The ultimate guide to getting flight delay compensation in the EU

If you are a frequent traveler, you know about the horrors that come with a delayed flight. This can cause you to miss a day at work, an important event, or even a connecting flight. The good news is that if you’re flying to or from the EU and your flight is delayed for at least three hours or canceled, you get entitled to up to $700 worth of compensation! However, this process is never straightforward and can even be complicated at times. That’s why we wrote this article; to explain everything you need to know about getting flight delay compensation in the EU. After reading this article you’ll learn how to get reimbursed for a flight delay if this ever happens to you.

Keep in mind there are also a great amount of online resources and tools that can help you. In a delay or cancellation case a refund calculator is always a handy help. The German company Flightright, for example, has a free “Check your claim in 2 minutes” tool that lets passengers who are eligible to a compensation to get it in a short time. If you do a quick online research you´ll find there are many options available.

Know your rights

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If your flight (to or from Europe) gets delayed, you need to know your rights in order to know what to do. First and foremost, if the flight is delayed for at least three hours, the airline has to supply you with food and drinks or vouchers that you can use to buy some yourself. If the delay is overnight, the airline has to provide accommodation for all passengers. Furthermore, if the delay is longer than six hours, you have the right to ask for a full refund.

Alternatively, if the flight is canceled, you should get a seat on another flight or a full refund. In all cases, you should keep all documents related to your case, including all of the emails from the airline and receipts related to your extended layover (food, phone bills, and other purchases).

If the airline doesn’t offer to provide assistance regarding some or any of the above-mentioned costs, keep your expenses to the minimum and opt-in for reimbursement when you arrive.

Read more about the Regulation (EC) 261/2004

What you need to know when making a claim

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According to the Regulation EC 261/2004, the airline has to compensate you in case of a delay or cancellation. However, the payment you receive depends on several different factors and there are some things to know. Let’s start from the beginning.

The flight has to be subject to EU regulations

Getting flight delay compensation in the EU

If you’re flying from Madrid to Budapest,  it’s clear that your flight will be a subject of EU regulations. However, things aren’t always so simple? What if you’re flying from an EU country to Japan? Or what if you’re flying to Australia and transit through Asia where you board on another flight operated by another airline?

As a rule of thumb, a flight is a subject of EU regulations when;

  1. The flight departs from an EU airport, regardless of the airline.
  2. The flight arrives at an airport in Europe.
  3. You arrive in a non-EU country but the flight is operated by an EU-based airline.
  4. The airline operating the flight and/or its partner airline that operates the next flight is an airline registered in the EU.

However, despite these rules, claims can still be complex when the flight is operated by two or more different airlines. It’s difficult to determine where did the delay happen, which airline was responsible for it, etc.

Compensation is possible only if the delay was the airline’s fault

Getting flight delay compensation in the EU

You can only get compensation if the airline is to blame for the delay or cancellation. Understaffing, overbooking/underbooking flights, human mistake, or any kind of equipment failure counts as the airline’s fault. Natural disasters or war conflicts, on the other hand, do not. Keep in mind that despite the many rules introduced to this regulation, some are still open to interpretation. So, if you’re not sure whether you can or can’t get compensation, file a claim and let the court decide. You have nothing to lose.

The length of the delay

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In order to file a claim, the flight needs to depart at least three hours later than the initial date and arrive at least three hours later than scheduled. Keep this in mind before making a claim. Airlines can make up for some lost time during the flight and it’s completely possible for a flight to depart with a 4-hour delay but still arrive only 2 hours and 50 minutes later than the initial time. If this happens, you have no way of getting flight delay compensation in the EU.

How long do you have to make a claim?

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There’s no need to rush. Theoretically speaking, you can apply for a flight delay compensation as early as 2005. However, this depends on the country’s regulations. For example, in UK law, there’s this thing called “statute of limitations” that doesn’t allow a claim to be older than six years. This practically means that you can apply for a flight delay compensation in the EU for all flights after 2014.

Getting flight delay compensation in the EU- how much can you get?

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This depends on multiple factors, including your destination, the distance, the length of the delay, etc. Generally, a 3-hour delay should get:

  • €250 for a distance of 1,500 km;
  • €400 for a distance between 1,500 and 3,500 km;
  • €500 for a distance of 3,500+ km

Furthermore, if the delay is longer than 5 hours, you can get up to €600 worth of compensation. If your claim is approved, some airlines will try to offer you vouchers for compensation. Never accept this! You’re entitled to a payment consisting of actual money.

