Flight delays can easily ruin a trip. While there's not much you can do when it happens, the EU Regulation 261/2004 (or EC261) protects your passenger rights.
Among other things, the EU law states that passengers who are victim of a flight delay may be eligible to a refund and/or a compensation.
In this short post on air passenger rights, you'll learn the difference between a refund and a compensation. You will know when to claim compensation for a flight delay and when to ask for a refund.
You can also directly check if you're entitled to compensation for your delayed flight by filling our our Compensation Calculator for flight delays. It takes less than 3 minutes and it's free to check!
Can I Get a Refund for a Flight Delay?
Yes, according to EC261, passengers experiencing a long delay can claim a refund from the airline.
How long does your flight have to be delayed to get a refund?
Your flight needs to be delayed by at least 5 hours at departure to be eligible for a refund, while it must be delayed by at least 3 hours at arrival to be eligible for a compensation.
Once the delay at departure has reached 5 hours, you then have a choice: either keep waiting and take your flight, or abandon your flight. Whichever option you choose, know that after a 5-hour delay, the airline must grant you:
- a full refund if you haven't travelled yet (this is the start of your trip), OR
- a partial refund, if you have already flown part of the route (this is the second leg or more of your journey)
Keep in mind that even when you have already travelled and it is your connecting flight that is delayed by over 5 hours, you can still get a full refund instead of a partial one. For that, you need to prove that the trip no longer serves any purpose (e.g. you missed a business meeting, which was the reason for your trip). In this situation, the airline must also provide you with a flight back to your point of departure, free of charge.
With a refund, the amount you receive varies according to the price of your ticket.
(You can also get a refund for flight cancellations)
How to Get a Refund for a Flight Delay?
To get a refund for a delayed flight, make sure that the actual departure time is at least 5 hours later than the original time planned for take-off. If it is, contact the airline either by email, phone, or by talking to a gate agent. Getting in touch with the airline on social media can also bring you their attention, since they do not like this kind of negative publicity. You may be able to get a refund directly on your account or credit card at the airport...
... but it's unlikely.
In most cases, you will have to wait until the end of your trip and email the airline to request a flight delay refund. Look for the email to contact the airline's customer support team. In your email, don't forget to:
- the object of your email: a flight delay refund claim
- mention your flight details (flight number, departure and arrival airport), along with the actual departing time (highlight that the delay at departure was more than 5 hours)
- indicate the cause of the flight disruption
- attach your travel documents (boarding pass, booking confirmation, eticket, etc.) and the receipt of your flight ticket
Stress the fact that you're requesting a refund and not a compensation for flight delay, as those are two different things.
Can I Get a Compensation for a Flight Delay?
Yes. To be eligible to a delayed flight compensation, your flight must have been delayed by at least 3 hours at arrival (unlike refunds, for which the arrival time doesn't matter and your flight needs to be delayed by 5 hours at departure). If you reach your final destination at least 3 hours late, you may get compensated by the airline.
Your right to compensation is independent of your right to a refund. This implies that, unless the flight was delayed because of extraordinary circumstances, if you can get a refund, you can also get a compensation.
(However, being entitled to a compensation doesn't necessarily mean that you're eligible for a refund as well, since your flight can arrive more than 3 hours late but have departed less than 5 hours after the initial scheduled time of departure.)
The compensation amount varies according to the distance of your flight (and, in one specific case, the length of the delay). It can be summarized like so:
- 250€ for all flights 1,500km or less
- 400€ for internal EU flights over 1,500km ("intra-community flights")
- 400€ for non-internal EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500km
- 600€ for non-internal EU flights over 3,500km (except those for which the delay was between 3 and 4 hours: in this case, passengers are entitled to 300€)
As you can see, the amount of compensation isn't related to the ticket price, but the distance of the flight.
Keep in mind that this doesn't only apply to flights in the European Union or EU airlines! For instance, you can get 600€ in compensation from American Airlines for a flight from Europe delayed by at least 3 hours at arrival.
However, it is true that because they are non-EU airline, you cannot get flight delay compensations from the United States with air carriers such as American Airlines, United Airlines, or Delta for instance.
(That's also because the US Department of Transportation or DOT doesn't protect travellers from flight delays and cancellations)
When are you not eligible to a compensation despite a delay longer than 3 hours?
When the flight was delayed by "extraordinary circumstances", the airline doesn't have the obligation to compensate its passengers, because it cannot be held responsible.
Extraordinary circumstances are also called "Acts of God". They are events that prevent the normal operation of the flight, against which the airline cannot do anything. Examples of extraordinary circumstances include air traffic restrictions, adverse weather conditions (different from mere "bad weather"), strikes by the airport or ATC staff, security issues, political unrest, etc.
However, "technical problems" or "mechanical issues" are NOT regarded as extraordinary circumstances: they are the airline's responsibility. As such, you CAN get a flight delay compensation if your flight is delayed because of technical problems or mechanical issues, despite what the airline may tell you.
Learn more about your passenger rights for flight delays
Refund VS Compensation for Delayed Flight: What's the Difference?
- You can claim a refund for your delayed flight when the delay at departure is at least 5 hours, while you can make a flight delay compensation claim when your flight arrives at least 3 hours late.
- The amount flight delay refund is determined by your airfare, while the flight compensation amount is influenced by the distance of the flight.
- Most importantly, one doesn't replace the other: you can get both! For that, you flight needs to take off at least 5 hours late and land 3 hours late or more.
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. It takes only 3 minutes to know if you're eligible with our Flight Delay Compensation Calculator.
Travelling during COVID times?
Keep in mind that you won't be entitled to flight delay compensation if your flight is disrupted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. BUT, you could get a refund from the airline.
Get familiar with up-to-date travel advice on coronavirus: