EU 261/04 rights for flight compensation: the complete guide
by Craig Goodspeed
EU 261/04 regulation: what is it and what can it do for you in case of a flight disruption? As a specialist in Europe flight regulations, I have a complete guide for you.
“Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights.”
This european regulation protects passengers against travel disruption and also provides an incentive for the airlines to maintain a more punctual schedule.
EU regulation 261/2004
So, here is what you should know about EU regulation 261/2004:
– It is intended for passengers who suffer delayed or cancelled flights, overbooking, or denied boarding;
– Depending on the circumstances, and under certain conditions, it may give rise to a claim for compensation of between €250 and €600 per passenger;
– It provides assistance and access to basic services in the event of flights that have been cancelled or delayed for several hours;
– It offers the right to request a seat on another flight or to withdraw from the scheduled flight if it is cancelled or delayed by more than 5 hours;
– It obliges airlines to inform their passengers about flight delays and cancellations, and their rights.
In fact, knowing your Air Passenger Rights is the first step to knowing how to respond if you have a problem with a delayed or cancelled flight, or even if you were denied boarding against your will.
Arriving at the airport, looking at the departure board, and seeing that your flight is several hours late or has been cancelled can drive you to despair, right?
A delayed or cancelled flight may mean less time to enjoy your vacation. It may mean missing an important business meeting or a special date that you really wanted to celebrate with someone you care about.
If you are, or have been, in a situation like this, later in this article I will explain to you how you can check your eligibility to get financial compensation for your flight, as well as submit your claim and let the experts do all the work for you.
But for now, know how you are covered by EU 261/2004 and how this Regulation can help you ensure your rights against the airline:
European airports and european airlines
If your flight departed from the EU (and also from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) and landed at an EU airport, or if your flight departed from elsewhere but arrived in the EU and the airline is european (EU based), you are covered by EC Regulation 261/2004, approved by the European Parliament to regulate your Air Passenger Rights.
EU means the 28 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.) , including Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin (French Antilles), the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. It does not include the Faeroe Islands, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Except for extraordinary circumstances
Extraordinary circumstances such as adverse weather conditions, medical emergencies, lightning, volcanic eruptions, airport strikes, Air Traffic Control restrictions, airport radar damage or airport fires, acts of sabotage, terrorist attacks, political instability, among other circumstances, are not covered by the european Regulation 261/2004. But you’re still entitled to the rights of care and refund/rerouting.
Airlines often claim “technical problems” or “operational circumstances” to justify flight delays. Do not be fooled!
According to the European Court of Justice, these justifications do not fit the extraordinary circumstances.
These are just arguments used by airlines to try to convince passengers inconvenienced by delays and cancellations that they are not entitled to claim financial compensation.
Flight delays of 3 hours or more
Passengers whose flights experience delays of more than 3 hours are eligible for financial compensation.
The travel distance will determine the amount you can receive, ranging from €250 to €600. If your trip includes multiple flights (all included in the same booking!) the right to financial compensation may only include part of it.
The Airline didn’t notify my cancelled flight in time
In the event of a flight cancellation, EU Regulation 261/2004 states that, if your flight has been cancelled and the airline has not notified you at least 14 days in advance, you may be eligible for financial compensation.
Food, drinks, and accommodation
Under the EU flight compensation rules, passengers whose flight is delayed have the right to be offered food and drinks after 2 hours of delay. If the flight is delayed overnight, they should be offered accommodation and airport transfers as well.
Remember this in the future: financial compensation for your flight should always be paid in cash. Never in vouchers!
Lower travel class means compensation
Also know that, if the airline placed you in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, you are entitled to compensation under the european flight compensation rules.
EC 261/2004 is still applicable in the UK
If you are a traveller from the United Kingdom (UK) and you are reading this article with doubts as to whether everything I say here also applies to you after Brexit, know that European regulation EC261/2004 is still applicable, until the United Kingdom leaves completely from the EU.
Don’t worry: for now – and until the end of 2020 – everything remains the same!
EU 261/2004 claims
Now that you are more enlightened about EU Regulation 261/2004, and are aware of your rights, my next goal is to explain to you how you can claim financial compensation (and how much) for your flight problem(s).
Aireclaim’s online calculator can be very helpful for finding out if you are eligible for financial compensation under EU 261/2004.
Check it out now and, after entering some information – such as your booking reference and flight number – you immediately know the amount of money you can expect to receive.
Your flight compensation ranges between €250 and €600 per passenger and it depends on the distance of the journey you made.
When you’re ready, use Aireclaim’s help to submit your claim. The faster you do it the faster you get your money. Take my word for it.
Spread the word
Craig has a big interest and deep knowledge in the Air Passenger’s Rights. He is a frequent traveller and loves to share guides, tutorials and tips to help people make the most of travel.
Claim compensation for your flight delay or cancellation
Each passenger can receive ticket refund + expenses + compensation up to €600.
