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E.g., 15.11.2019

EU Air Passenger Rights - EC Regulation 261/2004

EU Air Passengers Rights Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 of the European Parliament of 11 February 2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to air passenger affected due to longer flight delays or flight cancellations, or denied boarding.

Under EU Law, European air passengers have the right to ask for compensation for flight delays of more than 3 hours, or flight cancellations without prior notice, or if they were denied boarding due to oversold flight, or for missed connections.

EC 261 was introduced in 2004 and came into effect from February of 2005. EU 261/2004 rule repealing Regulation (EEC) No. 295/91 of February 1991, states that flight passengers have the right to receive financial compensation of up to 600€.

However, airlines can escape under 'extraordinary circumstances' which includes extreme bad weather, natural disasters such as Tsunami, Hurricane, volcanic eruptions or any 'Act of God'.

But the airline will still be responsible for Rights To Care (e.g. providing meals and refreshments, two phone calls, and/or accommodation). You may also have additional rights under the Montreal Convention or Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

You do not have to be a European citizen to claim compensation for flight delays or flight cancellations under European Passenger Rights EU261 Regulation. It is valid for all passengers irrespective of their citizenship.

You are eligible for compensation if your flight was ...

  • scheduled to depart from an EU airport (with any airline)
  • or arrived at an EU airport with an EU regulated airline.

EU 261 Passenger Rights Entitlements

According to EU Passenger Rights Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004, airlines should compensate their passengers if the flight disruptions were under control, or could have been avoided.

For flight delays or cancellations, passengers are entitled to a different level of compensation depending upon the distance of travel and the reason behind delay or cancellation.

Flight Delay Rights

What Is Flight Delay?

A flight is counted as delayed if the flight departs or arrives later than the scheduled time.

Your Rights On Delayed Flights

As per EU 261 rule, passengers have rights to claim financial compensation from airlines if their flight was delayed over 3 hours on arrivals.

Based on the distance of travel, the compensation amount varies:

  • for the distance of up to 1,500 km - 250€ can be claimed;
  • for distance between 1,500 km and 3,500 km - 400€ can be claimed;
  • and for the distance of more than 3,500 km - 600€.
Arrival Delay Distance Compensation
Up to 2 Hours - 59 Minutes Any distance No
3 hours or more <= 1500 Km 250€
1500 - 3500 km 400€
>= 3500 km 600€

Flight Cancellation Rights

What is flight cancellation?

When a flight was previously planned and on which at least one seat was reserved but did not take off.

What are the passenger rights if the flight was canceled?

Passengers are entitled to compensation for a canceled flight if they were not informed about the cancellation at least 14 days before the scheduled time of departure.

What if you were offered an alternate flight?

You can claim financial compensation if the rerouted or alternate flight was delayed over 2 hours. The amount of compensation you are entitled to may be reduced by 50% in such cases.

Denied Boarding / Overbooked Flight Rights

What is Denied Boarding?

This happens when you are not allowed to board your flight despite having confirmed seat reservation and also arrived on time for boarding.

Airlines do refuse the passengers for boarding in case of overbooked flight tickets. In that case, either they involuntarily deny boarding or voluntarily deny boarding. There’s no compensation if you volunteer to vacant your seat, by accepting some vouchers or deals.

What are my rights if the flight was overbooked?

In case you were offered an alternate flight, and it was delayed for 2 hours or more, you are eligible for compensation.

If you were offered an alternative flight, the amount of compensation you are entitled to, may be reduced by 50% if your arrival time does not exceed the scheduled arrival time: by 2 hours (for distances below 1,500 km), by 3 hours (for distances between 1,500 km and 3,500 km) or over 3 hours (for distances of more than 3,500 km).

Rights To Care and Assistance

For flight cancellations, overbooking or delays of over 2 hours at the departure airport, airlines are obligatory to provide you assistance which is as follows:

  1. Meals & Refreshments: These should be reasonable in relation to the duration of delays or cancellations
  2. Communication: The airline should provide at least 2 telephone calls, telex or fax, or e-mails.
  3. Hotel Accommodation: If the expected time of departure is at least a day after the scheduled departure time, or when the stay becomes necessary, then the airline should provide you with hotel accommodation and transport facility.

Rights to Ask for Compensation

Following are the conditions when you can ask for compensation:

  1. Flight should have been delayed for more than 3 hours on arrivals.
  2. You must have travelled within the EU Member States, or you should have been departed from an EU airport.
  3. You must be booked with an EU registered airline or the airline which follows EU 261 Rule, for the flights departing from an airport located in Non-EU member state, but arrived into EU member states
  4. You can go back up to 6 years, that means, flights that had been delayed 6 years ago or less are claimable in the United Kingdom. While for Germany, Spain, Italy, France and the other EU Member States, it's valid for flights to back up to 2 to 3 years. Unfortunately, in Poland, it’s valid for flights back up to 1 year only.

As per the 2nd point, EU travel rights is not only applicable for EU citizens, but also for the non-EU citizens and their family or co-passengers from the respective air carrier.

