According to EU Regulation 261 (aka EC 261), you may be eligible for compensation of up to €600 in case of a flight delay or cancellation.
However, passengers may not be entitled to flight delay compensation in case of bad weather despite the inconvenience the disruption may have caused them.
This is why airlines may sometimes claim bad weather to avoid paying compensation even though the conditions may not have been truly prohibitive.
SkyRefund’s mission is to inform air passengers of their rights and to help them receive their compensation for a flight delay or cancellation. In this article we will:
- define extraordinary circumstances (which include bad weather) and give examples;
- go over instances of flight delays due to bad weather and discuss whether they present valid grounds for delay compensation;
- provide an overview of the different compensation amounts that a passenger could receive for the delay of their flight according to EC 261.
Under EU Regulation 261/2004 you are entitled to compensation if:
- Your flight departed from an EU airport
- Your flight was operated by an EU-based air carrier and arrived at an EU airport
- The incident was not caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
What constitutes ‘extraordinary circumstances’?
According to EU flight compensation Regulation 261, in case of denied boarding or a delayed or cancelled flight, airlines may be required to pay compensation of up to €600.
Sometimes the above-mentioned incidents may occur as a result of the air carrier’s negligence. And in most of these cases, you would be entitled to compensation for the inconvenience.
For example, if you have been denied boarding due to flight overbooking, you would be entitled to compensation from the airline.
Overbooking is a common practice and a mechanism for air carriers to maximize profits in case there are passengers who do not show up on the day of their flights. Airlines do this by overselling (selling more than the number of available seats). In some cases, this would mean that some passengers may be denied boarding as the direct result of the airline’s actions (overselling).
The airline, however, cannot be held accountable if the reason for the delay or cancellation is not within their powers. Natural disasters, for instance, are not within the control of airlines.
For instance, volcanic ash is a major hazard for aircraft. It can reduce visibility and lead to engine damage. This is why many flights within, to and from Europe were cancelled after the Eyjafjallajökull 2010 eruption.
Obviously, in this case, the air carrier could not have avoided the incident or event, even if it had taken all reasonable measures. Therefore, in such a case passengers are not entitled to compensation due to the presence of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. The ‘extraordinary circumstances’ clause frees airlines from the burden of having to pay compensation for events that are not within their control.
List of extraordinary circumstances in the context of flight delays
According to EU Regulation 261/2004 extraordinary circumstances include:
- Natural disasters
- Political or civil unrest
- Adverse weather conditions (including low visibility, windstorms, snowstorms, and any extreme weather conditions.)
- Air traffic control restrictions (including runway closures)
- Hidden manufacturing defects
- Security risks
- Medical emergencies (may vary from situation to situation)
- Union and airport personnel strikes
- Bird strikes
Interestingly enough, lightning strikes are not deemed ‘extraordinary circumstances’. Planes are designed in such a way that even if they are struck by lightning mid-air, they can arrive safely and on time. What is more, the situation is not considered a danger to passengers onboard.
Even though the following circumstances may sound exceptional, they are not considered extraordinary.
- Lightning Strike
- Technical Issues
- Staffing issues
- Issues related to passengers’ flight documentation
Can you claim compensation for a flight delay due to weather conditions?
Yes, but only under some circumstances.
Unlike natural disasters and political or civil unrest that seem to clearly lie out of the control of air carriers, bad weather conditions are not as unpredictable. Winter is not a surprise in Europe, and airlines are expected to take all reasonable measures to avoid any delays/cancellations.
‘Bad weather conditions’ are not the same as ‘meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned’, as stated in Regulation 261.
But how to distinguish between the two?
Extreme weather conditions may be very diverse and may include snowstorms, extremely low visibility, strong crosswinds, sandstorms, etc. What is more, weather can be very dynamic and conditions may change throughout the course of the day. Within a couple of hours, conditions may change and cause flight delays due to bad weather and/or cancelled flights. In addition, under similar circumstances, one aircraft may be able to complete a flight on time, while another may not.
