A delayed or canceled flight is something many travelers will know. And, of course, pretty annoying. But on the other hand, such an event has the potential of letting some money flow back into your wallet. Thanks to the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation, you could be entitled to monetary compensation somewhere between €250 and €600. No matter how much you actually paid for your flight!
This article will try to give you a nice overview of all the different factors that can play a role. Also, we want to show you ways to enforce your rights and explain what you should do in case your flights gets delayed or canceled.
Table of contents
- Delayed or Cancelled?
- Passenger Rights in Case of Cancellation
- Passenger Rights in Case of Delays
- How can I Protect my Passenger Rights?
- Which Situations Won’t Lead to Compensation?
- Frequently asked questions
- Further Questions?
Please note that we can not replace legal consultation! We will try to do our best by introducing you to this topic. But we are no lawyers and the following information is subject to change, without limit or warranty.
Ground for all compensations that you could receive for delayed or canceled flights is the EU regulation 261/2004 which has been passed by the European Parliament on February 11th, 2004. This regulation is valid for all EU countries as well as Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland.
Delayed or Cancelled?
First of all, you need to differentiate. Has a flight been delayed for a couple of hours? Or has it been canceled? It will typically be straightforward to distinguish these two cases. But it can’t hurt to know the rules.
Your flight has been canceled if the original flights won’t be operated anymore. Indications can be a new flight number. Or maybe a route that differs from the one you actually booked in the first place.
If the flight number is still the same and the flight route hasn’t changed, we are dealing with a delayed flight. This means you will be transported in the way you and the carrier initially agreed on. Just not in time.
Passenger Rights in Case of Cancellation
A canceled flight sounds like the worst case. But there is good news: not only are you entitled to a certain amount of compensation. But you can also choose between the following:
- Reimbursement of the ticket price
- Return flight to the first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity
- Re-routing to your final destination under alternative transport conditions
- Re-routing to your final destination at a later date
Source Nr. 1, Article 8
In addition to one of the above options, the airline has to pay you compensation. The amount will vary, depending on the distance and the actual delay:
- €250 for flights below 1500km and delays over 2 hours
- €400 for flights between 1500km and 3500km and delays over 3 hours
- €600 for flights over 3500km and delays over 4 hours (the airlines can cut down compensation to 50%, if the delay was less than 4 hours)
Source Nr. 1, Article 7
While the rules that we’ve mentioned above might seem straightforward, there are some cases in which an airline will not be forced to pay you any compensation. Even though your flight has been delayed or canceled without any extraordinary circumstances. Here’s what has to happen:
- The airline informs you about the cancelation of a flight at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure. Of course, you are still entitled to be transported to the destination agreed upon.
- You are informed about the cancelation between two weeks and seven days before the scheduled departure and you are offered some alternative routing that will
- not depart more than two hours earlier than your original flight and
- won’t reach your destination any later than fours hours after the original schedule.
- The airline informs you less than seven days prior to the scheduled departure but offers you an alternative that
- won’t depart more than one hours before the original flight and
- won’t reach your destination any later than two hours after the time that has bee scheduled in the first place.
Source: Article 5, section 1, c)
Passenger Rights in Case of Delays
Technically speaking, the EU regulations don’t actually include rules about compensation for a delayed flight. The airline only has to come up for different types of services (which we will cover later on). The reason why you will still be entitled to monetary reimbursement is a verdict the European Court of Justice reached in 2009. It states that delays of three or more hours have to be treated like canceled flights.
So, no matter how far you’ve been traveling, if your flight has been delayed for more than 3 hours, you will be entitled to financial compensation. However, the amount is based on the distance of the delayed flight.
- €250 for flight below 1,500km
- €400 for flights over 1,500km within the EU
- €400 for flights between 1,500km and 3,000km
- €600 for flights exceeding 3,500km
Right to Reimbursement: Delay of 5 Hours or More
If the scheduled departure is delayed for at least 5 hours, you can request the reimbursement of the full cost of your ticket, which has to be refunded by the airline within seven days.
By the way: if you’re stranded during a layover, you can also request a flight back to the first airport of departure.
Source Nr. 1, article 6, section 1, c), section 3
Which Rights do I Have at the Airport?
If your flight is delayed or has been canceled, the airline has to provide you with food, beverages as well as two free phone calls, emails or faxes.