In the table below, 2nd & 3rd points are explained using the territory chart

Origin And Destination EU Airline Non-EU Airline
From Inside EU to Inside EU Yes Yes
From Inside EU to Outside EU Yes Yes
From Outside EU to Inside EU Yes No
From Outside EU to Outside EU No No

Missed Connection Rights

For missed flight connection, if you have booked the whole journey under one flight ticket, the time of arrival at the final destination is what which is used to measure the flight delay.

As long as the flights are under the same booking reference number they are judged as one flight. If you have booked the different legs as single flights you are not entitled to claim on the combined flight connections.

On May 7th, 2013 the Federal Court of Justice ruled that passengers of a delayed flight (which takes you to a layover, not at your final destination) falls within the scope of Article 3 of EC Regulation 261/2004 are entitled to receive compensation for the flight delay; if the delay causes them to miss their connecting flight and results in them reaching their final destination with a delay of three hours or more.

In the event of missed connecting flights due to delays or cancellations, airline representatives should offer any of the following to the air passengers:

  • full refund of flight ticket cost
  • return flight to the point of departure
  • re-routing to the final destination with the earliest flight available or as per passenger convenience and availability of seats.

Holiday Packages Rights

EC Regulation 261/2004 provides protection for tour packages, travel packages, vacation packages, and holiday packages.

It applies to any or all packages purchased within the EU member states, even though the trip goes to a destination outside the European Union.

Your travel itinerary should clearly state the flight destinations, route, and transport facility either by airplane, taxi, etc. This data is binding on the tour organizer.

Before the trip; the trip organizer should inform you in written concerning time and locations for stopovers and flight connections.

Consumers have the right to transfer their booking to a different person.

Airlines might amend the price if it's expressed in the terms and conditions.

The tour operator is solely responsible for any breach of its terms.

For instance, the tour organizer shall act on the passenger's behalf against the airline to ask for compensation if any mishap occurs.

Your organizer should ask for reimbursement and you should get the full refund of your flight ticket cost within 7 days in cash, cheque or electronic bank transfer. Or you must be offered an alternate flight to your final destination with the earliest flight available or as per your convenience.

What are Extraordinary Circumstances?

Extraordinary circumstances, also known as exceptional circumstances are the situations when the airlines are unable to control the flight disruptions (delays or cancellations), even though concerned operating air carrier taking reasonable measures to prevent it.

Some examples of exceptional circumstances:

  1. Earthquake, volcanic eruption, extreme bad weather, Tsunami, etc.
  2. Crew member's strike causing all the flights with other airlines to fly late.
  3. Unseen technical problems, like a bird hitting the plane engine.
  4. The destined country is into political unrest.

Under such conditions, passengers are not eligible for compensation. But still the airlines should provide assistance as explained under Rights To Care and Assistance.

The table below provides an overview of the different 'extraordinary circumstances' which includes 'Acts of God', freeing the airline from paying the monetary flight compensation.

Strike Acts Of God Technical Problem
Extraordinary Circumstances
(you cannot claim compensation)
A strike is considered as an exceptional circumstance which cannot be avoided and thus you cannot claim compensation. Volcanic eruption, Tsunami, Hurricane and Hailstones are ‘Acts of God’ and thus you are not entitled to claim compensation. Are considered as exceptional circumstances if the airline could not have foreseen or avoided the technical problem.
Not an Extraordinary Circumstances
(you can claim compensation)
If the delay of the flight can be avoided and if other airlines are able to fly during the strike; there may be the possibility to claim. You are eligible to claim if it could have been avoided by the airline, for example by cleaning the runway correctly. Is not an exceptional circumstances if it could be avoided, for example by catching birds on the runway, keep spare parts.

It seems confusing that the same thing can be seen as an extraordinary circumstance in some cases, but not in others but the fact is that very small differences can have a great effect on the outcome of the case.

In addition, many airlines tend to blame 'Acts of God' or extraordinary circumstances for most flight delays or cancellations.

An air passenger would not know whether the airline is correct to blame as an 'Act of God' because the passengers do not have an access to flights database to research the real reason behind the delay or cancellation of their flight. In some cases, even insurance companies may refuse a claim if the problem was caused by extraordinary circumstances.

Necessary steps to take when your flight is delayed or canceled

You need to make sure that the airline could not prove that you were not at the gate or you were not willing to fly.

If your flight gets delayed or cancelled do the following necessary things

  1. stay at the airport and carefully listen to the announcements
  2. try to collect some evidence (e.g. capture photos of the departure/arrival board)
  3. check-in on time (i.e., 2 hours prior to your flights' scheduled departure time so that the airline cannot claim that you were not there)
  4. ask for the reason of flight delays or cancellations
  5. if possible exchange business cards or contact information with other co-passengers who can act as a witness of the fact you were there.

How can we help you to get compensation for your EU flight rights?

At Claim Flights, we provide expert knowledge on how to claim compensation for flight delays or cancellations. In many cases, the airline pays compensation when we contact them, even if they have not responded to the individual when contacted directly.

We have claim experts who discuss your case with the airline and can quote historic law cases to prove the validity of your claim.

Time after time we have successfully claimed compensation for stranded passengers which had previously been refused by the airline when approached by the individual directly.

You can find a comprehensive collection of passenger rights law cases in our historic flight database which helps to shed some light on different law cases. We work with experienced claim lawyers to fight for your rights in court.

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