Ah, the flight delay. A universal experience that unites air travelers in a collective sigh (or groan) heard around the world.
But don't just stand there and count the tiles on the airport floor.
Let's talk air passenger rights, especially in Europe, where EC261 lets you get a refund or compensation for flight delays (as well as flight cancellations and overbookings).
On the other side of the Atlantic, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) doesn’t protect passengers in cases of flight delays, so not (legal) hope for a refund there: you’ll be relying solely on the airline’s goodwill. Good luck with that.
Back to Europe then, where while you may be entitled to a refund (and/or compensation), each delayed flight needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- Your flight needs to be delayed by at least 5 hours at departure to be eligible for a flight delay refund.
- Your flight must be delayed by at least 3 hours at arrival to be eligible for flight delay compensation.
- For a delay at departure of at least 2 hours, the airline must provide you with a meal (or meal voucher), refreshments, access to wi-fi, and 2 phone calls.
- For a significant delay at departure (5 hours or more), the airline must provide you with a hotel room and transportation between the hotel and the airport.
With our free flight delay compensation calculator, learn whether you're eligible for compensation and how much the airline may owe you, in just 2 minutes.
Can You Get A Refund If Your Flight Is Delayed?
Yes, but whether you’re entitled to the reimbursement of your airfare depends on the length of the delay.
If your flight is delayed by 2 hours
If the airline decides to be fashionably late by only 2 hours from the scheduled departure, unfortunately, you're not entitled to a reimbursement.
However, that’s where your EU rights kick in, starting with your “right to care”: when your flight is delayed by at least 2 hours at departure, the airline must provide you with a meal (or meal voucher redeemable at the airport’s restaurants), refreshments, as well as, if necessary, access to wi-fi and two phone calls.
If your flight is delayed by 3 hours
Here's where things start to get interesting. When you hit the 3-hour delay mark, measured by the arrival time, you can claim compensation. The money might not be in your account yet, but the thought of it should brighten your wait.
That being said, you’re not entitled to a refund for a flight delay of 3 hours.
If your flight is delayed by 5 hours
A 5-hour long delay marks what we commonly refer to as a “significant delay”. If your plane is rescheduled to depart 5 hours after the initially scheduled departure time, you’re entitled to:
- A partial or full refund of your airfare (and a return flight to your point of departure, if you were waiting for your connecting flight), or
- Re-routing to your final destination or the next available flight
Should you want to wait for your flight (or the next flight), the airline must provide you with hotel accommodation and ground transportation to get there and come back to the airport, at no extra cost, whether this whole experience turns into an overnight delay or not.
What’s more, if your flight is delayed by at least 5 hours at departure, it’s likely that you’ll reach your final destination more than 3 hours late: this means that in addition to the refund, you may be entitled to flight compensation.
Finally, if you choose to be rebooked and are downgraded to a lower class, you’ll get a partial refund of your original airline ticket of 30 to 75%.
If your flight is canceled
Flight cancellations are the older, more annoying siblings of delayed flights. If your flight is canceled while you’re waiting at the airport, the airline must rebook you on the next available flight or offer you a refund and a flight back to your point of departure if necessary (in the case of connecting flights).
Note that if the new flight doesn’t suit you because, unlike the original flight, it messes with your travel plans, you don’t have to take it. Canceled flights that will make you miss your connection are particularly problematic: make sure to request an alternative flight that will get you to your final destination if you don’t want to miss your connection.
What if I miss my connecting flight because of a flight delay?
The dreaded missed connection! If you're traveling on a single ticket, you're more or less covered from a compensation standpoint. If you miss your connection because of a flight delay and reach your destination at least 3 hours late, you’ll get compensated under EC261.
If you've booked separate tickets for the connection, however, you’re responsible for making your connection. If you can’t, you’ll be considered a no-show and won’t be entitled to compensation. Minimum connection time is key here.
Your only hope for a refund is if your flight departs at least 5 hours later than planned.
Your right to compensation when your flight is delayed
While US passenger rights don’t offer much protection against flight delays, your air passenger rights in the European Union are more robust than a duty-free perfume.
When are you entitled to compensation for flight delays?
