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EU261 Compensation for Flight Disruptions Explained

EU261 Compensation for Flight Disruptions Explained

Anton Radchenko
Reviewed by a licensed lawyer.
Last Updated: May 09, 2024

Whenever you experience flight disruptions, remember that you are protected by EU law. The European Regulation EC 261 covers all flights departing from an EU airport or operated by an EU airline.

However, almost 90% of air passengers do not file a EU261 claim for compensation because they do not know about having such a right.

In this guide we will explain everything you need to know about the EU261 law, the rights it gives you, and how to  submit claims.

If you've suffered a flight disruption and think you are entitled to compensation under EC261 law, click on the button below and fill out the form. Our team of legal experts can help you get the monetary compensation you deserve.

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What is EU Regulation 261/2004

Up until 2004, EU passengers had no universal law to protect their rights in case they suffered flight disruptions. They were either protected by national laws or at the mercy of the airlines. The only European law that covered air passenger rights to some degree was Regulation (EEC) No 295/91, which covered only cases where boarding was denied.

This all changed in 2004, when the European Parliament passed a new law that required airlines to compensate passengers in any of these scenarios:

  • flight delay
  • flight cancellation
  • denied boarding
  • missed connecting flights

The law, which is now known as EU261 (or EC261), states that in such cases a traveller can be eligible to claim compensation between 250 and 600 euros, depending on flight distance.

The new law came into force on 17 February 2005 and was applicable in the EU states plus a few more that entered a bilateral agreement with the EU.

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Thanks to it, air travellers facing flight disruption problems when flying in Europe are more protected than on other continents.

the place that controls the European Regulation EC 261 2004 helping to get EU 261 compensation

Flights Covered by EC Regulation 261 2004

You can make an EU261 claim in any of the 27 states of the European Union. Besides these, EC Regulation 261 2004 also covers Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and 9 special member state territories. These territories are also known as the outermost regions of the European Union. They are French Guiana, Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe, La Réunion, Saint Martin, Azores, Madeira and Canary Islands.

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In theory, EU 261 compensation should be applied for flights, for example, by Panama Copa Airlines from Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe) to Miami (United States).

To simplify the explanation, this table shows you which flights are covered by EC 261 Regulation:

Flight Itinerary

EU Airline

non-EU Airline

within EU

Yes

Yes

EU airport - non-EU airport

Yes

Yes

non-EU airport - EU airport

Yes

No

outside EU 

Yes

No

Of course, the EU261 2004 Regulation applies to both full-service and low-cost air carriers.

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If your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to €600 (£520) in compensation.

Your EC 261 2004 Rights

Below we will explain all your EU air passenger rights for all 4 scenarios of disrupted flights mentioned above.

air passengers are entitled to EU Regulation 261 compensation

EU261 Rights in Case of Flight Delay

A delayed flight is probably going to be the most common scenario you could face. Depending on the delay time and distance to the final destination, you could claim compensation of up to €600 (£520), if your flight has more than 3 hours delay (the flight arrives at your final destination 3 hours later than the scheduled arrival time).

Besides the monetary compensation, under EU261 you also have the right to care. The airline must provide the following:

  1. 2 Free phone calls, emails, or fax messages
  2. free complimentary food and drinks
  3. free overnight hotel accommodation if the flight has been delayed overnight
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To receive these, your flight delay needs to be of 2 hours or more. Check the table below to see exactly if your flight qualifies.

Travel Distance of Flight

all flights, less than 1,500km

all internal EU flights, more than 1,500km

all non-internal EU flights, 1,500-3,500km

all non-internal EU flights, more than 3,500km

Waiting Time in the Airport

2 or more hours

3 or more hours

3 or more hours

4 or more hours

Flight Delay Compensation

The table below shows you exactly the amount of flight compensation you can claim based on your flight distance.

Flight Delay at Final Destination

Travel Distance of Your Flight

all flights, less than 1,500km

ex. London- Berlin

all internal UK/EU flights, more than 1,500km

ex. London - Lisbon

all non-internal UK/EU flights, 1,500-3,500km

ex. London – New York

all non-internal EU flights, more than 3,500km

ex. London – Dubai

less than 3 hours

no compensation

3 hours or more

£220 (€250)

£350 (€400)*

£350 (€400)

£520 (€600)

More than 4 hours

£520 (€600)

never arrived

£520 (€600)

* For internal EU flights over 3,500 km with late arrival from 3 to 4 hours, an airline may pay a reduced compensation in the amount of £260 (€300).

If the table seems too confusing you can use our flight delay compensation calculator.