And once again, it depends on how long your actual flight would have been if the airline has to provide said services:
- Up to 1,500km and a delay of 2 hours
- Between 1,500km and 3,500km and a delay of 3 hours
- More than 3,500km and a delay of 4 or more hours
Source Nr. 1, article 6, 1
What if the Flight is Delayed Until the Next day?
If your re-routed or original flight is scheduled for the next day, you can take advantage of free accommodation as well as transportation from and to the airport. The airline has to cover the costs for a night at a hotel. And find some way to get you there.
But that’s not where it ends: the carrier also has to pay for meals and beverages in the evening. Often this is solved by handing out vouchers.
Source Nr. 1, article 6, 1
How can I Protect my Passenger Rights?
This is where it can start to become a little tricky. Getting your hands on that compensation isn’t always as easy as it should be. Many airlines try to avoid paying for a delayed or canceled flight. And if you don’t take a stand, you might never see any money coming your way.
We will come up with another article focusing on the different ways to enforce your rights (soon). Since this is a complex topic, we figured it makes more sense to go into detail another time. But there is a short version.
- Document what happened – if your flight has been canceled or delayed, try to collect as much information as possible. Take pictures of the screens at the airport. Have an agent write down a short statement on a piece of paper. Note the exact time of departure and arrival. Anything can help.
- Claim your compensation – use the Air Passenger Rights EU Complaint Form. Or set up your own document, if you like. Just make sure to provide to following data:
- Passenger’s name
- Flight number
- Date of flight
- Airport of departure and arrival
- Scheduled time of departure and arrival
- The actual time of departure and arrival
- Flight Distance in km
- Requested compensation
- Your bank details
Which Situations Won’t Lead to Compensation?
Unfortunately, some situations will let the airline off the hock grading your compensation.
It does make sense: if the airline did not cause the problem and can’t do anything about it – no matter, how hard they try – it seems unfair to burden the company with compensation payments. That’s why you’ll find a clause about extraordinary circumstances in the regulation on passenger rights.
An operating air carrier shall not be obliged to pay compensation in accordance with Article 7 if it can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 Article 5, section 3
Unfortunately, the airlines apparently see this part of the regulations as a loophole. And try to use it for all sorts of events. Here are some examples of what really is included:
- Nasty weather (e.g., sudden snowfall -> no plane can depart or land on a ceratin airport)
- Unforeseen strike (only flights that are directly affected. Not flights that are affected due to reorganization of schedules)
- Some technical defects (e.g., a birdstrike that caused the plane to land. Not a valid excuse in case of maintenance)
Problems With Extraordinary Circumstances
Especially the latter will often be labeled as an extraordinary circumstance. But according to a verdict that the European Court of Justice reached in 2008, a technical defect is not per se an extraordinary circumstance:
[…] a technical problem in an aircraft which leads to the cancellation of a flight is not covered by the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ within the meaning of that provision, unless that problem stems from events which, by their nature or origin, are not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and are beyond its actual control[…]Judgement of court C-549/07
Even if the airline really has taken care of all the minimum rules on maintenance:
[…] The fact that an air carrier has complied with the minimum rules on maintenance of an aircraft cannot in itself suffice to establish that that carrier has taken ‘all reasonable measures’ within the meaning of Article 5(3) of Regulation No 261/2004 and, therefore, to relieve that carrier of its obligation to pay compensation provided for by Articles 5(1)(c) and 7(1) of that regulation.Judgement of court C-549/07
On the other hand: a screw that fell off another airplane and destroyed or damaged the plane that you were supposed to fly with, falls under extraordinary circumstances and is no reason for compensation.
As you can see, this topic is very complex, mainly since some rules are not 100% clear. So if you run into problems claiming your compensation, we’d recommend hiring a lawyer.
Flights From a Non-EU Country with a Non-EU Airline
The regulations do not apply to flights that depart outside of the European Union and are operated by an airline that has its headquarters in another jurisdiction.
Caution: if an airline departs from an airport within the EU, it doesn’t matter where the carrier is from – you will be entitled to compensation if your flight is delayed or canceled!
- An American Airlines flight from the USA to Germany is delayed – you’re not entitled to compensation.
- An American Airlines flight from Germany to the USA is delayed – you are entitled to compensation.