According to EC261, you’re entitled to flight delay compensation for flights delayed by at least 3 hours at their final destination. Here are all the flights eligible according to EU regulation:
- Domestic flights within the EU
- Flights from the EU to outside the EU, regardless of the airline
- Flights from outside the EU to the EU, if they’re operated by an EU airline
For example, delayed flights from the US to Europe are
- eligible if they were operated by a European airline,
- Non eligible if they were operated by a non-EU airline like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, etc.
But flights with US airlines are eligible when departing from the European Union (including Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway).
You're also not eligible for compensation if the delay (or cancellation, for that matter) isn't due to extraordinary circumstances like bad weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, mechanical issues, or security risks. Basically, if the reason for the flight delay isn’t within the airline's control, EC261 says the airline doesn’t have to pay compensation.
screws up your EU flight, the EU regulation has got your back till your final destination. But remember, a delay of 3 hours or more is your golden ticket here.
It takes about 2 minutes to fill out our calculator for flight delay compensation.
What is the amount of compensation for flight delays?
The compensation amount for flight delays depends on:
- The length of the delay (at your final destination)
- The distance of the flight
Here’s how much you’re entitled to, on a case by case basis:
- Delays less than 3 hours: no compensation, no matter the distance of the flight
- Flights 1,500 km or less: 250€
- Internal EU flights over 1,500 km: 400€
- Non internal EU flight between 1,500 and 3,500 km: 400€
- Non-internal EU flights 3,500 km or more: 300€ for delays between 3-4 hours, 600€ for delays of more than 4 hours
Keep in mind that the airline may offer you travel credits or travel vouchers as flight compensation: feel free to refuse those and request cash, or at least a transfer to your bank account.
Navigating the turbulent waters (or skies?) of air travel can be daunting. But now you're armed with all you need to know about getting a refund for a flight delay, as well as compensation. So fly on, savvy traveler, fly on.
FAQ on Flight Delay Refunds And Compensation
What is the difference between a refund and compensation for flight delays?
The amount of the refund for a flight delay is determined by your airfare, while the flight compensation amount is influenced by the distance of the flight and the length of the delay.
Most importantly, one doesn't replace the other: you can get both! For that, your flight needs to take off at least 5 hours late (to get a refund) and land 3 hours later than the scheduled arrival time or more (to get compensation).
What to do if my flight is delayed?
Stay calm, first of all. Then, when your flight is delayed:
- Make sure your boarding pass and other travel documents are handy. You'll need them for whatever happens next.
- Investigate the cause of the delay. This will affect your right to compensation.
- Deal with your connecting flight if you have one.
- Enforce your right to care after a delay of at least 2 hours.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for a hotel room and transportation if your flight is delayed by 5 hours or more.
- Check the delay at arrival to determine whether you’re eligible for compensation and submit a claim.
How long does a flight have to be delayed to get compensation?
You’re eligible for compensation when the delay at arrival is at least 3 hours. The exact amount depends on the distance of the flight as well as the length of the delay.
Can I Get Compensation For A 2-Hour Flight Delay?
Unfortunately, no. But your right to care grants you a meal, refreshment, access to wi-fi, and 2 phone calls.
Can you ask for a refund if your flight is delayed by 3 hours?
No, you’re only entitled to a refund for a flight that doesn’t take off at least 5 hours after the scheduled departure time. But for a 3 hour delay at your final destination, you may get compensation!
Can I get a refund if my flight is delayed by 5 hours?
Yes, you can! You're eligible for a full or partial refund, depending on the circumstances. In addition, you may ask for an alternative flight to your destination.
Besides, if you arrive at your final destination more than 3 hours later than planned, you can also ask for compensation on top of the refund.
Can I get an upgrade when the airline rebooks me on another flight?
You’re supposed to be re-routed on the same class as you’re original ticket, but if the only seats available are on a higher class, you can indeed get an upgrade. The best part: the airline isn’t allowed to charge you extra for it!
Inversely, you may be downgraded if the only seats available on the alternative flight are on a lower class. If that’s the case, you may get a refund of your original airfare by 30 to 75%.
Was your flight delayed?
Did you reach your final destination at least 3 hours late?
Then, as you now know, you could get up to 600€ in compensation from the airline.