What are the EU regulations on delayed flights?
by Craig Goodspeed
The EU regulation EC 261/2004 was created to protect you, as an air passenger, in case there’s a delay, cancellation, or some other kind of disruption in your flight.
However many details only became clear after further judgements and other rulings appeared along the next years.
It’s understandable that all of these laws and regulations can be quite confusing, so, in this article, I will explain the EU regulations on flight delays in greater detail.
The first thing that is important to understand is who the EU regulation applies to.
Simply put, the regulation EC 261/2004 applies to passengers who have a valid ticket and booking confirmation, and either start or finish their trip at an EU airport (in this case provided that the airline is headquartered in the EU).
Now, you might be wondering if anything changes if you’re booked on a package holiday or using a low-cost airline. I’m happy to tell you that it does not.
If the conditions mentioned above are met, none of that changes anything.
It also doesn’t matter if you’re on a business trip and your boss payed the ticket, if you are an adult or a child (on a paid ticket), or if you are not a EU citizen or if you live outside Europe.
You should keep in mind that the regulation does not apply to passengers that are travelling on a free or reduced fare that is not available to the public, or passengers that did not check in on time (unless the flight was cancelled or you were notified otherwise, you should check in at least 45 minutes before the departure time).
EU regulations on delayed flights
So, what are the exact specificities of the EU regulations regarding delayed flights? That can change depending on a few factors, but I will try to explain everything as clearly as possible.
1 – Flight delay 3 hours or more at destination
For flight delays, you are entitled to compensation if your flight arrived at its destination 3 hours late (or more).
The amount of compensation you can expect to receive depends on the distance of the flight, not the amount of money you paid for your ticket or the trip duration.
– For short distance (under 1500km) flight delays passengers are due 250€ in compensation;
– For medium distance (between 1500 km and 3500 km) flights they are due 400€;
– For long-distance (over 3500km) flights they can receive 600€ in compensation.
2 – Right to assistance, reimbursement and return flight
If your flight is delayed at departure, you also have the right to assistance (food, hotel,…see point 4bellow) , and reimbursement or, a rebooked flight or a return flight back home, depending on the duration of the delay.
3 – Extraordinary circumstances on flight delays
It’s also very important to keep in mind that delays caused by extraordinary circumstances that are not under the airline’s control are not covered by the EU regulation EC 261/2004, and, therefore, does not give you the right to receive compensation.
However, if the flight was delayed by extraordinary circumstances the airline has to prove it to you, or otherwise pay your compensation.
Examples of situations that are often considered extraordinary circumstances by airlines but which are actually not
They can do so by, for example, providing extracts from logbooks or incident reports. If the need arises, the airline has to provide the relevant national enforcement body or Courts with this information, as well as the passengers.
4 – Right to food and drinks after 2 hours delay
They are also obligated to provide passengers with vouchers for food and drinks if the flight is delayed for at least 2 hours, as well as access to a phone or a way to send emails. They must also provide you with accommodation if the flight is delayed overnight.
It’s very important that you know your air passenger rights, so you can be more aware of what you can do, and whether or not you are entitled to compensation from the airline.
5 – EU Air Passenger Right notice
You should also be aware that a printed or electronic notice, informing you of your EU air passenger rights, must be clearly displayed at the airport check-in desk, at check-in kiosks, and online. If you experience a flight disruption, like a delay, the airline must give you a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance, as well as information about the disruptions and its cause
Do you want to make sure that you are getting everything you are entitled to when filing a complaint with the airline? Aireclaim are more than happy to help you with that!
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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.
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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.
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