One might argue that air transport is the greatest achievement humanity has reached. Imagine having to take a train or a bus in order to cross a whole continent or get on a ship to travel overseas. Not only would it be significantly time consuming, but it could also be uncomfortable and even scary. Getting on a plane for several hours seems like a more reasonable choice that would get you to your final destination much faster.
However, with air transport becoming more and more accessible and popular, both airports and passengers face bigger challenges. As a result, traveling by plane is not a guarantee for “smooth sailing”.
Specifically after the COVID crisis that hit tourism and air travel the hardest, airports have been short on staff and flights are constantly being delayed and canceled, especially during the peak summer season.
Some people rely on their credit cards which provide travel protections if the flight booking is purchased with said cards. However, not everyone has access to such services, and that is where European law comes to the rescue for air passengers who have suffered a flight disruption.
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 (also referred to as EU 261) of the European Parliament and of the Council protects passengers and their rights in four main cases:
- Delayed flight;
- Canceled flight;
- Denied boarding;
The regulation applies to the countries from the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), namely 27 Member States of the European Union, including Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, plus Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The eligible flights are the ones departing from the ECAA or arriving to the ECAA with an ECAA based operating air carrier, and the compensation amount depends on the distance of the flight and its itinerary.
After Brexit, the UK law adopted many EU passenger rights and UK and EU airlines are obliged to treat and compensate air passengers from the UK and EU the same way. The main difference so far is that the compensation amounts for the UK travelers are in British pounds and range between £220 and £520.
In this article we will break down each of the main scenarios and give you all the important information about your rights as an air passenger and what you can expect as a reimbursement if you experienced any of these unpleasant situations.
When a flight is delayed, the reimbursement amount may reach up to €600. What is important to be noted here is that the wait time at the airport before departure does not play a role in the compensation claim. The delay needs to equal or exceed 3 hours and is calculated based on the planned time of arrival.
So if the pilot manages to make up for the delay and you arrive 2 hours and 55 minutes after the planned arrival, you will not be eligible for any compensation, even if your flight departed more than 3 hours after the originally scheduled time.
Your right for compensation in the event of a flight delay does not only depend on the length of the delay but also on the reason for it. Passengers are entitled to reimbursement as long as the disruption was not caused by circumstances outside of the airline’s control.
Extraordinary circumstances include but are not limited to:
- Bad weather (for example: snowstorms, windstorms, low visibility);
- Airport personnel and union strikes;
- Bird strikes;
- Air traffic control restrictions (including runway closures);
- Political and civil unrest.
Flight delay compensation under EU261 law is determined based on the distance of the flight and the delay, as follows:
3 - 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|
Unless the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, when a flight is canceled at the last minute, its passengers would be entitled to a reimbursement. Eligibility for flight cancellations compensation, covered by EU261, is based on the following requirements:
- your flight needs to be operated by an EU airline or to have been scheduled to depart from an EU airport;
- the airline must have notified you of the flight cancelation less than 14 days before departure;
- the airline must be responsible for the disruption.
There are, however, certain conditions under which the airline is exempt of having to pay cancelation reimbursement:
- You are notified of the cancelation 14 days or more prior to the original departure date;
- You are notified of the cancelation 13 to 7 days before the originally scheduled flight and you are offered an alternative flight that departs no more than two hours before schedule or arrives no more than four hours after schedule;
- You are notified of the cancelation less than a week before the original departure and you are offered an alternative flight that departs no more than one hour before schedule or arrives no more than two hours after schedule.
As with flight delays, according to EU261, the amount of your flight cancellation compensation depends on the flight distance. The minimum reimbursement you can receive is €250 and the maximum - €600, and you can check the specific conditions in the “Delayed flight” section above.
The airline would not be paying compensation in case the alternate flight departs and lands within a reasonable timeframe from the original flight. You will also not be able to apply for compensation if you were informed about the cancelation more than 2 weeks in advance. However, you are still entitled to a full refund of the ticket cost or a reroute to your final destination.
