Flight Delay Compensation in the USA

What are your air passenger rights if you have been denied boarding or your US flight has been delayed or cancelled?

A review of EU and US regulations shows that travellers are better protected in Europe in the event of a delay or cancellation. Under EU Regulation 261/2004 you may be entitled to compensation of up to 600 for a delayed flight to the USA. Meanwhile, US rules require airlines to pay you back up to 400% of the original ticket cost in case of overselling.


This article will outline the conditions for flight compensation and your passenger rights when flying to and from as well as within the USA.


US Passenger right to compensation for EU flights

Cancellation or Flight Delay Compensation USA-EU or EU-USA.

For these flights, your passenger rights will most likely be guided by EU Regulation 261/2004. As the name suggests, this regulation (aka EC 261) applies to EU countries and establishes the basic rights of passengers flying to and from the European Union.

Under European law you may be eligible for compensation of up to 600 in case of denied boarding, a delayed or cancelled flight if:

  • your US-bound flight departed from an EU airport, or
  • your flight arrived at an EU airport and was operated by an EU airline, and
  • the reason for the disruption was not ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

Unfortunately, if an EU-bound flight is operated by an American airline, passengers would not have the right to claim compensation if there is a delay or cancellation.


EC 261: How to claim your compensation for disrupted US flights

European law requires all air carriers to inform passengers of their rights under EC 261. Once you are aware of your rights, you can file a claim for compensation with the airline yourself. Unfortunately, the complex regulations and the amount of paperwork may sometimes seem discouraging. What is more, the process of claiming compensation may prove to be rather time-consuming, while offering little promise of success.

SkyRefund is here to help you understand and enforce your passenger rights. You can consult our compensation calculator to find out if you are eligible. Checking your compensation eligibility is easy and quick with our claim form.

Simply enter your flight details, submit your claim and leave the rest to our team of experts. We will conduct an in-depth investigation into the reasons behind and your delay and will stand up to the airline to defend your right to compensation.


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When can you claim compensation under EC 261?

Remember, according to European rules you are eligible for compensation if your flight was delayed, cancelled or overbooked. As the compensation amount is based on flight distance, it does not change for these three types of disruption. However, eligibility conditions and your other passenger rights differ in each case.


Flight Delay Compensation for EU Flights

EC 261: Delayed flights compensation USA-EU or EU-USA

Flight delays cause a great deal of inconvenience to air passengers, especially for long-distance journeys. The only good news is that under European law you may be entitled to 600 in compensation for your troubles.


EC 261: Compensation for US flights delayed by more than 3 hours

Under EC 261 an EU-US flight would fall into the highest flight compensation category (long-haul trips exceeding 3500 km). So if your plane arrives in the US more than 3 hours after schedule, you may be entitled to delay compensation of up to 600.

The same rule applies to flights from the United States to the EU when operated by an EU-based carrier.

Moreover, this is the amount owed to each individual passenger. So if you are travelling with your family, each family member flying with you will be eligible for this amount.

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EC 261: Compensation for US flights delayed by more than 5 hours

If your flight is delayed by more than 5 hours, you have the right to abandon your journey. In this case, you can demand a full refund from the air carrier or a replacement flight. If you take the refund, the airline would also be required to offer and pay for a return flight to your original point of departure.

Remember that the same rules also apply to EU-bound flights from the USA when operated by an EU-based airline.

Regardless of whether you decide to wait out your delay or cancel your journey, your compensation eligibility would stand and you may be eligible for up to €600.

 Right to care when faced with a delay or cancellation

EC 261: Care and assistance

When you are forced to wait for your flight for more than 4 hours, air carriers have to offer you care and assistance. You have the right to meals and refreshments and two free phone calls/messages. In case of an overnight delay, airlines are also responsible for arranging your accommodation and covering your transportation costs to/from the hotel.

If you are not offered any of the above, feel free to organize this for yourself. Simply remember to keep the receipts so you can later receive a refund from the airline.


Cancelled flight compensation for US passengers as per EC261

EC 261: Cancelled flight compensation USA-EU or EU-USA

Flight cancellations can be really frustrating, especially if you have prepared yourself for a long-haul flight across the Atlantic. The good news is that you may be eligible for EC 261 flight compensation of up to 600.


When can you claim cancelled flight compensation?

Under EU Regulation 261, airlines have to pay cancelled flight compensation if:

  • they notified you about the flight cancellation less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date
  • the flight was not cancelled as a result of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. Examples here would include political/civil unrest, a hidden manufacturing defect, Air Traffic Control restrictions, etc.


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You are also eligible if the carrier informed you of the disruption between 7 and 13 days before departure and you arrived more than 4 hours behind the original schedule. And, finally, if you were notified less than 7 days before departure and arrived more than 2 hours behind schedule.


Notice Given

Alternate Flight Requirements
14 Days

No Compensation

7-13 Days

Flight arrives more than 4 hours behind schedule (compared to original flight arrival time)

Less than 7 Days

Flight arrives more than 2 hours late


In most cases, flights are cancelled when you are already at the airport. In this event, we would advise you to inquire about the reason for the disruption. Unless it is ‘extraordinary circumstances’, you are eligible for compensation.


Cancelled Flight: Your Basic Rights

Irrespective of this compensation, airlines have to offer their passengers one of the following:

  • an alternative flight under similar conditions at the earliest possible opportunity, or
  • a replacement flight under similar conditions at a later time, convenient for the passenger, or
  • reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket.