There are many variables and it is sometimes difficult to establish if particular weather conditions are prohibitive. Sometimes airlines may use the bad weather excuse too easily and cite ‘bad weather’ as the reason for the flight disruption in order to free themselves from having to pay compensation. In these cases, passengers may need expert advice and assistance in asserting their rights.
Let’s examine some of the possible instances of flight delays due to bad weather in more detail.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays caused by low temperatures?
In some cases, airlines may cite ‘extraordinary circumstance’ when a flight has been cancelled or delayed due to negative temperatures and the impossibility of de-icing the vehicle.
According to EC 261, airlines are only freed from the obligation to compensate passengers in circumstances which could not have been avoided ‘even if all reasonable measures had been taken’.
However, low temperatures are not wholly exceptional circumstances and it is the airline’s responsibility to prepare de-icing fluid in advance.
So when can you claim compensation? Imagine you are at the airport, other flights are departing but your air carrier claims bad weather delay due to the lack of de-icing fluid. In this case, the airline can be held liable and you may claim compensation. The amount of such flight delay compensation under EU 261/2004 depends on the distance of the flight and may range from €250 to €600.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays caused by snow?
Is snow considered an ‘extraordinary circumstance’?
On average, the UK gets 23.7 days of snowfall or sleet a year. Statistically speaking, Berlin receives either rain or snow almost a third of the year (106 days). In Europe, snow is hardly an exceptional weather condition.
However, sometimes snowstorms can be very severe. Imagine you find yourself waiting to board a plane and you can hardly see the passengers at the top of the airstairs because of the heavy snow. At that moment, it’s likely that flying wouldn’t seem like such a great idea.
Who makes the official call? Air Traffic Control.
Ice, snow or hail on the runway may cause the aircraft to take longer to slow down and exit. This means that Air Traffic Control may limit the number of flights that land or depart on the runways which would consequently lead to delays. These delays are not the fault of the airline and are considered ‘extraordinary circumstances’. According to EU regulation 261/2004:
‘Extraordinary circumstances should be deemed to exist where the impact of an air traffic management decision in relation to a particular aircraft on a particular day gives rise to a long delay.’
How do you know if you are eligible for compensation? If other flights are departing from your airport, this may be a sign that the responsibility for the delay of your flight lies with the airline. In this case, it is a good idea to try and find out the reason for the delay.
And remember that if you find yourself stuck at the airport for a long time, you have the right to care and assistance. This typically includes food and drink vouchers offered by the airline and hotel accommodation in a few rare cases.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays caused by fog?
In certain times of the year, fog is not uncommon, especially in the UK. Yet if the fog results in very low visibility, Air Traffic Control may decide to limit the number of flights landing at a certain airport. In cases of fog, a delay program may be established that will hold aircraft on the ground before departure due to conditions at the arrival airport.
According to EU 261/2004, this is a case of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as the decision affecting your flight is made by air traffic management and the air carrier is not responsible for the incident.
However, if the fog does not affect the airport of departure or arrival, you may be eligible for compensation.
Imagine your flight was delayed due to a previous flight disrupted or cancelled as a result of bad weather. In the case of such knock-on effects (when an earlier delay affects a later flight), the air carriers may find it difficult to prove they have taken all reasonable measures. What is more, the ‘extraordinary circumstance’ does not affect your flight directly. Therefore, this is not a case of flight delay due to bad weather and compensation of up to €600 may be payable to passengers.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays caused by wind and rain?
Wind and rain are other typical winter conditions in the UK and Europe in general. Therefore, they should not be sufficient grounds for your flight to be delayed or cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.
However, if the wind is so strong that Air Traffic Control decides to limit the number of flights, then it could constitute ‘extraordinary circumstance’. Moreover, even slow crosswinds may prevent a flight from departing or arriving on time, while even stronger headwinds may not affect the flight schedule.
If heavy rain causes floods and leads to the closing of the airport, then this would be a clear case of ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays caused by sandstorm?
If you have flown outside of the EU, your arrival may have been affected by a sandstorm.
