When Are You Eligible for Flight Delay Compensation?
According to EC261, to be eligible for compensation, you need to meet the following requirements:
You reached your final destination at least 3 hours late
Your flight took off from the European Union (with any airline) or landed in the EU (and was operated by an airline headquartered in the EU)
The airline is responsible for the delay (i.e. the delay was not caused by “extraordinary circumstances”, out of their control)
How long after the flight delay can I claim compensation?
EC261 is retroactive, which means that you can claim compensation for flight delays that occurred several years ago. Exactly how far back you can claim varies depending on the statute of limitations of the country of departure or arrival.
Here are a few examples:
- Austria: 3 years
- Belgium: 1 year
- France: 5 years
- Germany: 3 years
- Italy: 2 years
- Portugal: 3 years
- Spain: 5 years
- Switzerland: 10 years
- United Kingdom: 5 years (6 years in Scotland)
Read our post on the statute of limitation for flight compensations to know how far back you can claim flight delay compensation for each country.
How Much Compensation Can You Claim For Flight Delays?
Flight delay compensation amount
If your delayed flight is covered by EC261 and you reached your final destination at least 3 hours late, then you’re entitled to compensation.
The amount of delayed flight compensation is determined by the flight distance and the length of the journey. The table below summarizes how much you’re entitled to in every scenario:
||< 3 hours
||3 - 4 hours
|All flights 1,500 km or less
|Internal EU flights over 1,500 km
|Non-internal EU flights 1,500-3,500 km
|Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km
How to calculate the length of the delay and the distance of the flight?
The length of the delay is based on when you arrive at your destination, not how late the plane was at departure. It’s an important distinction because the pilot can make up for lost time during the flight. For example, if your flight was delayed by 3 hours and 10 minutes at departure, but you reached your destination “only” 2 hours and 50 minutes late, then you’re not entitled to compensation. In the opposite scenario, you can claim compensation.
Note that the arrival time is defined as the moment when the aircraft opens one of its doors after reaching its destination (case C-425/13 of the European Court of Justice, September 2014). There may therefore be several minutes between the moment when the aircraft lands and the actual arrival time.
The distance of the flight is the distance between your departure airport and the arrival airport. If your journey includes one or more connections, the same applies: the distance that matters is that between the first airport and your final destination.
You can use this site to calculate flight distances.
Flight delay compensation for business travellers
If your flight is delayed during a business trip, you might wonder who gets the compensation: the passenger or the company. As a rule of thumb, the compensation always goes to the passenger, who suffered the inconvenience of the delay, no matter who paid for the tickets.
The same applies to business trip: it’s the employee who experienced the delay who is entitled to compensation, except if their contract expressly states otherwise.
Become on expert on the topic with our guide on flight compensations for business travel!
Are babies entitled to a flight delay compensation?
Only babies more than 2 years old may be eligible for compensation. The following requirements must also be met:
The baby had a seat of their own (they were not travelling on your lap)
You paid a fee for your baby’s ticket (they were not travelling for free)
Read more about flight compensations for baby travellers!
Other Rights When Your Flight Is Delayed
Cash compensation or airline voucher
The EU Regulation 261/2004 clearly states that the compensation “shall be paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in travel vouchers and/or other services."
In other words, if the airline offers you a voucher as compensation, feel free to refuse it. If you choose to accept the voucher, make sure that you are not waiving your right to a better compensation, planned by EC261.
We usually recommend that you do NOT accept vouchers as flight compensations.
Right to care: food, refreshments, accommodation, and communication
If your flight is delayed at departure by at least 2 hours, the airline must provide you with food and refreshments. They often do so in the form of a meal voucher. If the airline doesn’t provide you with food or a voucher, keep the receipts of your expenses and request a refund.
The airline must also give you a means of communication (usually phone calls) in order for you to make arrangements, like warning relatives supposed to pick you up or cancel a rental car.
