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EU Air Passenger Rights: An Easy-To-Understand Guide

EU Air Passenger Rights: An Easy-To-Understand Guide

Anton Radchenko
Reviewed by a licensed lawyer.
Last Updated: June 20, 2024

As an air passenger in Europe, you’ll enjoy the protection of some of the best passenger rights regulations in the world thanks to EU Regulation 261/2004. In this article we'll explain your EU passenger rights for flight disruptions and show you how to claim up to €600 in compensation.

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Air Passenger Rights Regulations

Each country or region has their own rules and laws to protect passenger rights. Europe has a set of laws called European Regulation 261, also known as EU261 that ensure the fair and just treatment of air passengers. More specifically, they require airlines to furnish you with compensation whenever you run into flight disruptions that could have been prevented or avoided including flight delays, cancellations, denied boarding, and missed connecting flights.

Your flight is covered by EU Regulation 261 2004 when it complies with several conditions

Passengers from all countries are eligible for protection under these regulations as long as they meet the following criteria:

  • Your flight was departing from an EU airport or a European Economic Area (EU/EEA) or
  • Your flight arrived at an EU airport on an EU-based airline and
  • You have a valid airline ticket

Flight Covered by EU261 Regulations

Flight Itinerary

EU Airline

UK Airline

All other airlines

Departure from EU Airport

 Covered

 Covered

 Covered

Departure from outside the EU/UK

 Covered

 Covered

 Not Covered

Arrive in the EU/UK from outside the EU/UK

 Covered

 Covered

 Not Covered

Departure and Arrival outside the EU/UK

 Not Covered

 Not Covered

 Not Covered

What Flights are Covered under UK/EU 261

Your Rights for Flight Delays

Flight delays are probably the most common flight disruption that you will encounter. If your flight delay happens to be in the EU, then your rights include:

  1. Right to care: If you have a flight delay that lasts more than 2 hours, then the airline must provide you with free food and drink, access to communication, and even overnight hotel accommodation if your departure has been delayed until the next day.
  2. Right to cancel: If you choose to abandon your flight plans, then you are entitled to a refund and transport back to your original point of departure.
  3. Right to cash compensation: If your flight was delayed by more than 3 hours
  4. Right to a refund: If your flight delay lasts 5 hours or longer, then you have the right to a full ticket refund. Refunds must be given to you within 7 days of your flight.
  5. Right to reimbursement: If your flight disruption results in any out-of-pocket expenses, then you have a right to be reimbursed by the airline.
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According to EU passenger rights regulations, you are entitled to cash compensation of between €250 to €600, depending on the total distance of your flight, the length of time you’re delayed, and whether or not the airline can be blamed for the delay.

EU Delay Compensation

Length of Delay

Compensation

2 hours or more

  • Complementary meals and refreshments
  • Access to communication

3 hours or more

  • Cash compensation up to €600 (if airline is to blame)
  • Meals and refreshments
  • Access to communication

5 hours or more

  • Cash compensation up to €600 (if airline is to blame)
  • Meals and refreshments
  • Access to communication
  • Full ticket refund
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Example Scenario: A passenger from South America had a flight that was scheduled to leave Berlin and arrive in Mexico City. The expected arrival time was 3:00 pm, but their flight was delayed for 4 hours. While they were waiting in the airport, they requested meal vouchers from the airline and were able to have lunch. Their flight finally departed and landed in Mexico city at 7:30 pm which is 4.5 hours past their scheduled arrival time. Because of this, and since the airline was at fault for the delay, the passenger could claim for €600.

To find out more about this, read our flight delay compensation guide for the UK.

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EU Rights for Cancelled Flights

Your rights for flight cancellations depend on when you were given notice about it. If you were given MORE THAN 2weeks notice, then you will not be eligible for cash compensation.

If you are given LESS THAN 2 weeksnotice, then your air passenger rights kick in making you eligible to receive:

  • A rebooked flight at no extra charge or
  • A full ticket refund if you don’t want to reschedule your flight and
  • Cash compensation if the airline can be blamed for the cancellation

On top of this, you can also receive care and assistance from the airline if you are already at the airport and decided to rebook your flight. If your new departure time causes you to wait for 2 hours or more, then you should be provided with:

  • Free meals and refreshments and
  • Access to communication (emails, wifi, phone calls) and
  • Hotel accommodation and free transportation there and back if your new flight leaves the next day.
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It’s important to note that you could get cash compensation in addition to any care and assistance you receive. As well, you can get financial compensation even if you chose a refund or a rebooked flight.

If you need more information on the subject, read our compensation for cancelled flight guide in the UK.