Flights with Helicopters/Vessels/Balloons
The regulation only applies to:
“[…]to passengers transported by motorised fixed wing aircraft.”Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 Atricle 3, section 4
Which means that other forms of transportation, such as helicopter won’t allow for compensation in case of delayed or canceled flights.
Frequently asked questions
Since the regulations for passenger rights can be rather complicated, there are quite some questions that can come up. We’ve tried to find answers to the most important ones.
The distance that is used in case of delayed or canceled flights is always the shortest one between departure and destination airport.
If your trip includes one or more layovers, it is always the direct distance that counts. For example, you’re traveling from A to C and have a layover in B. In that case, only the distance between A and C will be considered.
It is always the time of arrival that counts. It does not matter how much delay your flight had when leaving an airport. The time that the doors opened at your destination airport is crucial.
This can vary depending on which country the flight arrived in or departed from. According to the Montreal Convention on passenger rights on international flights, you only have two years. But national laws may overwrite this.
If you booked a trip that includes airline codes from different carriers, you’re traveling on codeshare flights. In case of delays or cancellations, the airline that operates the flight will be held responsible.
This can be important if you’re traveling on a non-EU airline on a flight that departed outside of the European Union. If you booked your flight from JFK to Frankfurt with Lufthansa, but the operating airline is United, you won’t be able to claim compensation.
The time of arrival is always the moment in which the doors have been opened at the gate. And not the point in time when the wheels touched the ground!
The EU regulations only go into details as far as it concerns delayed flights. Flights that depart earlier than scheduled are not mentioned. But there are court decisions that suggest that such a case can be compared to a canceled flight.
What happens with award tickets?
The regulations are precisely the same for award tickets:
[…]However, it shall apply to passengers having tickets issued under a frequent flyer program or other commercial programme by an air carrier or tour operator.Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 Article 3, section 3
What about other tickets that I received for free?
Tickets for employees or other fares that are not accessible for the public are exempted from the regulations:
This Regulation shall not apply to passengers travelling free of charge or at a reduced fare not available directly or indirectly to the public.[…]Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 Articel 3, section 3
Can I get compensation for package holidays?
Yes, you can! If your flight is part of a packaged deal, you can still claim for compensation.
Since the distinction between scheduled and non-scheduled air services is weakening, such protection should apply to passengers not only on scheduled but also on non-scheduled flights, including those forming part of package tours.Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 Whereas, section (5)
But this is only valid if the package deal has been affected by your flight. If there are other reasons, you won’t be able to claim for compensation:
[…]This Regulation shall not apply in cases where a package tour is cancelled for reasons other than cancellation of the flight.Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 Article 3, section 6
Missed your connecting flight due to a delay?
If you arrived at the airport too late to get your connection flight, you are still entitled to compensation as long as you arrived at your destination with a delay of more than 3 hours:
[…]Regulation (EEC) No 295/91 must be interpreted as meaning that compensation is payable, on the basis of that article, to a passenger on directly connecting flights who has been delayed at departure for a period below the limits specified in Article 6 of that regulation, but has arrived at the final destination at least three hours later than the scheduled arrival time, given that the compensation in question is not conditional upon there having been a delay at departure and, thus, upon the conditions set out in Article 6 having been met.Judgement of court C‑11/11
Delayed flights outside the European Union
If your trip includes a layover in a country outside the EU and you miss your connections flight, you’re entitled to compensation. A flight including layovers and aircraft change is just like a trip with connecting flights, and therefore the delay at your final destination is crucial:
[…] must be interpreted as meaning that the regulation applies to a passenger transport effected under a single booking and comprising, between its departure from an airport situated in the territory of a Member State and its arrival at an airport situated in the territory of a third State, a scheduled stopover outside the European Union with a change of aircraft.Judgement of court C‑537/17
Missed your connection flight on two separate tickets?
If you booked two or more flights on separate tickets and missed a connection due to delay, you will only be entitled to the compensation for the first flight. And you won’t receive money for a rescheduled connection flight.
Consequently, it is always better to have all flights as part of one booking. That way, the airline is responsible for the total delay at the end of your trip.
We tried to put together an article that will answer as many questions as possible. But of course, we might have missed some points. If that’s o, please feel free to leave a comment!
And please: don’t mistake us for a licensed lawyer! We can only quote from official documents and refer to our own experience!