Finally, in the case of long delays (over 6 hours), the airline must provide hotel accommodation and transport to and from there and the airport. Again, keep the receipts if the airline doesn’t directly take care of the costs.
Right to reimbursement or re-routing
If your flight is delayed by at least 5 hours at departure, you are entitled to a full or partial refund. You may also choose not to travel anymore, in which case the airline must also provide you with a return flight back to your point of departure (if needed), free of charge.
You are entitled to a full refund if you are yet to travel (this is the beginning of your trip), and only a partial refund when you have already flown part of the route (this isn’t the first leg of your journey).
Alternatively, the airline may rebook you on a new flight to your final destination. Choose whichever option works best for you.
Did you know that you may be entitled to both a compensation AND a refund? Read our post on flight delay refunds to learn more!
Upgrades and downgrades
When the only available seats on an alternative flight are situated in a higher class than the one you purchased, the airline cannot charge you extra.
However, if you were supposed to fly first class and end up on an alternative flight in coach, you can ask for a refund ranging between 35 and 75% of the original ticket price.
Claiming delayed flight compensation under EC261 does not prevent you from pursuing even greater compensation. Just keep in mind that the amount you received as compensation under EC261 may be deducted from this other compensation.
An example would be pursuing the airline for damages, such as the loss of a business opportunity, as a result of the impossibility to attend a meeting, caused by the delay of your flight.
Claim a flight delay compensation NOW!
If your flight was delayed, you may be entitled to up to 600€ under EC261. Fill out our FREE compensation calculator and in less than 3 minutes, you'll know if you're eligible.
Which Delayed Flights Are Covered by EC261?
A common misconception is that EC261 only applies to flights within Europe. This is incorrect.
The EU Regulation 261/2004 covers:
All flights departing from the EU
Flights arriving in the EU that are operated by an airline headquartered in the EU
The EU airspace also includes Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the “outermost regions” - i.e. French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Reunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira and the Azores, and the Canary Islands.
Note that flights to the European Union operated by a non-EU airline are NOT covered by EC261.
E.g. a flight from New York, United States to Paris, France with American Airlines. But the same flight, operated by Air France, is eligible under EU law because the French airline is headquartered in an EU country. Despite Brexit, the same would apply with British Airways.
Keep also in mind that under the EU Regulation 261/2004, you can also claim compensation for a cancelled flight or a boarding denial caused by overbooking.
No compensation is due when the delay was caused by “extraordinary circumstances”
The airline is not liable to pay compensation when the flight was delayed due to “extraordinary circumstances”, meaning when the cause of the delay was out of the airline’s control.
These are also referred to as “Acts of God”, and include air traffic control restrictions, adverse weather conditions, political unrest, strike action by airport employees or air traffic control, medical emergencies, bird strikes, lightning strikes, etc.
(By the way, “bad weather” isn’t the same as “adverse weather conditions”. If the airline could have prevented a problem caused by bad weather (such as snowfalls), then you are entitled to compensation. Read more on bad weather and flight compensation)
Don't forget that strikes from the airline staff are not regarded as “extraordinary circumstances” either. Neither are “technical problems”, “mechanical problems”, or “operational reasons”, which airlines commonly quote as “extraordinary circumstances” nonetheless.
Can I claim compensation if the airline went bankrupt?
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you will get compensated when your delayed flight was operated by an air carrier that went bankrupt. Compensation claims are generally at the bottom of a long list of creditors waiting for money they are owed.
What if I miss my connection because of a flight delay?
When you were travelling under the same reservation for all your flights and the delay of the plane causes you to miss your connecting flight, the airline must provide you with a replacement flight.
Then, if despite this alternate flight, you reached your destination 3 hours later than your original flight or more, then you may be entitled to compensation.
Note that to be eligible, all your flights must be part of the same reservation (identical booking number). If you booked separate flights, the airline isn’t obligated to compensate you.
When you booked separate flights, you’re responsible for presenting yourself at the gate before departure time.