Flight Cancellation Compensation Rights Explained

Rights in Case of Denied Boarding

If you’re bumped from a flight because it was oversold, then you can also get compensated by the airline. This only applies to passengers who have been involuntarily denied boarding because their flight had more passengers than seats available. If this happens to you, EU laws requires the airline to provide you with:

  1. A new booking on the next available flight in the same seating class as you had on your original booking or
  2. A full ticket refund and
  3. Compensation of up to €600 determined by the length of your delay and distance of your flight.
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Your Rights for Missing a Connecting Flight

So, what happens if you have a delay or cancellation that makes you miss your connecting flight? Well, you can get compensation for the inconvenience as well as care and assistance and help from the airline in getting you to your final destination.

  • Right to care, as mentioned in the flight delay section
  • A rebooking on another flight to your final destination
  • Right to reimbursement of both used and unused tickets or return flight to the original departure airport at the earliest possible time
  • Right to compensation calculated by the length of time your were delayed past your original arrival time and the distance of your flight

How Much Can You Get

Compensation for Flight Disruptions: How Much Can You Get

When you experience a flight delay, cancellation, denied boarding, or missed connection, the amount of financial compensation you’re entitled to depends on the distance of your flight and the number of hours you were delayed past your original arrival time. As long as you were delayed 3 or more hours at your final destination, you could be eligible for the following amounts:

  • €250 for flights shorter than 1,500 km
  • €400 for flights ranging between 1,500 and 3,500 km
  • €600 for all other flights over 3,500km
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Exclusions: When Cash Compensation Won’t be Paid

Unfortunately, if the cause of your flight disruption was beyond what the airline could control or prevent, then you won’t be eligible for cash compensation. If the airline tells you that the delay or cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances, this is what they’re talking about. Some of the most frequent situations that fall into this category include:

Extraordinary Circumstances

Within the airlines’ control

(Yes, compensation)

Outside the airline’s control

(No compensation)

Airline strikes

Air traffic control restrictions

Scheduling errors

Airport strike

Operational issues

Dangerous weather

Technical issues

Civil unrest

Staffing issues

*Manufacturer defect with plane

Be advised, that airlines will try to use severe weather and air traffic control restrictions as reasons to refuse paying you cash compensation. To avoid this, always ask the airline and airport staff why your flight was disrupted. You can also look online to see broader information about your area of travel or the specific airport. If there are weather or air traffic congestion issues, it will affect more than just your flight or airline.

Whatever you end up finding as the cause of your delay or cancellation, take screenshots or somehow keep a record of what you’ve been told. If you have this, you can use it as proof to support your compensation claim.

Extraordinary Conditions

Tips for Preparing Your Compensation Claim

For your claim to be successful, remember to take these steps when you encounter any sort of flight disruption.

  1. Again, ask airline staff or crew members to explain why your flight was disrupted. Also ask them for a written copy of your EU flight rights
  2. Hold onto all your travel documents (boarding pass, etc.) as well as receipts if you have to make purchases because of the flight disruption. Remember to attach them to your air passenger rights EU complaint form.
  3. Do not settle for travel vouchers unless you fully understand the nuances of them. Sometimes accepting one will eliminate your chance of getting cash compensation.
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If your flight was delayed, cancelled, or overbooked anytime within the last 3 years, you could still be eligible for up to €600 ($650) in compensation.

Using your laptop, you can send your flight delay claim in less than 3 minutes with the help of AirAdvisor

EC261 Compensation: How AirAdvisor Can Help

At AirAdvisor, we’re committed to helping all travellers who experience flight disruptions. We’re proud to have extensive knowledge and experience about EU air passenger rights, and we’ve been defending passengers like you since 2017.

Why trust AirAdvisor

  • We have already helped over 250,000 air passengers from around the world
  • We are experts in filing and winning compensation claims for all kinds of flight disruptions including denied boarding, missed connections, flight cancellations, and delays.
  • Our legal team goes above and beyond to protect your EU air passenger rights in court if required.
  • Our work is performed on a no-win, no-fee basis, so there’s no risk to you.
  • Finally, our legal service is, on average, 5% less than other services!

Get started on your path to as much as €600 ($650) in compensation. All you have to do is enter your flight details, and we’ll show you how much you could get from the airline. Not only that, but it’s free and so easy to use.

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EU Air Passenger Rights FAQ

Are you protected by EU261 if your baggage is damaged or lost?

If your baggage is mishandled, meaning it was delayed, lost, or damaged, then your rights are protected by the Montreal Convention. In fact you can claim for as much as €1,599 if the airline loses or destroys your luggage.

Can you get compensated if your seat is downgraded to economy?

Yes! EU261 regulations require airlines to compensate you for the difference in the price if you were involuntarily downgraded to a lower seating class.

If your flight is cancelled because of an airline strike, can you get compensation?

Yes you can! An airline strike is considered a circumstance that is within the airline’s control, so because of this, you are within your right to seek cash compensation.

How much time do you have to file an EU compensation claim? Is there a deadline?

Each EU country establishes their own statute of limitations for filing compensation claims for flight disruptions. We put together this article that lists the filing deadlines for each country.

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