When your flight is delayed - or worse, cancelled - do you simply accept it, or do you seek compensation?
If you replied the latter, you're going to love this guide. After reading it, claiming a cancelled or delayed flight compensation will have no secret for you.
Imagine this scenario which is, unfortunately, likely to happen to you one day:
None of that matters, because your flight is delayed and won't depart on time. Or worse: there has been a change of schedule and your plane has been cancelled.
Like millions or air passengers, I've been there. I know how powerless you feel and how unfair it is. Chances are, thousands of passengers worldwide are stuck with a disturbed flight just like you that very same day.
Your flight is already a bad experience - but it could get better:
The EU Regulation 261/2004 is here to defend air passenger rights. Even though airlines don't advertise it, you can claim up to 600€ for your cancelled or delayed flights.
Only 2% of air passengers that are eligible successfully claim their compensation every year. Don't be one of them. Know your rights, and how to claim what is owed to you by the airline.
If you want to know how to claim compensation for a cancelled or delayed flight, read on!
How to Claim Compensation for a Delayed or Cancelled Flight
You basically have 3 options - each of them has its pros and cons. The first one is to do it on your own. Alternatively, ask a lawyer to do it in your name.
Or you can let a third-party company do all the work for you.
Let's review your options:
Claim on your own
If you decide to take the matter into your own hands, arm yourself with patience and with a good understanding of your passenger rights (the rest of this guide will help you with that).
As this poll from Martin Lewis on MoneySavingExpert.com illustrates, the claim of most passengers claiming on their own is still ungoing - many of them didn't manage to get their money. Some passengers did get it, although they often had to fight for it.
Still want to claim on your own? Here's what to do:
1. Get in touch with the airline
Don't forget that you should claim compensation to the airline which operated the flight, not the company that you booked with. For instance:
- you booked a ticket on Air France's website, but the flight was operated by Delta: your claim should be directed to Delta
- you booked a ticket via an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia for a flight operated by British Airways: your claim should be directed to British Airways
Make sure that you contact them the appropriate way.
Some airline will have you fill in an online form instead. Others require you to contact them via postal address. The easiest way to do so is by email. Look up the email address on their website, on the "contact" or "support" page.
2. Describe what happened
Whichever option the airline offers for you to contact them, it will let you describe what happened. Your letter/form/email should include:
- a description of what went wrong with your flight experience
- how much money you claim for your flight disruption (more on that in this guide)
- the appropriate quote from the EU Regulation 261/2004 (or EC 261)
Remember: it's unlikely that the person who will receive your email, letter, or form, is responsible for your trouble. Don't be rude or aggressive, it would only be counter-productive.
If you receive a positive answer from the airline: good for you, you've won! However, most passengers are (at least initially) denied compensation.
3. Escalate your claim to a National Enforcement Body (NEB) or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme
It doesn't have to be the end just because the airline said so. It's not uncommon for airlines to lie about the events or abuse their passenger's lack of knowledge about their rights to avoid paying compensation.
If you believe that you are entitled to compensation under EC 261, take your claim to a regulator or adjudicator.
The advantage is that decisions made by ADRs schemes are binding.
You will need to do some research in order to know which adjudicator to contact. It will depend on your itinerary and the "nationality" of the airline. Your flight needs to be in the jurisdiction of the ADR scheme that you escalate your complaint to.
Should your airline not be signed up to an adjudicator, your best hope is to reach out to a National Enforcement Body (NEB). Note however that the latter's decision are not binding.
The NEB to contact will also depend on your itinerary as well as the country where the airline is based. Based on that, you will have to contact the Regulator of the country of departure or arrival.
Two last things to keep in mind:
- you can try contacting a NEB in English, but some will only accept complaints in their own language. Also, some of them will only reply to you in their language.
- the procedure for adjudicators and regulators usually take up to 12 weeks.
Got your compensation? Great!
The airline still refuses to pay up?! Get back to work...
4. Your last resort: small claims courts
Whether you're unhappy with the decision of the ADR scheme, the airline refuses to pay compensation despite the decision of the NEB, or the airline states that your claim is "still being processed" (they put it on hold), you have one last option.
Take your complaint to the small claims court. You might want to take legal advice if you go down this path. Which brings us to your second option...