What To Do When Your Flight Is Delayed?
Keep your travel documents, including your boarding pass
Inquire about the reason for the delay at the check-in desk
Ask for a meal and refreshment if the delay is over 2 hours
If you’re experiencing a long delay, ask for accommodation
Keep your receipts
Do not accept an offer that isn’t the one planned by EC261
Find out the length of the delay at arrival
Check if you’re entitled to a delayed flight compensation
For more details, read this complete guide on what to do when your flight is delayed.
How To Claim Compensation For Flight Delays?
Like many passengers, you may not have the time or the legal expertise to claim compensation. Or you simply don’t want to fight the airline yourself.
You can let ClaimCompass handle the whole process for you.
We let you know quickly if you’re entitled to compensation.
We take care of the communication with the airline and, if necessary, legal actions.
We work on a “no win, no fee” basis: we only take a commission if you receive your compensation. There are no risks for you.
Other Regulations on Flight Delays
Delayed flight compensation in the US
US passengers whose flight is delayed in the USA are not entitled to a flight delay compensation as they would be if their flight was covered by the EU law.
In their terms and conditions, airlines state that they do not guarantee schedules; in the absence of a regulation that protects air passenger rights, flight delays are therefore not cause for flight compensation.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) indeed confirms that airlines are not liable to pay their passengers any compensation in the event of a flight delay (or cancellation, for that matter). Only involuntary boarding denials caused by overbooking are covered.
However, US regulations do state that in the case of long tarmac delays (2 hours or more), the airlie must provide food, water, and access to the restroom. Should the tarmac delay exceed 3 hours (4 for international flights), the airline must let passengers disembark, unless this would cause a security threat.
Read more on passenger rights in the US
Delayed flight compensations in Canada
For all flights that were delayed at destination by at least 3 hours, the delay being within the airline control and not caused by extraordinary circumstances, passengers are entitled to compensation.
The amount varies depending on the size of the airline and the length of the delay, like so:
Delayed flight compensation amounts for large airlines in Canada
|Length of the delay
Delayed flight compensation amounts for small airlines in Canada
|Length of the delay
Delayed flight compensation claims can be submitted to the airline up to 1 year after the delay. Airlines then have up to 30 days to either pay the due compensation or issue a statement explaining why they believe that the passenger is not entitled to compensation.
If the delay at departure is longer than 3 hours, passengers can request to be rerouted on a different flight.
Read more about passenger rights in Canada
Montreal Convention: Delays on international flights
Over 130 nations have signed the Montreal Convention of 2003, which addresses “damages” caused by flight disruptions, including delays.
For example, the delay of your flight could result in financial damage for you if you had to pay for an extra night at a hotel. Under the convention, the airline must refund the cost of that expense.
Read more on the Montreal Convention and passenger rights on international flights
Don't wait any longer!
Submit a claim for delayed fight compensation and get up to 600€ from the airline.
FAQ on Flight Delays
Why do flights get delayed?
Read the 20 main reasons for fight delays
Your flight may depart later than scheduled for a multitude of reasons. Some are the responsibility of the airline, in which case you should be eligible for compensation, but sometimes, the airline really can't prevent a delay. Here are some of the most common reasons for flights delays:
- Air traffic control restrictions
- Adverse weather condition
- Bird strikes
- Crew rest requirements
- Mechanical issues
How to write a flight delay compensation claim letter?
When writing to the airline to ask them for compensation, you'd better be convincing and show them that you know your rights. In particular, your flight compensation letter should include the following elements:
- Your flight details
- Your travel documents (attached)
- The flight distance
- The length of the delay at arrival
- The compensation amount you are claiming
Because airlines tend to abuse their passengers' lack of knowledge about their flight compensation rights, we recommend that you let us handle your claim. It will save you a lot of time and trouble. And if we can't get your money, you don't owe us anything! Of course, if you want to claim on your own:
Check out our flight delay compensation letter template