Flight delay: here's a quick guide

by Craig Goodspeed

The flight delay guide

Flight delays affect hundreds of people every day. The good news is that there are laws protecting your rights if the fault is of the airline – and if the delays are significant. 

Stay with me and I will give you a quick flight delay guide to deal with this inconvenience and help you figure it out what to do next. 

But let me just tell you this to cheer you up: a delay of 3 hours or more can turn up to €600 more in your bank account.

Even if you’re not automatically entitled to a full or partial refund, you still have the right to make a complaint.

Fortunately, if the fault is of the airline, there are laws that protect you from these delays, under the European legislation EU 261/2004

EU air passenger rights apply:

– If your flight is within the EU and is operated either by an EU or a non-EU airline;

– If your flight arrives in the EU from outside the EU and is operated by an EU airline;

– If your flight departs from the EU to a non-EU country operated by an EU or a non-EU airline;

– If you have not already received benefits (compensation, re-routing, assistance from the airline) for flight related problems for this journey under the relevant law of a non-EU country.

You can claim compensation provided that the delay has not been caused by “extraordinary circumstances” such as adverse weather conditions and other circumstances beyond the airline’s control. 

Flight delay: Extraordinary Circumstances

In some instances, airlines are exempt from paying out compensation if the delay was caused by something the airline had no control over.

Examples of extraordinary circumstances include:

  • – Air traffic management decisions;
  • – Political instability;
  • – Adverse weather conditions;
  • – Security risks;
  • – Strike action, if outside the airline personel.

Situations which are not considered as extraordinary circumstances include:

  • – Most technical problems which come to light during aircraft maintenance or are caused by failure to maintain an aircraft;
  • – Collision of mobile boarding stairs with an aircraft, for example.


You can check here what are extraordinary circumstances and how to deal with it

Flight delay rights

When a flight is delayed, there are two important things you must know about: your right to compensation (that can be activated after you arrive at your final destination or if the delay is longer than 3 hours you choose not to board the plane) and your right to care (which means that the airline must take care of you while you’re waiting for your flight).

Flight delay guide

So, if you are currently reading this flight delay guide at the airport because your flight is delayed, start taking notes: 

Step 1: Find out what caused the delay

First of all ask the airline why the flight is late, trying to get this explanation in writing, either on paper or by email. If possible gather photos or other proofs.

Trust me, this step is very important when claiming your compensation. The airline may not want to tell you what caused the flight delay but, as a passenger, you are entitled to know the reason. 

If the reason for the delay is under the control of the airline, they are responsible for the inconvenience and are obliged to pay you compensation. But if the delay is due to something that the airline cannot control, they are not required to pay you anything.

Step 2: Free food and drinks

If, after 2 hours of waiting, you are still at the airport, the airline is obliged to provide you with food and drinks

Remember to keep any receipts or vouchers you may have. It is crucial to know that the fact that the airline provides you with food and drinks in no way nullifies the possibility of claiming your full financial compensation. Both situations are within your rights! 

The right to meal voucher (this does not invalidate the right to financial compensation)

That’s why it is so important to know your air passenger rights! You can know more about it in the end of this flight delay guide.

10 benefits to know your Air Passenger Rights

Step 3: Hotel paid by the airline 

If, in the meantime, the delay continues and you are required to stay overnight at your departure destination, please also know that you are entitled to accommodation in a hotel or transportation paid by the airline. Once again, keep all the receipts in case the airline does not provide such amenities!

Step 4: Connecting flights might be another problem (skip to the next step if your journey only includes one flight) 

If all of your flights are under the same booking number and you miss the connecting flight because the first flight was delayed, the airline must reserve you a seat on the next available flight. 

If it takes place the following day, the airline will still have to guarantee your hotel accommodation, as well as meals. 

Missed your connecting flight? Know what to do

Unfortunately, if your two flights have separate tickets, your options to complain are scarce (unless the delay is greater than 3 hours) and there is no place for financial compensation or hotel and meals while waiting the next flight. Keep that in mind the next time you book your flights! 

Step 5: Claim compensation

If your flight is delayed by at least 3 hours and you’re still at the airport, try to stay calm and use your time to check the financial amount you may be entitled to because of your delayed flight. 

Use Aireclaim’s compensation calculator, completely for free. They can tell you right away that you may be entitled to receive €250 for a short-distance flight (up to 1500km), €400 for a medium-distance flight (up to 3500km), and you can receive €600 for a long-distance flight ( from 3500km). 

How Aireclaim can help you claim your flight compensation

These values are per passenger. If you’re having a family trip, for example, this value is multiplied by the number of passengers included in the same reservation. If you all have different bookings, separate complaints will have to be filed.

If your booking included more than one flight and the second one was missed because the first one was delayed, financial compensation may be claimed for both flights!!

I hope this flight delay guide has helped you and you get to your destination quickly! 

Return to Air Passenger blog if you have more flight-related questions or issues, or would like to learn more about claiming financial compensation.

Spread the word

Craig Goodspeed

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.


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 geral@aireclaim.com 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.

DistanceFlight Compensation
< 1500 km250€
1500 – 3500 km400€
> 3500km600€ 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.

Flight Misconnections:

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 km250€
1500 – 3500 km400€
> 3500km600€ 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 Hours125€< 2 Hours125€
1500 – 3000 km< 3 Hours200€< 3 Hours200€
> 3500km< 3 Hours200€< 4 Hours300€

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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