Ask a lawyer
If you don't feel like claiming on your own, you can ask a lawyer to do it for you. This is however not the option that we recommend, since a lawyer will ask you to pay up their fees upfront, no matter whether your case is successful or not.
Resorting to the services of a lawyer is also time-consuming, since you need to meet, explain them the circumstances of the disruption, do the paperwork, maybe spend some more time on the phone, etc.
Not to mention that your lawyer might not specialize in air passenger rights and compensation claims under EC 261.
So this leaves you with the third option.
Get your flight compensation with a claims management company like ClaimCompass
Some companies like ClaimCompass specialize in helping air passengers get their due compensation from the airline. We use our expertise in European Aviation Law and experience with the EU Regulation 261/2004 to enforce your rights as a passenger.
- We prepare and file the claim in your name by representing you in front of the airline.
- After checking the details and circumstances of your flight delay or cancellation, we get in touch with the airline and take care of the whole process.
- Should your case require that we escalate the complaint to a NEB, ADR scheme or small court, our team of lawyers also take care of everything for you.
The best part? We operate on a "no win, no fee basis": it means that if it turns out that we can get your compensation, you don't owe us anything. Even if we brought the claim to court.
In exchange, if we do get your compensation, we take a 25% commission (VAT incl.) of your compensation.
Now, let's dig deeper into your right to compensation for delayed and cancelled flights.
The Rules for Flight Delay Compensation
What are your rights when your flight is delayed?
Those rights apply for flights eligible under the EU Regulation. The characteristics of these flights are described in a section below.
Flights delayed for 2 or more hours
When take-off is delayed by at least two hours, the airline is compelled to take care of you. Your "right to care" is an obligation for the airline to provide:
- food and drink, proportionally to the length of the delay (it can be in the form of meal vouchers)
- access to phone calls and/or emails, so you can make arrangements (warns relatives supposed to pick you up, cancel a rental car etc.)
- accommodation and journey between the airport and the hotel, should you be delayed overnight
Now, it's possible that the airline staff doesn't, in fact, take care of you. If you ask for their assistance but the staff refuses to cooperate, feel free to make arrangements yourself: buy a meal and refreshment, and if necessary, a hotel. Just don't forget to keep the receipts: you can ask the airline to refund you afterwards.
Do keep in mind, however, that the airline will only refund "reasonable expenses": don't expect them to pay for your time at the airport spa or the bill at an expensive restaurant!
Flights delayed for 3 or more hours
When your plane is late at take-off by more than 3 hours, you are also entitled to all of the above.
In addition, and more interestingly, if your plane arrives at your final destination 3 hours or more after what was initially planned, you can claim compensation. The amount will vary on:
- the total distance of the journey - Webflyer to calculate the flight distance
- the length of the delay - at your destination, not at departure
Here is, in principle, how much you're entitled to for your flight delay:
- 250€ for flights less than 1,500 km
- 400€ for flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km and intra-community flights over 1,500km
- 600€ for flight more than 3,500 km
However, as mentioned above, the length of the delay also impacts the compensation amount, for one specific case. In cases of flights longer than 3,500km but delayed by less than 4 hours, you are entitled to only 50% of the amount.
Flights within the EU are also called "intra-community" flights. For those, even if the distance is longer than 3,500km, you are only eligible to a maximum of 400€.
If you decide to claim on your own, make sure to ask for the right amount, or the airline will know that you don't have a full understanding of EC 261.
Or just let us claim your flight delay compensation for you.
Flights delayed for 5 or more hours
When your plane is delayed by 5 hours or more, you don't have to take it. No matter whether the airline is responsible for the delay or not.
The airline must give you the choice between waiting for your plane to depart or not taking it and get:
- a full refund of your flight, and
- a full refund of flights operated by this airline under the same booking (e.g. return or onward flights)
- a flight back to your airport of departure, free of charge (if you're already part-way through your journey)
If you decide to wait it out and take the plane anyway, you can be entitled to up to 600€, following the same reasoning as in the previous section ("flight delayed for 3 hours or more").
In addition, the airline must also respect your right to care, as described before.
The Rules for Flight Cancellations Compensation
What are your rights when your flight is cancelled?
Flight cancellations are significantly more complicated, because the moment when you were notified about the cancellation also determines how much you are entitled to. Keep reading to know your rights.
