EU261 Compensation

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Travel disruptions are a nightmare that no passenger should have to face. It’s an emotional rollercoaster—the never-ending waiting, the uncertainty, the wasted time.

For this reason, you have solid legal rights to EU261 compensation and assistance in case airlines inconvenience your travel plans due to circumstances beyond your control.

This regulation protects you on any aircraft that leaves EU territory and on any flight that lands in the EU operated by a European carrier. If your aircraft is overbooked, and you experience major delays, cancellations, or are refused boarding, you have a right to compensation.

What Is EU261/2004?

EU regulation 261/2004 is a regulation in European Union law that puts passengers first. It holds carriers financially responsible if air travel takes an unexpected turn unless the interruption was caused by unusual circumstances beyond the airline’s control.

EC 261 is one of the most extensive laws about passenger rights. This important regulation is essential to protecting passengers’ and travelers’ rights in the air.

It establishes specific requirements for airlines to provide care such as food, drinks, accommodation, and compensation when flights fail to run as scheduled. Because of EU 261, travelers who might have been left stranded or placed in challenging circumstances as a result of delays, cancellations, or refused boarding are protected.

Fundamentally, EU 261 regulation seeks to ensure airlines accept responsibility for flight disruptions rather than abandoning passengers, acknowledging the severe discomfort they cause. It is a strong consumer protection law that has established global standards for traveler rights.

Which Flights Are Covered by EU261?

The majority of European routes are covered. The so-called “outermost regions” (French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, Reunion, Saint Martin, Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary Islands), as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and other countries, are included in this, in addition to EU airspace.

All flights departing from airports within the European Union territory are covered by EU 261 legislation. If your flight originates outside the EU but has a destination airport inside the EU, then the application of EU 261 law depends on the airline. If it’s a European carrier, you are covered. Here is a visual representation of this:

ItineraryEU Air CarrierNon-EU Air Carrier
From inside the EU to inside the EU Covered Covered
From inside the EU to outside the EU Covered Covered
From outside the EU to inside the EU Covered❌ Not Covered
From outside the EU to outside the EU❌ Not Covered❌ Not Covered

The main criteria are whether the origin or destination is in the EU and whether the operating airline is a European Union carrier. Provided that one of these elements is satisfied, your passenger rights under EC 261 apply to delays, cancellations, or denial of boarding.

Consequently, aircraft that are only passing through EU airspace or flights that are operated by a non-EU airline into or out of the EU are not covered by EU regulation EC 261. However, the coverage offered to and from passengers inside the larger European territories is rather extensive.

What Are My Rights Under EU Regulation 261/2004?

EU 261 outlines a comprehensive set of air passenger rights in the case of flight delays, cancellations, or denied boarding. Key benefits include:

  • Cash compensation of up to €600 for long delays
  • Free meals and drinks during delays
  • Hotel accommodation for overnight delays
  • Two free communications to notify others
  • Rebooking or Refund

The EU 261 law also mandates specific assistance for disabled passengers during disruptions. These rights protect customers when their travel arrangements are seriously disrupted. However, they differ in the reason for disruption: whether it is a delay, cancellation, denied boarding, or a missed connecting flight.

Flight Delays

If your flight is delayed by 3 hours or more to your final destination, you are entitled to EU261 compensation from the airline. The total length of the delay and the flight’s distance determine the compensation amounts:

Less than 3h3 to 4hMore than 4hNever arrivedDistance
0€250€250€250Flights under 1,500km
0€400€400€400Intra-EU flights over 1,500km
0€400€400€400Non-EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500km
0€600€600€600Non-EU flights over 3,500km

Moreover, airlines are required by the Right to Care to offer free meals and refreshments during a two-hour delay. The airline is also obliged to cover hotel accommodations and transportation to and from the airport in the case of an overnight delay. This makes it possible to guarantee that passengers are cared for during prolonged delays.

EU law for delayed flights forces airlines to take good care of and help passengers who are impacted by the delay in addition to compensating for lengthy delays. Delays are irritating enough – if the wait is extended, the airline must guarantee that customers have access to food, beverages, and a place to relax.

Flight Cancellations 

Should your flight be canceled, you can choose to get a full refund of your ticket price from the airline or be rebooked on a different aircraft.

If your flight is canceled with less than 14 days’ notice, you may be eligible for compensation. Depending on the distance of the journey, it ranges from €250 to €600 per person. Additionally, the airline must provide you with meals and refreshments as part of their EU rule 261 “Right to Care” obligations during extended delays.

On the other hand, you are not entitled to receive compensation if the airline notified you of the cancellation at least 14 days before the planned departure date. The compensation applies only if you were given fewer than 14 days’ notice:

Notification Prior to DepartureAlternate FlightRight to Compensation
More than 14 daysIrrelevantNo
7-13 daysDeparted no more than 2 hours earlier and arrived 4 hours later or lessNo
7-13 daysDeparted 2 hours earlier or more and arrived 4 hours later or moreYes
Less than 7 daysDeparted no more than 1 hour earlier and arrived 2 hours later lessNo
Less than 7 daysDeparted 1 hour earlier or more and arrived 2 hours later or moreYes

The amount you can claim and the airline’s re-routing duties are determined by their ability to transport you to your final destination within a certain timeframe from your original scheduled arrival, based on the distance, as per this EU261 compensation table:

Length of the delay at your final destinationDistance
Less than 2h2 to 3h3 to 4hMore than 4hNever arrived
125€250€250€250 €250€Flights under 1,500 km
200€200€400€400€400€Intra-EU flights over 1,500 km
200€200€400€400€400€Non-EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
300€300€300€600€600€Non-EU flights over 3,500 km

Denied Boarding

According to EU legislation, you have the following rights if you are denied boarding because of an overbooked flight:

  • You have the right to food and refreshments while you wait, which the airline must offer right away.
  • You have the option of being re-routed to a different flight or having your ticket money refunded.