In case of long flight delays, of 5 hours or more, you can also ask for a full refund of your unused tickets. Moreover, you can get a refund for your used tickets if they no longer serve any purpose in relation to your original travel plan. Lastly, you are entitled to a free return flight to your original departure airport at the earliest possible time.

For example, if you travel from Milan to Beijing to attend a one-day conference and your connection out of Frankfurt is delayed by more than 5 hours, you can get a refund for your unused tickets. However, You will also get a refund for your flight originating from Milan since you can't make it to the conference in time, as well as a return ticket.

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For more information, read our flight delay compensation guide.

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EC261 Rights in Case of Flight Cancellation

In case of flight cancellations, you are covered under EU261 if you meet the following conditions:

  • the flight cancellation occurred less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date
  • your cancelled flight was supposed to leave from an EU airport or operated by an EU carrier
  • it was the airline's fault and not an extraordinary circumstance
  • you were the one that purchased the tickets

If you meet all of these situations, you have the following rights:

  • full refund of your used an unused tickets (for example, a connecting flight that you can't reach because of the cancellation)
  • alternative flight - the replacement flight offered must depart at the earliest opportunity
  • right to compensation of up to €600 (£520), which we'll cover in the section below
  • right to care, similar to the one for flight delays
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To learn more, read our cancelled flight compensation guide.

Flight Cancellation Compensation

The flight cancellation compensation you can claim depends on several factors:

  • the moment when the airline cancelled your flight
  • flight distance
  • if your flight is inside or outside the EU
  • if the airline offered you a new flight and you accepted it

In the tables below you can find out how much compensation you are entitled to depending on each factor.

Compensation for cancelled short flights

 under 1,500km, ex. Paris - Amsterdam

Alternative flight offered?
YESNO, or you refused the offer
Compensation7 - 13 days' notice< 7 days' notice£210 (€250)
£100 (€125)new flight arrives earlier than 2 hours after the initial flight
£210 (€250)new flight arrives more than 2 hours after the initial flight
Nonenew flight departs less than 2 hours before the initial flight and arrives less than 4 hours after the initial flightnew flight departs less or 1 hour before the initial flight and arrives less than 2 hours after the initial fligh

Compensation for cancelled medium flights 

1,500km - 3,500km, ex. Tallinn - Madrid

Alternative flight offered?
YESNO, or you refused the offer
Compensation7 - 13 days’ notice< 7 days’ notice

£340 (€400)

£170 (€200)new flight departs more than 2 hours before the initial flight and arrives less than 3 hours after the initial flightnew flight departs more than 1 hour before the initial flight and arrives less than 3 hours after the initial flight
£340 (€400)new flight departs more than 2 hours before the initial flight and arrives 3 to 4 hours after the initial flightN/A
£340 (€400)new flight arrives more than 4 hours after the initial flightnew flight arrives more than 3 hours after the initial flight

Compensation for cancelled long flights 

more than 3,500km

Alternative flight offered?
YESNO, or you refused the offer
Compensation7 - 13 days’ notice< 7 days’ noticefor flights between EU & non-EU cities for flights between two EU cities 
£250 (€300)

new flight departs more than 2 hours before the initial flight and arrives less than 4 hours after the initial flight

new flight departs more than 1 hour before the initial flight and arrives less than 4 hours after the initial flight

£520 (€600)

ex., Milan - New York 

£340 (€400)

ex., Valencia - Reykjavik 

£520 (€600)new flight arrives more than 4 hours after the initial flight

EU261 Rights in Case of Denied Boarding

You are also covered by EC 261 2004 Regulation in the event of denied boarding.

Before denying the boarding, the airline staff will try to find volunteers that will give up their seats for benefits that are negotiated directly. If the airline doesn't find enough volunteers, it will begin to deny boarding to passengers. Your rights in such a situation are:

  • re-routing at the earliest possible time or at a later date of your convenience
  • refund of the ticket cost
  • monetary compensation
  • assistance in case of long delays as described in the sections above

Denied Boarding Compensation

The amount of monetary compensation you can receive depends on the flight distance:

  • €250 (£220) for flights shorter than 1,500 km
  • €400 (£350) for internal EU flights of more than 1,500 km and non internal EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
  • €600 (£520) for all other flight

According to EU Regulation 261 2004, you can get up to 600 euros of EU 261 compensation

Your other rights covered by Regulation EU261

Did you know that besides the cash EC261 compensation, you are also entitled to the list of other rights? We would like to tell you about some of them:

1. Right for information about EU261 claim

The air carriers have to inform you about your EC261 rights in the case of delays or cancellations, or in the event of denied boarding. You can also refer to the official document of the EU Regulation 261 2004 by yourself.

