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Your Guide To Compensation For Flight Delays In Europe

Was your European flight delayed or cancelled?

You can get compensation for flight delays under the law EC 261. Here’s your guide and how to get money!

We’ve all been there. The thin voice over the tannoy: “We are sorry to inform you that flight BD101 to Barcelona has been delayed by approximately two hours.” The screen that keeps refreshing to offer crushing blow after crushing blow.

Your Guide to Compensation for Flight Delays in Europe

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is there at least a pot of compensation waiting for us down the road? If your flight occurred in the EU then actually, the answer could be yes! Let’s get to grips with EC261 – and find out if you could get compensation for flight delays.

What Is EC261?

EC261/2004, to give it its full name, is a piece of EU law known as the ‘Flight Compensation Regulation’. It became law in 2004 and has been enforced since 2005.

It sets out passengers’ rights to compensation in the event that their flight is either delayed, canceled or they are denied boarding.

The last reason may sound a little odd- we’re not talking about getting into a fight with security and not being allowed on board. Sometimes, passengers are denied boarding because the flight is overbooked.

While this practice is very unfair, it’s not that uncommon. This piece of legislation sets our all your rights in such cases – as long as one or more of the following apply:

  • You’re flying on an airline based in an EU member state to an EU member state
  • You’re flying from an airport in an EU member state
  • You’ve got a confirmed ticket for a flight meeting the above criteria

Love traveling by helicopter? Sorry, this doesn’t apply to you. Or to Gibraltar Airport.

So, if you find yourself in one of these situations, what can you do? Let’s have a look at delays, cancellations and denied boarding and see how the law protects you.

Understanding Flight Types

The EU divides flights into three groups. These groupings are based on distance. They are:

  • Category 1 – Less than 1500km
  • Category 2 – EU internal flight of over 1500km, or any other flight between 1500 and 3500km
  • Category 3 – Non-internal EU flight of over 3500km

Let’s explore how these groupings affect the compensation on offer.

Flight Delays

Flight delays are all too common – and only 2 EU based airlines feature in the latest list of world’s ten most punctual airlines. 

But there are delays, and there are delays. The EC261 attempts to acknowledge the pain levels by dividing delays into different types, depending on the category of your flight.

It’s also worth noting at this point that the length of your delay is not determined by the departure time. It’s the arrival time in the destination airport, compared with the scheduled arrival time. And importantly, arrival means when the plane opens its doors, not when the wheels touch down.

Delays entitle you first of all to refreshments at the airport, as long as the delay meets these criteria:

  • Category 1 flights – 2 hours
  • Category 2 flights – 3 hours
  • Category 4 flights – 4 hours

If the delay takes you over into the next day, you’re entitled to accommodation at the airline’s expense as well. 

The good news is that you could also be entitled to cash compensation. If the delay goes over three hours, there’s a chance that your delayed flight compensation could be calculated on the same basis as that of canceled flights.

Additionally, delays of more than 5 hours automatically give you more rights under EC261.

Let’s have a look at exactly how much compensation could be on offer.

Flight Cancellations

When an airline cancels a flight, or a delay goes on longer than 5 hours, they have to do the following:

  • Rerouted to your destination – this has to be agreed by the passenger
  • Offer a refund – including for any flights taken to get to the airport that now serve no purpose – and fly you home

In addition to this, compensation should be offered if you still arrive late – see the categories under ‘Delayed Flights’. Even if you don’t arrive as late as those thresholds, you can still claim half compensation.

Here’s the good bit: how much-delayed flight compensation can you get?

  • Category 1 – €250
  • Category 2 – €400
  • Category 3 – €600

Airlines are also required to provide passengers with information about EC261 and how to claim compensation. Sometimes though you will have to ask for this!

Denied Boarding

When an airline has overbooked a flight, the first thing they must do is seek volunteers to go on a later flight. Some airlines off incentives, such as free flights at a later date, or cash compensation.

If the airline can’t find enough volunteers, then they do have the right to deny boarding to passengers they choose. But, they have to offer all three types of compensation to them. That means:

  • Cash compensation
  • Rerouting or refund
  • Refreshments, communication, and accommodation

How to Get Compensation for Flight Delays

Confused? While we’ve tried to break down the essence of this law as simply as possible, it is confusing to understand exactly what you’re eligible for.

Flight cancellations are not fun. It can be frustrating trying to resolve these matters with the airline involved after the event. There are also exceptions that mean airlines can get out of paying – lightning strikes and worker strikes are two striking examples.

Happily, there are many firms who deal with helping clients to get compensation for flight cancellations, delays, and being denied boarding. They will take a payment for their service, and this should be outlined upfront.

They will deal with the airline on your behalf. They are also familiar with relevant laws and are able to advise you before making a claim whether you are likely to be successful or not.

The Takeaway: Your Rights to Compensation for Flight Delays

The takeaway is that while this is a scenario we’d all rather avoid, at least you may be eligible to compensation for flight delays if the EU is involved.

Generally, if your delay or cancellation leads to a wait time exceeding the minimums set out above, there will be some cash for you down the line.

Contact the airline or a helpful refund claim service to get the ball rolling.

If you love saving money on air travel, check out our guide to the best carry-ons on the market.


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