AIR PASSENGERS RIGHTS eu
According to European regulation CE 261/2004 and other rulings, an air passenger has 3 cumulative rights:
rerouting or refund
They are cumulative and free. The first is automatic, the 2nd is to be settled, the last must be requested.
Airlines are heavily fined if they fail these obligations.
-The care obligation applies after you wait 2 to 4 hours to depart (depends on the flight distance and other details), when you miss a connecting flight in the same booking, your boarding is denied, your ongoing flight is diverted or your canceled flight is rerouted. Terminates with ticket refund or reschedule or upon your final arrival to your destination or, in same cases, back home.
It consists of: food, taxi/bus, hotel and includes reasonable expenses like gilletes, underwear, urgent medicamenta, battery charger, phone calls, etc. If (only if) the airline does not provide this, you can act on your own, keeping all receipts for future refund by the airline.
-The rerouting / refund Right is due upon some types of cancelation (see other section), or after 5 hours departure delay and you asked to leave, or upon earlier initiative of the airline.
Yours is the choice between being refunded or rerouted using the alternative offered by the airline (probably the earliest). In this case, they will pay all care expenses until you reach your destination, unless you refuse their alternative and choose to postpone your flight.
Extra payments shall never be demanded. In case of class downgrade a partial ticket refund is due.
If the trip lost its purpose (example: you go to a concert) you can ask to be delivered back to your original airport at no extra cost and receive refund for the unused flights.
Or you can ask to change the unused flights to another day.
If your booking includes more connected or return flights, these rules apply to all, as a set.
After this right is used, no more “care” is due (as also after arrival to the last destination in the booking).
-The compensation Right applies in case of:
- delays of more than three hours upon arrival,
- cancellations, unless if you were informed more than 14 days before,
- flight misconnections within the same booking
- refusal to board (unless the blame is yours)
and entitle each passenger to a monetary compensation of €250 to €600 (halved in a few situations) in accordance to the flight distance and other criteria, to be paid by the operating airline, the one that supplied the aircraft and crew (sometimes it is not the same airline that sold your ticket, due to codeshare agreements).
For all 3 rights:
-All flights inside the European Union are included. Also other flights operated by EU airlines as long as they depart or arrive to an European airport. If the airline is not European, only flights departing from an EU airport are included.
Obviously, EU laws do not apply to flights starting and ending outside EU, even if the airline is European.
-Besides EU countries, Swiss, Norway and Iceland also adhered to this regulation. Other countries might have similar regulations (Canada, India, USA, Turkey,…) not covered by our services.
-All passengers have these rights, even those that are not EU citizens and/or live outside the EU.
-Children are entitled too unless they travel for free.
-Care and Compensation are due to you, the victim. Ticket refund is usually sent to whom payed the ticket, though the law says it should be paid to the passenger.
-Travel agents and booking companies are out of these obligations. Some try to help passengers however they are very inefficient claiming compensations because this is out of their scope (some forward us those problems).
Many situations are not covered by ruling 261/04 (examples: the opposite of a delay, the advanced flight; multi-flight bookings partially outside EU). Others are not clear (example: “extraordinary circumstances”, “flight distance”, etc). Some posterior rulings and judgments made things clearer, but still there is a lot of controversy about many situations, that airlines try to use to avoid payments.
In case of compensation (not boarding denial, rerouting/refund or care) the 261/2004 ruling exempts the airline from the obligation to pay in special situations like bad weather, union strikes (outside the company), terrorist acts, security issues, air traffic control decisions, and some other not so clear situations.
This allows airlines to reject most claims and require deep expertise to investigate and contest. Frequently, our audit shows that the alleged circumstances are not true and our conclusions are later confirmed in Court or by the aeronautical enforcement body.
These rights can be claimed during the next 2 to 10 years, depending on the country, most usually 3 or 5 years. Try to remember your past flight problems, then claim.
We can check your case, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us your story. We will inform your rights and your best solution (no payment, no bureaucracy).
Or you can check yourself here, then file your claim if you wish.
|< 1500 km||250€|
|1500 – 3500 km||400€|
|> 3500km||600€ if 1 airport is not EU
400€ if inside EU
As ruling 261/04 failed to clearly address many points, it is usually accepted (tacitly or forced by posterior judgements) that:
For every 2 hours delay some beverage should be offered to passengers unless it delays the boarding itself.
In case of misconnection the delay is measured upon the final destination and compensation is due only if all flights belong to the same booking.
In such case, distance is measured between first and last airport (but many people consider the total of all legs should be used, other consider the actual flown path because the law says “flight distance”).
Time of arrival is the time of the first opening of an aircraft (passenger) door.
If diverted or rerouted to another airport the passenger must be offered land or air transport to the original destination airport.
Technical problems are not special circumstances outside the control of the airline.