However, air carriers have to provide you with such information in written form in case of any flight disruption. An airline has to present the EC 261 text at its check-in counter.

It shall also provide each affected passenger with a written notice specifying the rules for assistance and compensation.

2. Other EC261 compensations

Often airlines do not bother to notify air passengers about their rights to complimentary meals and refreshments and, where appropriate, hotel accommodation and transport.

If you incurred additional expenses because of flight delays or cancellations, you could include them in the EU261 disruption compensation claim form.

But don’t forget to keep all the receipts, the best proof for the judge.

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EU Regulation 261 2004 is included in the UK law

Rights in UK

The same EU261 law used to apply in Uk but this has changed since Brexit. Passengers traveling from the UK or with a UK airline are now covered by the UK261 law. This gives air passengers the same rights as its European Union counterpart.

Extraordinary Circumstances - When Airlines Don't Have to Pay Compensation

In the event of delays, denied boarding or flight cancellations due to extraordinary circumstances, the air passengers are not eligible for compensation.

Extraordinary circumstances are:

  • bad weather
  • air traffic control strikes
  • terrorism
  • airport employee strikes
  • civil unrest

According to EC 261, extraordinary circumstances are situations out of the airline’s control. This means that an air carrier does not have to pay the compensation.

Some airlines are reluctant to pay compensation. And as a general excuse, they explain that the technical faults with aircraft are the reason for delay or cancellation. For these and other uncertain cases, comes handy the European Case Law.

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It clarifies specific provisions of the EU 261 2004 Regulation to avoid uncertainty in handling flight disruption cases.

In case of technical faults, the court of appeal recognises even unexpected issues as the airline fault. Thus it cannot be classified as an extraordinary circumstance. However, hidden manufacturing defects can be classified as such.

In case of extraordinary circumstances, even though you cannot claim EU Regulation flight compensation, you have the right to basic care and assistance from air carriers.

EU261 Extraordinary Conditions

EC261 Compensation: How to Claim?

Once you know you are entitled to compensation, you have to make a EU261 claim. This is a tiring process. Thus, many passengers give up trying to get any money from air carriers already in the initial stage of the process.

As a general rule, you have two options. If you can claim EC261 compensation yourself. In this case, you will have to write a letter to the airline giving all the flight details and other useful information. Don't forget to include your bank account where to receive the compensation. If it refuses to pay the money, you will have to go to court. 

The second way is to fill in our form with basic flight details. We will take care of the rest. Our legal partners will contact your airline and appropriate legal authority and will defend your rights in court. 

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We only take a commission if we get your EU261 flight compensation. Our commission is simply deducted from the total compensation. On the other hand, if we fail, you pay nothing at all. Thus, no risk for you.

Deadlines to Claim Your EU261 compensation

EU Regulation 261 2004 does not indicate a statute of limitations common to all cases. It doesn’t depend on your nationality either.

The deadline to make your EU261 claim is defined by the origin of the EU airline. It depends on the country where its headquarter is located.

Here is a simple table for you to understand how much time you have to claim your EU 261 compensation:

Deadline

Country

10 months

Latvia

1 year

Belgium, Poland

2 years

Iceland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

2 years 2 months

Italy

3 years

Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic*, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany**, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden***

5 years

Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Spain

6 years

Cyprus, Ireland, UK (except Scotland)

10 years

Lithuania, Luxembourg

No limit

Malta

*Czech Republic: it is important to notify your airline about flight delay within 6 months after the delay. Then your claim will be active for 3 years.

**Germany: the limitation period expires on the last day of the third year. For example, the disrupted flight was on 22/03/2018, the limitation period for this flight expires on 31/12/2021.

***Sweden: the limitation period is renewed at any time when a claim is made. So the limitation period for any subsequent claims would be 3 years from the time the last claim was filed.

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No matter what flight disruption you have, you can refer to the table above. Flight delay compensation EU time limit would be just the same as for the flight cancellation or denied boarding.

There are cases when air carriers deliberately delayed the process, waiting for the expiration of the statute of limitations. So try to apply for EC261 compensation immediately after your flight disruption.

AirAdvisor Will Help You to Get Your EU261 Compensation

If you are experiencing any flight disruption, we are there to help you. Simply fill in your basic flight data on our website and we will tell you right away how much EC261 compensation you are eligible for.

We won’t stop there. We will collect all the data, communicate with airlines and legal authorities.

AirAdvisor is one of the major players in the EU261 flight compensation field. We will do everything that is needed to provide you with your EC 261 compensation. Stress free and risk free for you.

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