A large number of unlucky passengers are often forced to spend endless hours stranded at airports because of long delays or cancelled flights.
Are you aware of your rights under Regulation (EC) No 261/2004, which sets minimum standards for air travel in the EU?
While the discomfort and frustration of a flight disruption are unavoidable, you could claim flight compensation under EU261. In this article, we will let you in on all of your most important passenger rights.
We will address the following questions:
We will also discuss flight compensation, your right to rerouting and reimbursement, care and assistance, as well as denied boarding and flight downgrading/upgrading.
What is EU261?
EU Regulation 261 was passed in 2004 to establish the minimum rights for passengers in the EU. It applies when:
- passengers are denied boarding against their will;
- their flight is cancelled;
- their flight is delayed.
EC 261/2004 aims to compensate passengers for the trouble that a flight disturbance may cause. The law imposes certain obligations on air carriers. If airlines fail to fulfill them, EU Regulation 261 requires that they pay cancelled flight compensation or flight delay compensation to the affected passengers.
Moreover, the law requires airlines to:
- seek volunteers in the event of denied boarding and offer them special benefits;
- inform passengers about cancellations well in advance, and offer them reasonable rerouting and reimbursement;
- provide care and assistance (food, drinks, and accommodation) in case of long/overnight delays.
According to EU261, every air passenger affected by a flight delay, denied boarding or cancellation may be entitled to compensation of up to €600.
Where does EU261 apply?
EC 261 applies to the countries from the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) listed in the following table:
|EU Member states||Also included in ECAA|
|Belgium||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|The Azores||The Canary Islands|
|The Netherlands||United Kingdom|
So if you are flying:
- from the EU, or
- to the EU and the operating air carrier is registered in EU
and you experience a delay, cancellation or denied boarding, you may be entitled to compensation.
When does EU261 apply?
EC 261 sets common rules for compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of:
Depending on the circumstances this compensation may range from €250 to €600.
There are a few restrictions, however. You cannot claim flight compensation citing EU261 if:
- you are travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare which is not available to the public
- you arrived late for check-in
- the disruption was due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
Passengers are entitled to compensation in all cases of disturbed flights, except in the event of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. Examples of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ include:
- bad weather conditions
- airport strikes
- political or civil unrest
- medical emergency
- air traffic control restrictions
- hidden manufacturing defect
In general, any circumstances deemed beyond the control of the airline would qualify as exceptional.
Unfortunately, airlines may sometimes use ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as an excuse.
The following are NOT extraordinary circumstances:
- bad weather affecting a previous flight
- airline staff issues/strikes
- technical problems with the aircraft
- missing flight documentation
Passenger rights under EU261
Right to information
Your first right is to be informed of the content of EU261. Airlines are expected to display information concerning passengers’ rights at their check-in desks at all airports where they operate.
You should also inquire about the reason for the flight disruption and check if other air carriers are operating from your airport.
If you are denied boarding as a result of overbooking, you are entitled to compensation.
If there is a shortage of seats, the airline is required to find volunteers who are willing to give up their reservation in exchange for benefits. Irrespective of these benefits, all volunteers are entitled to reimbursement or rerouting.
If you end up being denied boarding, there would be two possible scenarios.
- If you voluntarily decide not to fly, the air carrier has to:
- offer you some benefits
- refund the full price of your reservation
- book you on an alternative flight
- offer you some benefits
- If the airline does not find volunteers and you are denied boarding against your will, you are eligible for flight compensation under EU261.
The amount of this compensation will depend on the flight distance:
- For flights up to 1500 km it is €250.
- You would be eligible for €400 if the distance is between 1500 km and 3500 km.
- If your flight spans over 3500 km, your compensation can reach up to €600.
The air carrier will still have to reimburse you or offer you re-routing.
Up- and downgrading
If the alternative flight you are offered places you in a higher class, the airline cannot request from you any additional payment.
Alternatively, if you are placed in a lower fare class, the air carrier must refund 30/50/75% of the cost of your ticket depending on the flight distance.
Refund in case of downgrading
(as percentage of the original ticket cost)
Less than 1500 km
1500 km to 3500 km
Over 3500 km
Care and assistance
In the event of a long flight delay, in addition to compensation, passengers have the right to:
- meals and refreshments for the duration of their delay
- two free phone calls and emails
Typically, in case of long delays, airlines offer travellers food and drink vouchers. If you do not receive one, feel free to buy whatever you need and keep the receipts.
The air carrier is required to cover these expenses.
Right to reimbursement and rerouting
Under EU261, if a flight delay exceeds 5 hours, passengers have the right to abandon their flight. In this case, they are entitled to a full or partial refund of their reservation. If the delay occurs mid-journey, the airline is also required to offer a return flight to the first point of departure.