Downgrading Compensation for US flights

More good news. If the airline offered you a lower class seat for the replacement flight, you are entitled to a partial refund. For long-haul flights of over 3500 km, this refund may reach up to 75% of the original ticket cost.

Conversely, in the case of a seat upgrade, the air carrier cannot demand any extra payment from you. Simply enjoy.

 EC261 promises compensation for denied boarding/overbooking

EC 261: Overbooked flight compensation on US flights

In case of overbooking, airlines are required to find volunteers - passengers who are ready to abandon their flight and reschedule. If you choose to volunteer, you will probably be offered some benefits from the airline. You would also have the right to a replacement flight.

However, if the airline does not find enough volunteers, it may be forced to refuse to board some passengers. This is called ‘involuntarily’ denied boarding. In this case, you are entitled to the standard compensation - up to 600 for flights exceeding 3500 km.



What are extraordinary circumstances?

Extraordinary circumstances - no compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight

Airlines are not required to compensate passengers if their flight is delayed or cancelled due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’. This legal term covers conditions seen as beyond the responsibility of the air carrier to prevent or fix. Examples here include Air Traffic Control restrictions, political or civil unrest, bad weather, etc.


Passengers' right to compensation for domestic US flights.


Flight delay or cancelled flight compensation in the USA

Unfortunately, EU and US federal laws differ. If you are travelling on a domestic US flight, you are not entitled to any compensation in case of a delay or cancellation.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) states that US airlines do not guarantee their schedules. Therefore passengers are advised to plan important trips and assume airlines may have certain wiggle room.

What should I do?

Airlines may offer some assistance in the event of a long delay or cancellation, although they are not required by law. Your best option is to find the Customer Service Representative of your airline and negotiate possible assistance. This could include meals and a hotel room, or rerouting to your final destination.


Overbooked flight compensation in the USA

Unlike flight delays and cancellations, overbooking is prohibited. So if you were ‘bumped’ from your flight because the airline oversold it to make up for no-show passengers, you are entitled to compensation.

There are two possible scenarios in this case.


Voluntary bumping

As US regulations require airlines to find volunteers in case of overbooking, you may choose to give up your seat voluntarily. If you do so, the air carrier should offer an alternate flight to your destination and some form of compensation. You may be offered food and accommodation or rerouting.

US rules do not specify the form or amount of compensation. So you should contact the airline’s Customer Service Representative and negotiate with them.


Involuntary bumping

In case the airline cannot find enough volunteers, some passengers will have to be denied boarding - the so-called involuntary bumping. In this event, the amount of your compensation is specified and depends on the duration of the delay to your final destination. US regulations establish the following possibilities:

  1. Your alternate flight is scheduled to take you to your final destination within 1 hour of your original scheduled arrival time. There is no compensation in this case.
  2. The arrival time of the substitute flight is 1-2 hours after the original scheduled time (1-4 hours for international flights). In this case, you are entitled to compensation equal to 200% of your one-way fare, capped at $675.
  3. The replacement flight is scheduled to arrive more than 2 hours after the original scheduled time (4 hours for international flights). In this case your compensation doubles to 400% of your one-way fare. The maximum amount you can claim is $1350.


Delay of alternate flight

Involuntary bumping compensation

Less than 1 hour

No compensation

1 - 2 hours for domestic US flights

1 - 4 hours for international flights

200% of your one-way fare, capped at $675.

More than 2 hours for domestic US flights

More than 4 hours for international flights

400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum


Sometimes your ticket does not show a fare (e.g. a frequent-flyer ticket). In this case, your compensation will be based on the lowest price paid for your class.


US Tarmac Delay Rules for Compensation

In general, US regulations do not mandate any special rights or compensation for cancelled or delayed domestic flights. However, in the case of long tarmac delays, airlines must:

  • offer you food and water, access to lavatories, and medical care (if necessary) after 2 hours;
  • provide a flight status update every 30 minutes and inform you about the reason for the delay, if known;
  • let you deplane 3 hours (4 hours for international flights) after the tarmac delay begins.

Note that the pilot is allowed to keep passengers on board even longer if there are any safety or security concerns.


Do US Airlines compensate for delayed baggage?

Unfortunately, luggage issues are quite common, especially during long-haul flights. If your luggage was damaged, delayed or lost, you may be eligible for compensation of up to 1300.

The airline is freed from having to pay if the damage occurred as a result of an inherent defect in the baggage itself.

If your luggage is delayed, under the Montreal Convention airlines are required to cover your expenses for basic necessities.

If your luggage was damaged or lost, you should file a claim in writing while you are still at the airport.

There is no standard form used within the EU. However, in the USA you file a template letter called Property Irregularity Report (PIR). Make sure you get a reference number for your claim and find out how to check the status of your bags.


Any Further Questions?

SkyRefund will be happy to assist you in enforcing your rights.

If you are still unsure whether you are eligible, simply enter your flight details in our compensation calculator. Our team of experts will turn the complex and time-consuming process of claiming compensation into an effortless experience.

We work under the principle of ‘No win, no fee’. This means that you pay nothing if your claim is unsuccessful. Only if we succeed in enforcing your rights, we deduct a 35% fee (VAT included) when your compensation is paid.


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