However, you are only entitled to EU261 compensation if you checked in on time for your flight and had a valid ticket and confirmed reservation. So, you usually need to check in at least 45 minutes before your departure time. Once those conditions are met, the airline is obligated to pay you compensation. The amount is the same as for flight cancellations – between €250 and €600 depending on the flight distance:

DistanceCompensation amount
Flights under 1,500km250€
Intra-EU flights over 1,500km400€
Non-EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500km400€
Non-EU flights over 3,500km600€

Missed Connecting Flight

If your arrival at your ultimate destination is delayed by three hours or more as a result of a missed connecting flight, you are eligible for EC261 compensation. This applies even if the connecting flight was operated by a different airline, as long as both flights were part of a single confirmed reservation.

Some general points you are entitled to in such a situation are:

  • A compensation that ranges from €250 to €600 per passenger (if you arrive at your final destination 3+ hours late).
  • Meals and refreshments after 2 hours of waiting (Right to Care).
  • Hotel accommodation for overnight delays.

Missed Connection Because of a Flight Delay

Nothing is more annoying than arriving at your connecting airport early to find out that you’ve missed your flight because of delays on your first flight. Your thoughtfully planned now becomes messy without your fault.

But do not forget about your passenger rights for cancelled flights! The airline must rebook you in addition to paying you compensation if the delay on the first flight results in you arriving at your final destination three or more hours later. The overall time of the delay and the total distance traveled determine how much they have to pay:

Distance< 3 hours3-4 hours4+ hours
All flights 1,500km or less0250€250€
Internal EU flights over 1,500km0400€400€
Non-internal EU flights 1,500-3,500km0400€400€
Non-internal EU flights over 3,500km0300€600€

Missed Connection Because of a Fight Cancellation

It is awful on its own to have your flight canceled, but when it makes you miss your connecting flight – the rage is understandable. Using your rights as per EU rules for cancelled flights might still save your journey and mood.

Here is what to do in the possible scenarios:

  • If the airline did not offer any alternative flights to accommodate your planned itinerary, you can request a full refund of the ticket cost for both connecting flights.
  • If an alternative flight was offered to you, but you rejected it, you still have the right to request a full refund for all the connecting flights.
  • However, if you accepted the airline’s rebooking option, but arrived at your final destination over 3 hours later than originally scheduled, you are eligible for compensation, despite having used the re-routing option.
  • You can also claim compensation if your initial flight was canceled less than 14 days before its scheduled departure.

EC261 compensation for delayed arrival after a missed connection is as follows:

DistanceUnder 2 hours2-3 hours3-4 hours4+ hoursNever arrived
All flights 1,500km or less125€250€250€250€250€
Internal EU flights over 1,500km200€200€400€400€400€
Non-internal EU flights 1,500-3,500km200€200€400€400€400€
Non-internal EU flights over 3,500km300€

Missed Connection Because of a Denied Boarding 

If you were denied boarding due to an oversold/overbooked trip, resulting in you missing your connecting flight, the airline may owe you compensation in addition to alternative transportation.

Just as with cancellations and lengthy delays, the compensation amount depends on the total distance of your planned journey and routing:

Flight distance and itineraryCompensation amount
All flights 1,500km or less250€
Internal EU flights over 1,500km400€
Non-internal EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500km400€
Non-internal EU flights over 3,500km600€

So whether your missed connection was caused by a delay, cancellation, or denied boarding, you have strong air passenger rights for cancelled flights to compensation and care from the airline.

What Is Not Covered by EU 261?

It’s also important to know the circumstances under which airlines are not responsible for flight delays.

According to EC261, airlines are not required to pay compensation if the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances – incidents that were beyond their control. Situations that qualify as “extraordinary circumstances” allowing airlines to avoid compensating disrupted passengers include:

  • Employee Strikes: Under EU regulation 261, an airline is not required to provide compensation if its employees start a labor strike that results in flight delays or cancellations.
  • Political instability: Political crises that affect flights due to civil unrest, government instability, or open conflict in the regions of departure and arrival are regarded as exceptional conditions that are beyond the airline’s control.
  • Severe Weather Events: In the event of hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, or other extreme meteorological conditions that pose a real risk to public safety, airlines are not required to pay EU261 compensation to passengers for delays and cancellations.
  • Terrorism/Security Threats: Serious threats to the country’s security or acts of terrorism that cause flight disruptions are also considered unusual circumstances that release carriers from the obligation to compensate affected passengers.

So while the regulation provides strong air passenger rights overall, there are reasonable exceptions where airlines are not obligated to pay compensation, as long as the disruption was truly caused by inevitable circumstances.

Yet, airlines have to show that they made an honest attempt to stop the unusual events that led to the delays or cancellations. Simply blaming it on “bad weather” is insufficient if they do not take precautions to mitigate the damage.

To avoid being fooled by this, you should contact our air passenger rights specialists to get professional legal representation. We will carefully choose the best legal service provider for you based on the case’s details and applicable EU regulation 261/2004. With our professionals, you are bound to improve your chances of getting the airline to compensate you.

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