Right to accommodation
In the event of a delay that requires you to wait overnight, the airline must:
- cover your accommodation expenses;
- pay for the transfer to and from your hotel if it’s located at a distance from the airport.
EU261: Cancelled flight
To minimize the inconvenience caused by flight cancellations, EU Regulation 261/2004 requires air carriers to:
- inform travellers of cancelled flights well in advance;
- offer an alternate flight arriving at your destination within a reasonable timeframe.
If these obligations are not fulfilled, airlines are required to pay compensation.
The following table summarizes the conditions under which airlines are released from having to pay cancellation compensation:
Replacement flight provisions
Departs no more than 2 hours before original schedule and arrives less than 4 hours behind schedule
Less than 7 days
Departs no more than 1 hour before original schedule and arrives less than 2 hours behind schedule
Cancelled flight compensation
Unless the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, when a flight is cancelled last minute, its passengers would be entitled to compensation.
As with flight delays and denied boarding, according to EU261, the amount of your flight cancellation compensation depends on the flight distance.
Remember that Regulation 261 covers flights departing from the EU or arriving at an EU airport and operated by an EU-based air carrier.
Cancelled flight: your rights under EU261
In case of a flight cancellation, in addition to compensation, airlines are required to offer air passengers one of the following:
- an alternative flight to the same destination at the earliest opportunity (under comparable conditions);
- a later alternative flight, at the passenger’s convenience, to the same destination;
- a full refund of the ticket cost for the complete itinerary, as well as a return flight to the original point of departure, if the cancellation occurs mid-journey.
EU261: Delayed flight
Passengers whose flight has been delayed more than 3 hours are eligible for compensation between €250 and €600 depending on the flight distance.
If the delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances, the airline is freed from the obligation of paying compensation. Alternatively, if the airline had the capacity to either prevent or mitigate the delay but failed to do so, air passengers are entitled to compensation.
Flight Delay Compensation
If the airline did not take all reasonable measures to prevent or ameliorate the delay, you could be eligible for flight delay compensation under Regulation 261/2004.
You may claim compensation if there’s more than a 3-hour delay upon arrival at your final destination.
This means that even if you have spent over 3 hours at the airport before taking off, if the pilot manages to make up for the late departure and arrives at your destination with a delay of 2:45h, you will not be able to claim flight delay compensation.
How much compensation can you claim for a delayed flight?
Delayed flight compensation under EU261 is determined in relation to the distance of the flight, as follows:
- For all flights up to 1500 km, the claimable compensation is €250,
- For all intra-EU flights over 1500 km, the amount rises to €400,
- For all non-EU flights between 1500 km and 3500 km the sum is again €400,
- For all non-EU flights exceeding a distance of 3500 km the compensation may reach up to €600.
The compensation amount is for each individual passenger. So if you travelled with your family, you can claim this amount for each family member that flew with you.
Your air passenger rights under EU261 after Brexit
The UK has left the European Union, but the level of protection of passengers travelling between the two hasn’t been affected.
Passengers flying from the UK will continue to transfer to onward flights at EU airports without any extra security screening. This is also the case at airports in Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
The UK government is retaining many aspects of the EU law in its domestic law, including the EU Regulation 261. Covered are any and all flights that:
- leave the UK regardless of the airline;
- take off outside of the UK and touch down in the UK and the airline is registered as EU or UK;
take off outside of the UK and touch down in the EU and the airline is registered as a UK air carrier (such as British Airways).
Q: How far back can I claim compensation?
A: EU Regulation 261 does not specify an EU-wide limitation period. It varies from country to country - between 1 year (Belgium and Poland) and 10 years (Luxembourg).
In the majority of countries, the limitation period is 3 years.
Q: What happens if I miss a connecting flight due to a delay?
A: If your tickets are under the same booking number and you arrive at your final destination with a delay of over 3 hours, under EU261, you could claim compensation.
If your missed connection was the airline's fault, your carrier should offer you an alternate flight to your next destination. In addition, the airline is required to either pay for your necessary expenses (food, hotel accommodation, etc.) or reimburse you afterwards.
How can I claim compensation under EU261?
Claiming your flight compensation is quick and easy with SkyRefind.
Simply follow these steps:
- Enter your flight details in our free compensation calculator to see whether you are entitled - if you are, submit your claim.
- Let our team of aviation law experts take care of all the hassle. We will even take legal action if necessary.
- Receive your compensation: We will transfer the money to you immediately and deduct a fee of 35% + VAT. Our service is completely free unless we enforce your right to compensation.