Get a refund or get re-routed
When notifying you of your flight cancellation, the airline must give you a choice between:
- a full refund of your flight and other flight operated by the same airline, under the same booking (e.g. return and onward flights), or
- an alternative flight to get you to your destination (also called "re-routing")
But what if your flight is cancelled when you're part-way though your journey?
Then the airline must also you give a choice between an alternative flight and a refund - but should you choose the refund, the airline must also provide you with a way to get back to your departure airport.
Should the cancellation delay you by at least 2 hours, the airline must also respect your right to care and provide meals, refreshments, means of communication and, if necessary, a hotel with a way to journey between the airport and the hotel.
Right to compensation in cases of cancelled flights
In addition to the above, you might be eligible to a compensation. This depends first on the arrival time of the alternative flight offered by the airline:
- If you would be delayed by 2 hours or more compared to your initial flight, you're entitled to compensation
- If you would be delayed by less than 2 hours, you are not entitled to compensation
The second criteria which determines your right to compensation is the moment when you were notified of the cancellation. The Regulation distinguishes 3 cases:
- Your flight was cancelled less than 7 days before departure or when you were at the airport
- Your flight was cancelled between 7 and 14 days prior to departure
- Your flight was cancelled more than 14 days before departure
In the latter case, where the airline notifies you 14 days or more before the flight, you are not entitled to compensation. However, you must be presented with a choice between a re-routing or a refund.
The final criteria to determine how much you are entitled to is the departure and arrival time of the replacement flight.
Refer to the tables below to know the compensation amount you can claim for the cancellation of your flight.
Scenario 1: your flight was cancelled less than 7 days before departure or when you were at the airport
Scenario 2: your flight was cancelled between 7 and 14 days before departure
Once again, if you decide to claim on your own, make sure to ask for the right amount, or the airline will know that you don't have a full understanding of EC 261 and might try to take advantage of you.
Or just let us claim your flight cancellation compensation for you.
Common Rules for Flight Delays and Cancellations
Which flights are covered by the EC 261?
The EU Regulation 261/2004 describes in which cases you can claim compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight.
To put it simply, whenever the airline can be held accountable for the delay or cancellation and you arrive at your final destination at least 3 hours after the scheduled time, you are eligible for a compensation.
But even then, not all delayed and cancelled flights make you eligible for compensation.
The flight must match one of the following scenarios:
- It departed from a country within the EU and arrived within the EU no matter which airline operated the flight
- It departed from a country within the EU and arrived out of the EU no matter which airline operated the flight
- It departed from a country out of the EU, arrived within the EU and was operated by a European airline
By EU, the Regulation means the 28 EU countries, with Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands along with Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
- Paris - London with Air France: Eligible
- London - New York with British Airways: Eligible
- London - New York with American Airlines: Eligible
- New York - London with British Airways: Eligible
- New York - London with American Airlines: Not eligible
- Moscow - Beijing: Not eligible
To be eligible,
- the delay at destination must be at least 3 hours, and
- all flights must have been made under the same booking number.
For example, let's imagine a flight from London (LHR) to San Francisco (SFO) with a connection in New York (JFK).
If the flight LHR - JFK was delayed, causing you to miss your connection to SFO, you are entitled to compensation only if both flights had the same booking number (if you didn't buy two separate tickets).
Note that the amount of your compensation is calculated based on the total distance between your point of departure and the final destination.
However, there are a few tricky cases. When your point of connection is out of the EU, the Regulation is unclear: some courts consider that the flight is eligible to compensation, while others rule that this is out the EC 261's jurisdiction.
As detailed above, the airline's nationality might determine whether you're entitled to compensation or not. Codeshares are flights operated by an airline in the name of another. You can usually see it on your booking reservation or boarding pass.
It is always the operating airline that matters: for example if your New York-London codeshare flight with a British Airways flight number (BAxxxx) was actually operated by American Airlines, you are not entitled to compensation.
The EU Regulation doesn't make any distinction between "regular" and charter flights. As such, charter flights follow the same rules and you might be entitled to up to 600€ when they are late or cancelled.
How long after the disruption can I claim a flight compensation?
You just learned that you have rights when your flight was delayed or cancelled and missed the opportunity to claim a few years ago? No worries, the law is retroactive, which means that you may still be eligible to compensation.