Though not included in ruling 261/04 this situation was addressed and ruled by some Court decisions, being usually accepted that:
When booking, it is the airline’s responsability to allow enough time clearance between 2 flights booked together, so compensation is due even for delays in the 1st flight less than 3 hours, provided the passenger arrives more than 3 hours late after rerouting.
In such case, after rerouting, the final arrival to the last airport is used to compute distance and time delay relative to the original flight, as if all flown flights were only one.
Then all other rules (see above) about flight delay apply.
In case the flight is cancelled, passengers have both these rights:
Reimbursement of the ticket price corresponding to the part of the journey that was not journeyed, as well as the part already journeyed if the purpose of the flight is no longer possible or existent
Free rerouting(not necessarily by air route) as soon as possible or at another time if the passenger prefers, either to the final destination or to the original airport of departure.
Compensation according to the flight distance:
|< 1500 km||250€|
|1500 – 3500 km||400€|
|> 3500km||600€ if 1 airport is not EU
400€ if inside EU
However, if an alternative flight is offered arriving earlier, at the same time or later a few hours, the compensation is halved :
|Distance||Intra CE||Extra CE|
|< 1500 km||< 2 Hours||125€||< 2 Hours||125€|
|1500 – 3000 km||< 3 Hours||200€||< 3 Hours||200€|
|> 3500km||< 3 Hours||200€||< 4 Hours||300€|
Note that this only applies to rerouting in sequence of cancellation, not to delays or other situations.
There are some exceptions. Compensation is not due if :
The cancellation was informed to the passenger 2 weeks or more prior to the flight.
The passenger was informed between 1 and 2 weeks before and was offered alternative flight departing less than 2 hours earlier or arriving no more than 4 hours later compared to the original flight.
The passenger was informed less than 1 week before and the airline provides a flight leaving up to 1 hour earlier and arriving no more than 2 hours later.
Some companies sell more tickets than seats available on the aircraft, in the statistical expectation that some passengers don’t show. Companies also reroute passengers from cancelled and overbooked flights to other flights possibly exceeding seat count, resulting in denial of board.
In case of boarding denial, the passenger is entitled to compensation regardless of the cause.
Usually airlines request voluntary passengers to cede their seats and take a later flight, possibly offering some hotel and/or food vouchers or other incentives. Their offer is probably inferior to the compensation that will then be renounced, so usually your better option is to refuse an agreement and contact us.
Then you will have the compensation, plus the replacement flight, plus food and hotel until you reach your destination.
As the law allows airlines to reject payments in special cases, but failed to clearly specify such conditions, many airlines permanently abuse of this, specially when facing a passenger that claims directly, without support of an expert company like Aireclaim.
This works very well and saves them millions: Airlines just deny compensation based on technical arguments accepted (or not) by the UE laws, then 99% passengers will not be able to verify or contest (as we can). Even if they could, surely they would not enforce their rights (as we would) due to tremendous troubles, required know-how and high lawyer+court expenses.
However there are many legitimate situations, when airlines are not required to pay compensations, named “exceptional circumstances”. They do not apply to your other rights (care and refund/rerouting) and never apply in case of boarding denial.
DO NOT waste your time claiming if any point in this list applies to you (but don’t believe everything the attendants tell you):
- the cause was (and you are sure) bad weather, terrorism, Air Traffic Control or strikes (but not strikes inside the airline).
- the delay upon arrival was less than 3 hours;
- the cancellation was informed to you 2 or more weeks before the scheduled flight;
- your flight to EU departed from a non-EU country and the operating airline (the one that supplied the aircraft and crew) is not based in EU;
- your missed connection flight does not share the same booking with the late flight;
- you arrived late to the gate or missed some documents.
Technical problems are one of the most frequent arguments used by airlines to refuse compensation. That’s because, unlike weather for example, they are very difficult to be contested by the passenger or his lawyer. However we can easily enforce such payments with almost 100% success rate.
Furthermore, please note that airlines have no obligation to refund expenses:
- without proving document;
- after final arrival, including transport to home, or extra parking fee;
- missed hotel, concert, etc that you booked and could not use;
- lost working days or bad image that you suffered in your job;
- unapproved replacement flights in another airline;
- care expenses after you accepted ticket refund or postponed the flight (this is one of the reasons you should not rush claiming to the airline, but get our help instead).
For these kind of expenses we suggest that you check if you have an insurance (credit card, travel assistance, etc).
Ruling 261/2004 does not address these situations because it intends to compensate problems like these, so they would be compensated twice.
Anyway, all legal systems worldwide under certain conditions enforce a redress obligation (usually for 3-6 years) to those who cause prejudices, so you can still claim in Court under common law if you hire a lawyer, though your chances are probably low.
We do not handle the mentioned cases because we are highly specialized on ruling 261/2004. We also do not handle luggage claims.
Do you wanna know more? Contact Us
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