Unfortunately, if such inclement weather delays your flight directly, you would not be eligible for compensation.
However, imagine that an earlier flight was delayed due to a sandstorm and your flight could not take off on time as a result of the knock-on effect. In this case, you may be entitled to flight delay compensation.
Can you claim compensation for flight delays caused by ash clouds?
The Icelandic volcano eruption of April 2010 forced a lot of airlines to land their aircraft due to prohibitive weather conditions. Ash clouds pose a serious threat to aircraft as they may reduce visibility and even cause engine damage. Therefore, they are considered an extraordinary circumstance.
Can you claim missed connection compensation if your flight was delayed or cancelled due to bad weather?
If you miss your connection due to a flight delay caused by adverse weather, your air carrier is obliged to help you find an alternate flight as soon as possible. In this case, as the airline is not responsible for the disruption, passengers would not be eligible for compensation for the missed connection.
However, if you missed your connecting flight as a result of cancellation or delay which was the airline’s fault, you may be entitled to a compensation of up to €600. You should also be offered an alternate flight and could have the right to a voucher or a refund for the food and drinks you purchased during your wait.
Flight Delay: Your right to meals and refreshments
If your flight was delayed for more than two hours after the original time of departure, airlines are required to inform you of your right to care. This is the right to a voucher for meals and refreshments.
Typically, airlines offer vouchers to passengers who are forced to wait at the airport for a significant period of time. If your airline does not offer you a voucher, remember that you may buy the food and drinks you need and ask for a refund later. Make sure you keep the receipts in this case.
It is also good to remember that in the event of an unexpected delay or cancellation you also have the right to two free telephone calls.
If your flight is postponed to the following day, airlines are required to offer you a place to stay and to cover your accommodation expenses. What is more, if your hotel is far away from the airport, the air carrier is required to cover your travel costs to and from the airport. This also includes the cases in which you have to go back home and travel to the airport the next day.
How to claim flight delay compensation
First of all, to be eligible for flight delay compensation, you need to have experienced a delay of more than three hours. It is important to remember that delay is defined as the difference between the expected and the actual time of arrival.
For example, imagine your departure was delayed by three hours. If the pilot manages to make up for the late takeoff, the flight may arrive at its destination with a delay of 2:45 hours. In this case, you would not be eligible for reimbursement since your arrival was delayed by less than 3 hours.
However, imagine that the pilot does not manage to make up for the late take off and you arrive at your destination 3:10 hours later than expected. In this case, since the delay exceeds 3 hours, you may be eligible for flight delay compensation of up to €600.
How much compensation can I claim?
The amount of your compensation will depend on the length of the flight.
If the distance covered by your flight is shorter than 1500 km, the payable compensation is €250.
But how do you know if your flight was shorter than 1500 km? The rule of thumb is that these flights usually take less than two hours.
For flights between 1500 km and 3500 km (or usually between two and four and a half hours) compensation rises to €400.
Your compensation may even reach €600 if your flight exceeds 3500 km (such long-haul flights usually take more than four and a half hours).
The compensation amount will also depend on the departure and arrival point of your journey. For example, for intra-community flights (i.e. EU to EU) compensation amounts are capped at €400.
The easiest way to determine the amount of your delay compensation is by using our compensation calculator.
SkyRefund will help you receive your delayed flight compensation
Airlines often cite bad weather as the reason for the flight delay. Since there are many variables and it can be difficult to prove if the bad weather is prohibitive, air carriers sometimes use ‘extraordinary circumstance’ as an excuse to avoid paying compensation.
This is why you may need expert assistance. After you submit your claim with us, we will:
- conduct an in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding the flight delay
- maintain sustained communication with the airline and double-check any information coming in from them
- contact the airport and the local civil aviation authorities.
All you have to do is enter your flight details and we will calculate how much compensation you are entitled to.
We operate on a “no-win, no-fee” basis. We will not charge you if we are not successful in claiming compensation. We get paid only if we are successful and our Standard Fee is 25% (VAT included) from the total compensation. Please visit our Pricing Policy for detailed information.