A couple of things you should note before making a claim

  • If your flight departs and arrives in the EU, you can’t get more than €400 even if the distance between the two airports is more than 3,500 km.
  • If your flight covers more than 3,5000 km but the delay lasts between 3 and 4 hours, the reimbursement can be reduced in half and the lowest amount you can get in this case is €300.

What to do in case of cancellation?

Getting flight delay compensation in the EU

Just like with the delay, you can get compensation for flight cancellation, only if it was the airline’s fault. However, in this case, if a refund isn’t an option, all passengers still need to get another flight to their final destination. If the cancellation is the airline’s fault, you’re still entitled to getting another flight to your final destination and plus, you can also get a refund if the flight arrives more than 3 hours later than scheduled.

With that being said, let’s see…

How to actually make a claim

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If you’re wondering how to get reimbursed for a flight delay, there are several different ways. You can choose a law firm to provide assistance but they’ll likely charge a large fee. The best option, in my opinion, is to make the claim by yourself. It might sound complicated but it really isn’t. Here’s what you should do.

  1. Write a complaint to the airline. Different airlines have different procedures; some have online forms, some want you to reach out directly. In either case, you’ll have to fill in the Air Passenger Rights EU-Complaint Form. See how your airline’s processes go and start your claim.
  2. If the airline rejects your complaint or fails to respond within two months but you think you have a valid claim, take the case to the adjudicator. To see which is the relevant Alternative Dispute Resolution entity (ADR) for your airline, check out this list. Or, if you booked your ticket online, submit your complaint to the relevant Online Dispute Resolution platform.
  3. As a last resort, take the case to the regulator. If the airline you’re looking for is not a member of any of the previously mentioned schemes, you have no choice but to escalate the case to the relevant regulator in the country in which a) the airline is based; b) the flight departed from/arrived to. Keep all of the documentation ready and send all of your communication with the airline and all relevant documents to the regulator.
  4. Finally, if your claim is still rejected, you can take the case to the claims court. You would have to submit the compensation claim either in the country in which the flight departed from or the country in which the airline is registered. However, don’t forget that this is a costly option.

How to claim compensation for a canceled flight

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The procedure for a canceled flight isn’t that different. The only thing you should note is that if you were given a notice about the cancellation at least 14 days prior, you’re only entitled to a new flight or a refund for your original flight. However, if the notice is less than 14 days before the flight, you can get compensation on top of the refund/alternative flight. The compensation amount varies, depending on several factors, including the length of the flight, how long you have to wait for your new flight, etc.

Again, note that you can get compensation only if the circumstances which caused the cancellation are the airline’s fault. So, if all flights at the airport are canceled because of a war conflict or a natural disaster, you are not entitled to compensation.

FAQ About Flight Delay Compensation

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Who can apply for flight delay compensation?

If your flight was delayed for more than three hours and falls under EU regulation, you have the right to file compensation claim.

When is the best time to file compensation claim?

There isn’t a specific timeframe, but it’s best to do it as soon as possible.

How far back can you make a claim?

This number is different in different countries in the EU. For example, in Belgium and Poland, it’s one year. In Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy, Iceland, Croatia, and Slovakia, it’s two years. For Austria, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, and Portugal, it’s three years. In Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Scotland, it’s five years. In Cyprus, Ireland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the limit is 6 years, in Luxembourg, it’s 10 years, and in Malta, there isn’t a time limit.

Can the airline turn down your claim?

Yes, it is possible but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. If the airline rejects your claim, you can still escalate the case to the higher authorities.

Can you get delay compensation for a baby/toddler?

According to EU regulations, all passengers have the right to request compensation in case of a flight delay that’s longer than three hours. However, these regulations also state that people who travel free of charge, are not entitled to any compensation. So, if you booked an extra seat for your baby/toddler and paid for it, you can expect compensation.

The flight departed on time but reached the final destination over 3 hours late. What happens?

This classifies as flight delay and you have the right to get compensation.

The flight departed 3 hours late but reached the destination country less than 2 hours 59 minutes late. What happens?

You have no right to file a compensation claim. It’s the arrival that matters, not the departure.

What if you miss a connecting flight?

If both of your tickets are a part of a single reservation, you are entitled to compensation. If you have two separate tickets for the booking, you’re entitled to compensation only if the flight arrives 3 hours or later than initially planned.

What happens when we travel as a group and our flight is delayed?