The amount of time after which you can still claim varies from one country to another. It's called the statute of limitations. Here are a few examples:
- Italy, Iceland, Croatia: 2 years
- Germany, Austria, Finland: 3 years
- France, Spain, Bulgaria: 5 years
- UK: 6 years
Extraordinary circumstances: when the airline cannot be held responsible
However, it is true that the airline cannot always be held accountable. In such cases, although you suffered from the disturbance of your flight, the airline is not obliged to pay you anything. Extraordinary circumstances include:
- Bad weather: When meteorological conditions prevent the operation of the flight.
Now, there is bad weather and bad weather. Our experts at decode weather reports (called METAR) to make sure that when the airline justifies the delay or cancellation with this excuse, it's actually a valid excuse. And airlines use bad weather as an excuse not to pay compensation too easily.
- Air Traffic Control restrictions: Sometimes, the runway is too busy, or another flight is delayed, affecting the other flights. The air traffic controllers therefore order the airline to delay or cancel their flight.
Note however that the decision HAS TO come from the air traffic controllers, and not be arbitrarily made by the airline. If the airline tells you that the delay is due to the late arrival of the aircraft's previous flight, you can still be entitled to compensation. This situation is called "knock-on effect" and it's not an extraordinary circumstance.
- Strike: When the airport or air control staff goes on strike, the airline cannot be held responsible. However, a recent ruling from the European Court of Justice states that wildcat strikes from the airline staff give you right to compensation because they are no longer regarded as extraordinary circumstances.
Read this post to learn more about wildcat airline strikes and your right to compensation.
However, if the airline was advised of its staff's strike action beforehand, The Civil Aviation Authority states that "strikes by airline staff do not count as an extraordinary circumstance".
Medical emergency: When a passenger or a crew member gets sick on board and the plane has to be diverted, the delay doesn't entitle you to compensation.
Bird strike: In the case of a collision between a bird and the aircraft resulting in damages on the latter, the airline is exempt from responsibility.
Keep in mind that the airline bears what is called the "burden of proof". It means that when they want to discharge themselves of all responsibility, they have to provide a proof of extraordinary circumstances.
Hidden manufacturing defect: It's very rare, but manufacturing issues with the aircraft sometimes happen and are out of the airline's control. It means that there is a defect with the plane. However, a problem the "blue hydraulic pump" of the aircraft's toilets isn't considered as such, although an airline tried to convince us it was...
Security concern: Unfortunately, airports are sometimes the targets of security threats, disturbing the normal operations of activities. These include fire at the airport and terror attack for instance.
What if the airline only offers me vouchers for compensation?
It's up to you to accept them or not, but know that the Regulation states that the compensation should be paid in cash. If you choose to accept the vouchers, make sure that the amount is at least equal to the cash amount you are legally entitled to.
Upgrades and downgrades
When the airline re-routes you, it's possible that you won't get a seat in the same class as on your original flights. EC 261 is very clear on the topic:
"If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class higher than that for which the ticket was purchased, it may not request any supplementary payment."
To be clear: the airline can't ask you to pay for your upgrade to Business class even if you were supposed to fly Coach.
As for downgrades, the EU Regulation is once again on passengers' side. If the airline places you on a lower class, it must refund you, within 7 days:
(a) 30% of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1500km or less, or
(b) 50% of the price of the ticket for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500km, except flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500km, or
(c) 75% of the price of the ticket for all other flights (including flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments).
I was not flying alone
Flying with a baby
Cases of passengers flying with a baby are complicated, because the Regulation isn't explicit. Rulings vary from one case to the next, but the minimum requirements to get a compensation for your baby are the following:
- your baby must have had a seat of their own: if your infant was supposed to travel on your lap, you will be denied compensation
- you must have paid a fee for your baby's ticket: the closer to the price of an adult's ticket this fee is, the more likely you are to get a compensation for him or her as well
Flying as a group
The compensation is an amount per passenger. This means that even if only one person booked the tickets for several people, each passenger is entitled to compensation. Even everyone travels under the same booking number.
For example, if 5 people traveling from London to New York with British Airways arrive more than 3 hours late, each passenger is entitled to 600€. So the airline owes the group 3000€ (600€ for 5 passengers).
