than one hour before schedule or arrives more than two hours after schedule.

Keep in mind that no matter whether you are eligible for compensation or not, the airline is required to arrange a replacement flight to your final destination at the earliest opportunity or offer you a full refund of your booking.

Additionally, the air carrier must either cover your expenses for food and accommodation or arrange for a return flight to your original point of departure if the cancellation occurred after the first leg of your journey.


How do I submit a claim for flight compensation

Submitting a claim is a simple and quick task with SkyRefund. You can first use our free compensation calculator to determine whether you are eligible for compensation. Simply enter the details of your flight (like flight number, date, etc.), and follow the automated process.

If you are entitled to compensation, file your claim with us and we will take care of the rest. This includes preparing the necessary documentation, contacting the airline, and representing you in court if needed (airlines are not particularly keen on paying compensation). Our team of aviation law lawyers will handle your case expertly and with attention to detail. 

The best part is, you won’t owe us anything if we do not succeed in winning your claim. We work on a “No win, no fee” basis and will only charge you a commission of 35% of the compensation amount when we successfully get what is rightfully yours.

Contact us if you have any questions or you need assistance with submitting your claim.


What are the compensation amounts

Now that you know how to submit a claim, let’s look into how much of a financial compensation you can get if your flight from or to Europe is disrupted. The maximum amount you can receive is $700 (€600) and traveling between North America and Europe increases your chance of getting the highest compensation as the amounts are calculated based on the distance covered by your flight(s). 


Flight delay compensation 

The compensation you can get for a delayed flight depends on the total hours of delay and the distance covered by the flight (or flights, if you missed a connection). The amounts that you can receive are $275 (€250), $330 (€300), $440 (€400) and $700 (€600). You can consult the table below for more details.

Less than 3 hours

Between 3 - 4 hours 

More than 4 hours


 € -

 € 250 

 € 250 

All flights up to 1500 km

 € -

 € 400 

 € 400

All flights between 1500 km and 3500 km

 € -

 € 400

 € 400

All intra-EU flights over 3500 km

 € -

 € 300 

 € 600

All non-EU flights over 3500 km


Flight cancelation compensation 

Similar to flight delays, according to EU Regulation 261, the compensation amount for flight cancelations is dependent on the total flight distance. The minimum compensation amount is $275 (€250) and the maximum is $700 (€600), and you can find detailed information on the specific conditions in the table above. 


Denied boarding 

Airlines usually deny boarding to passengers due to overbooking. If you happen to be in such a situation, EU261 protects your rights and you can get compensation for the inconvenience. The same amounts and conditions apply for denied boarding like for flight delays and cancelations. 



If you are placed in a lower class than what you originally booked, which is also known as a downgrade, you have the right to receive a partial reimbursement of your ticket. The percentage of reimbursement again varies based on the flight distance and is as follows:

  • 30% for flights of 1,500 km or less;
  • 50% for flights within ECAA of more than 1,500 km (excluding flights between ECAA and French overseas departments) and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km;
  • 75% for flights that do not fall under 1 or 2, including flights between ECAA and French overseas departments.

Keep in mind that you are only eligible to request compensation for the flight that you were downgraded on, rather than for the entirety of your journey, if you had connecting flights.


What about connecting flights 

Connecting flights are covered by EU261, too: in case you missed one of your flights due to a delay or cancellation and arrived at your final destination with a delay of more than 3 hours, you are entitled to compensation. 

However, both of your flights should be reserved under the same booking reference. If you have separate flight tickets with different airlines, you will not be eligible to claim compensation. You can read our guide to missed flight connection compensation to find out more about your rights in such situations.


SkyRefund can be your trusted assistant and legal advisor in case you experienced a flight disruption. Claim your lawful reimbursement now!