Ask compensation for every individual member even if your tickets are under one reservation.

What documents to keep?

Your boarding pass, booking confirmation letter, booking reference, and all receipts for any additional expenses for the period of your flight delay.

When on a business trip paid by the company, who receives the compensation?

The passenger (you).

When on a codeshared flight, which carrier do I contact regarding my claim?

Always submit your claim to the operating air carrier. To know which one is the operating air carrier, look at your ticket. The answer to your question is usually there.

If the airline offers a refund, should you accept it?

No. If you agree, the airline doesn’t have to provide you with an alternative flight. However, you are still entitled to getting compensation for your flight delay in the EU.

Which airlines can I claim compensation from?

The operating airline has to be registered in the EU, Switzerland, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Norway, and Iceland.

What can’t you claim?

You cannot claim unreasonable expenses. If you stayed at a five-star hotel during your delay or ate in a Micheline-star restaurant, you’ll probably won’t get compensation for this.

What should you do if your flight actually gets delayed/canceled?

Getting flight delay compensation in the EU

If there’s an announcement about your flight delay, approach the airline staff, ask for the reason for the delay and write it down. Keep a track of time during the delay and if it exceeds for three hours, ask for food and refreshments. If the delay is overnight, ask for accommodation and transport to the hotel. Finally, when the flight finally departs, note the departure time and note the exact arrival time. You’ll need all these things when filing a claim.

A sample claim letter

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In case your flight was delayed or canceled, these sample claim letters can help you start the compensation procedure. Here’s a template for cancellations/flight delays that are not caused by extraordinary circumstances.

Dear ____________

I am writing this letter regarding (flight number) on (DD/MM/YEAR) from (departure point) to (arrival point) at (initial departure time).

My ticket number/booking reference is _____. The flight was canceled/delayed and I arrived at my final destination on DD/MM/YEAR at (exact time).

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirms the applicability of compensation for the delay as set out in Article 9 of the EC Regulation for delayed flights.

The length of my flight was [number of kilometers] and, therefore, I am seeking (insert amount) for the delay.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you and would welcome response in 14 days.

Yours truly,

_________________

How airlines try to get away from paying claims?

airplane sunset

A lot of airlines still try to avoid responsibility and a classic example is claiming technical faults as extraordinary circumstances. The regulation leaves the definition of extraordinary circumstances open for interpretation because there’s no strict definition of extraordinary circumstances. However, the document mentions several examples of extraordinary circumstances that you can use as a reference point. The crucial part that you need to focus on is that, in the document, extraordinary circumstances are circumstances that “could not have been avoided if all reasonable measures were taken”.

How will you get your payment?

If you win your claim, reimbursements can be made by electronic bank transfer, cash, travel vouchers, and checks with the last one being the most common payment method. The passenger should choose the payment method when applying for a reimbursement on the airline’s website. The options will be given there most of the time. If your claim is accepted, you will get your payment between 2 weeks and 3 months from the approval date.

Exception for Extraordinary Circumstances 

airport storm

Extraordinary circumstances usually include but are not limited to bad weather and air traffic control decisions. Some other common extraordinary circumstances are political unrest, strikes, consequences of natural disasters, security risks, and bird strikes. However, in reality, things aren’t always that simple. That’s why the most important thing in these cases is the intent. So, if the airplane didn’t have enough anti-freeze but the airline was aware that they will be flying through/to a cold place but chose not to stock up, you can still get compensation despite the bad weather. Additionally, not all strikes are seen as extraordinary circumstances. If the strike is a result of an airline restructuring its stuff, this isn’t an extraordinary circumstance because it’s the airline’s management responsibility to avoid changes that might cause an employee strike.

Do you have experience with getting flight delay compensation in the EU? Was this guide helpful? Do you think we didn’t mention something important but should have? Let us know in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “The ultimate guide to getting flight delay compensation in the EU”

  1. I do not live in the EU but I travel to Europe and within Europe, so its really helpful to know what the rights are of passengers should the flight be delayed. For example I had no idea that one is entitled to a cash compensation if the flight is delayed for more than 3 hours. Although I have a fair idea that they’re supposed to provide accommodation if the flight it delayed overnight and food vouchers but I did not know how much of a delay makes one entitled to those facilities. Thanks for this super useful article!

    Reply
  2. I wish we had similar regulations in the US too! Thanks for sharing the insights on flight delay compensation. Most people aren’t aware of their rights when it comes to flying!

    Reply

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