Business trips: who gets the compensation?
If your plane was disrupted in the context of a business trip, who gets the money? The passenger who was taking the plane, or the company, which paid for the ticket?
Who paid the ticket is irrelevant: the compensation goes to the passenger.
However, in cases of cancelled flights, if the passenger doesn't accept the re-routing and chooses the refund instead, then this refund should go to the company.
There might be specific cases depending on the employee's contract.
The airline wet bankrupt: can I still get compensated?
Unfortunately, no. For example, Air Berlin and Monarch Airlines went bankrupt and their passengers couldn't get compensated.
What to Do When Your Flight is Delayed or Cancelled?
Check out this video for a quick summary of how fast and easy it is to claim compensation for your delayed or cancelled flight with ClaimCompass.
Even if you choose to claim on your own, here exactly what you should do:
1. Keep all your travel documents
Keep your boarding pass and e-ticket safe. You don't want to throw them away in an excess of rage! These documents are often required by the airline at the moment of your claim, along with a copy of your ID or passport.
At the very least, providing them along with your claim will speed up the process. Even though airlines already have all your information in their systems, they ask for proof that you were indeed booked on the flight which was disrupted.
2. Inquire about the reason for the delay or cancellation
As detailed above, the cause of the delay is critical: while some will guarantee your right to compensation, others will unfortunately not grant you this privilege (remember those extraordinary circumstances?).
Write down what the airline's staff tells you, and if possible, get a written statement from them.
However, even if the airline would have you believe that you are not eligible to compensation, make sure to double-check whether the reason they give you waives their responsibility or not.
We always make sure that airlines tell the truth - we helped many passengers who were lied to by the airline get their compensation.
3. Ask the airline for a meal and refreshment
In cases of a flight cancellations or long delays of more than 2h, the airline must enforce your right to care. They are supposed to offer you a meal and a refreshment (usually in the form of a meal voucher).
In addition, they have to give you access to a phone call or reimburse you the cost if you have to call by your own means.
4. Wait at the airport or require the airline to provide you with a hotel and taxi
Depending on the length of the delay, you may choose to stay at the airport or not. The airline is required to provide you with a hotel and a taxi to go there and come back to the airport for long delays.
If they are too busy to make the booking, do it yourself and make sure to follow the next point.
If your flight was cancelled, ask the airline to rebook you on another flight. Do so by phone if you didn't manage to get first in line at the counter, it will be faster. Again, if you are rebooked on a flight in 5 hours or more (or not rebooked at all), ask for a hotel and a taxi.
5. Keep your receipts
Although they have to provide you with a hotel and taxi, airlines are allowed to ask for your receipts as proof before refunding you for the extra cost of your trip. Make sure to keep everything and don't throw them away.
Pro Tip: Make a digital copy in case you lose them. You can use apps such as CamScanner. This great app lets you transform your receipts into PDFs simply by taking a picture of them.
6. Do not accept any offer
I repeat: do not accept any offer from the airline. Or, more precisely, any offer that doesn't match what the EU Regulation 261/2004 prescribes. Refer to the sections above to check how much money you are legally entitled to.
If you do accept an offer from the airline, you surrender your right to compensation under EC 261, so make sure it's worth it!
7. Check out the time of arrival at your final destination
That is a first step to determine whether you are eligible for a compensation or not and which amount you can claim. Write it down and if possible, get a note from the airline acknowledging the long delay or cancellation.
If your flight was cancelled, take note of the arrival time of the replacement flight that the airline suggests. It will also detrmine your right to compensation, in addition to the re-routing or refund the airline must offer you.
8. Verify if you're eligible for a compensation for your delayed or cancelled flight
The easiest and fastest way for you to do so is to check our Compensation Calculator. In just a few clicks and a couple of minutes, you'll know if you have a chance with your claim and what amount you can hope for!
Turn your bad experience in something (a bit) better
As a frequent flyer, I've already had my fair share or delayed and cancelled flight. Getting a compensation does help to sweeten to pill, so feel free to reach out if you need help!
And don't forget to subscribe to the ClaimCompass newsletter: in addition to travel tips that you won't find on the blog, you'll get a free checklist to know if you're entitled to compensation from your airline!
See you around traveler!
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