You can read more about your rights in the event of a canceled flight in our blog post dedicated to the topic.
Besides a flight disruption like a delay or cancelation, passengers traveling in/from/to the European Union also have a right to compensation in case they experience the so-called “bumping”.
If the airline staff does not let you board the plane because of overbooking, you can claim a reimbursement under EU regulation 261/2004. The reimbursement amount depends on the flight distance and itinerary, just like in the case of a flight delay. The amount ranges from €250 to €600 and the process of claiming the compensation is the same.
You have to note however, that you will not be entitled to any compensation if you decide to voluntarily give up your confirmed reserved space on the plane and accept any offer that the airline makes you. They usually offer vouchers, air miles, and other perks in exchange for the seat. Your claim will also not be eligible if you arrive at the gate late, don’t have the required travel documents, or cause a safety/health threat to the other passengers.
The last scenario covered by European law is downgrading, i.e. you are put in a lower class than what you originally booked. If that happens, you can claim compensation and its amount depends on the price of your ticket and the flight distance:
- 30% of the ticket fare – flights of 1,500 km or less;
- 50% of the ticket fare – flights within ECAA of more than 1,500 km (except flights between ECAA and French overseas departments), and all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km;
- 75% of the ticket fare – all other flights, including flights between ECAA and French overseas departments.
In case you had connecting flights, you may claim and receive reimbursement only for the flight which was downgraded, not for the entire journey.
In case you experienced a cancellation, delay, a flight bump or downgrade, and depending on your waiting time, you might additionally be entitled to:
Refunds or return flights:
- your ticket fare can be refunded, and if you had a connecting flight, the airline must provide you with a return flight to the departure airport as soon as possible;
- the airline can find a re-route option to your final destination that will allow you to get there as soon as possible;
- the airline can offer a re-route option at a later date at your convenience but the transport conditions must remain the same or similar, depending on the seat availability.
Right to care:
meals and refreshments;
hotel accommodations and if necessary, transport to/from the airport;
two telephone calls, fax, or emails free of charge.
When to apply for compensation
As with most legal procedures, there is a time limit for submitting your EU261 claim for compensation in the unfortunate event of flight disruptions. The expiration date for your right to reimbursement under EU law varies from country to country. You should note that it is not your nationality that determines the time frame, but the country where the airline is based. In some cases it could also be decided by what court has jurisdiction in legal cases with the participation of this specific airline.
Below you can find a list of the European Union countries and the United Kingdom, grouped by limitation period:
- 1 year: Belgium, Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland
- 2 years: Italy, Iceland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland
- 3 years: Austria, Croatia, Czech republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Romania
- 5 years: France, Greece, Hungary, Spain
- 6 years: Cyprus, Ireland, United Kingdom
- 10 years: Luxembourg, Sweden
- No limit: Malta
In the Czech republic you must notify the airline about your claim within 6 months of the flight disruption. The claim will then be valid for 3 years.
In Germany you have until the end of the third astronomical year to exercise your right to compensation (not 3 years from the date of the flight).
In Sweden you must notify the airline of the flight delay, cancelation or denied boarding within 2 months. You can then take advantage of a 10 years time window to submit the claim.
Submit your EU261 compensation claims
SkyRefund’s mission is to help passengers who have experienced denied boarding, flight delay or cancellations claim their rightful reimbursement.
In order to claim your flight compensation, you need to follow a few simple steps:
- Enter your flight details in our free calculator to see whether you are eligible for compensation. Submit your claim through our website if you are entitled to a reimbursement.
- Let our team of aviation law experts take care of all the hassle. We partner with a leading transportation law firm and will take legal action if necessary.
- You will hear from us when we receive the final decision. When we enforce your right to compensation, the money will be transferred to you immediately. Our fee is 35% of the compensation amount + VAT. If we do not manage to negotiate a compensation, our service is completely free.