Flight delays happen. Luckily, there are regulations which have established common rules under which passengers can claim a flight delay compensation.

 

Delayed flight: What Are Your Air Passenger Rights

A flight delay can easily ruin your trip. While it may seem that there isn’t much you can do on the spot, there are certain common rules which airlines must follow. In the following sections you can learn more about your air passenger rights and what to do in case of a delayed flight.

 

Flight Delays in the European Union

 

In 2004 the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union passed Regulation 261 (or EC 261 for short), which established common grounds for compensation and care for passengers in the event of an excessive flight delay. The amount of compensation, which passengers can claim depends on the journey and is between 250 and 600 euros. There are a few nuances, however, which we discuss below.

 

So what flights are covered?

EU Regulation 261/2004 covers all of the EU airspace, as well as 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.

 

All flights departing out of the European Union are covered by the Regulation, regardless whether it is an intra-EU or an international flight. Flights which are departing out of the European Union, but are EU-bound, are covered insofar as they are operated by an EU air carrier. To summarize:

 

  Travel itinerary

  EU carrier

  Non-EU carrier

  From EU to EU

  Covered

  Covered

  From EU to non-EU

  Covered

  Covered

  From out of EU to EU

  Covered

  Not covered

  From out of EU to non-EU  

  Not covered  

  Not covered

 

Let’s look at some real-life examples. Say you were travelling:

 

  • from Milan to Paris: the flight is covered regardless of the air carrier as it is intra-EU.
  • from Rome to New York with American Airlines: the flight is covered even though it is operated by a non-EU carrier, because it departs out of the EU.
  • from Toronto to Amsterdam with KLM: the flight is covered even though it departs out of the EU, because it is operated by an EU air carrier.
  • from Toronto to Amsterdam with Air Canada: the flight is not covered because it departs out of the EU and is operated by a non-EU air carrier.

 

The easiest way for you to find out if your delayed flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator

 

What is considered a delayed flight?

A flight delay under EC261 means a delay at your final destination of 3 hours or more. This means that if your flight is delayed at your original point of departure by 3 hours or more, but it recuperates some of the time time in the air and you end up arriving 2 hours and 50 minutes late at your final destination, you are not entitled to compensation. Note that the arrival time is not when the landing gear touches the runway, but when the aircraft reaches the gate and the doors are open.

 

How much can I claim for my delayed flight?

The amount of delayed flight compensation ranges between 250 and 600 euro and depends on the distance between your original point of departure and your final destination, as well as the length of the delay in certain cases. The table below summarizes the amount, which you can claim.

 

Length of the delay:

 

  Less than 3h  

  3 to 4h  

  More than 4h  

  Never arrived  

  Distance

  0

  250

  250

  250

  Flights under 1,500km

  0

  400

  400

  400

  intra-EU flights over 1,500km

  0

  400

  400

  400

  Non-EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500km   

  0

  300

  600

  600

  Non-EU flights over 3,500km

 

What if I had connecting flights?

It could happen that you have one or more connecting flights, that is, you had to change a plane or an airline at a given airport between your original point of departure and your final destination. That is an important factor in determining your right to flight delay compensation as well as the amount.

 

For example, you are travelling from Rome to Toronto, with a connection in Paris, the entire journey is on one booking and with the same booking number (PNR). Your flight out of Rome is delayed, you end up arriving 1 hour late in Paris and as a consequence, you’ve missed your connecting flight to Toronto. You are arranged an alternative flight (and/or accommodation) and arrive at your final destination, Toronto, over 3h late. First, even though the delay of the flight to Paris is just 1 hour, you are still eligible to claim delayed flight compensation because you ended up arriving at your final destination over 3h late. Second, the distance between Rome and Paris is less than 1,500km, but the amount of compensation is calculated over the entire journey, i.e. between Rome and Toronto. Hence you are entitled to 600 euro.

Note that had you booked two separate tickets, one from Rome to Paris on one reservation, and another for the Paris to Toronto leg, you would not be entitled to compensation.

 

To sum up, when you have connecting flights booked under the same reservation, the amount of compensation is calculated based on the total distance between the original point of departure and the final destination, regardless of how many connections you’ve had in between. The carrier, which caused the disruption is responsible for paying the compensation.

The easiest way for you to find out if your delayed flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator

 

What type of documents should I keep to claim compensation?

Even if you have a perfectly valid claim, airlines will sometime look for ways to reject it. One example is asking for additional information, such as your boarding pass, electronic ticket, luggage tag, and other travel documents. While this may sound silly, given that the airline has all of your information, EC261 grants the carrier permission to request certain information prior to accepting a claim. To increase your chances of success, make sure to keep certain information upon arrival at your final destination.

 

  • Keep all documents related to your flight and/or any alternative flights. These include your boarding pass or stub, your electronic ticket, booking confirmation, luggage tag, etc.
  • You may also want to keep some of your receipts for additional expenses, which resulted because of the late flight.
  • Try to find out what was the reason for the delay and if possible, obtain a document. Was it a technical issue with the aircraft, or perhaps the crew maxed-out their flying hours?

 

How long after the flight can I claim?

Depending on the country where the air carrier is headquartered, there are certain time limits to file your claim (also known as Statute of Limitations).

For example, the Statute of Limitations in the United Kingdom is 6 years. This means that if your flight was operated by British Airways, you can file a claim for a flight, which took place 6 years ago. Here is a list with the time limits to file a claim per country:

 

  Country

  Limitation period

 

  Country

  Limitation period

  Austria

  3 years

 

  Latvia

  2 years

  Belgium

  1 year

 

  Lithuania

  3 years

  Bulgaria

  3 years

 

  Luxembourg

  10 years

  Croatia

  3 years

 

  Malta

  No limit

  Cyprus

  6 years

 

  Netherlands

  2 years

  Czech Republic

  3 years

 

  Norway

  3 years

  Denmark

  3 years

 

  Poland

  1 year

  Estonia

  3 years

 

  Portugal

  3 years

  Finland

  3 years

 

  Romania

  3 years

  France

  5 years

 

  Slovakia

  2 years

  Germany

  3 years

 

  Slovenia

  2 years

  Greece

  5 years 

 

  Spain

  5 years

  Hungary

  5 years 

 

  Sweden

  3 years

  Iceland

  2 years

 

  Switzerland

  2 years

  Ireland

  6 years

 

  United Kingdom  

  6 years

  Italy

  26 months

 
 
 

 

The easiest way for you to find out if your delayed flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator

 

What else am I entitled to under EC261 if my flight is delayed?

Besides claiming for delayed flight compensation, there are other rights that you have under EC261.

 

Right to care

If you’re stuck at the airport because of a flight delay, the airline must take care of you. You’re entitled to free meals and refreshments for the duration of the delay, as well as access to a telephone and email. If you happen to need accommodation for long delays (typically over 6h), the airline must also provide you with a hotel room or a place to stay and an airport transfer. Again, these rights depend on the duration of the delay and the type of the flight:

 

  Flight

  Length of the delay  

  Flights up to 1,500km

  2 hours or more

  Intra-EU flights over 1,500km

  3 hours or more

  Non-EU flights between 1,500 and 3,500km  

  3 hours or more

  Non-EU flights over 3,500km

  4 hours or more

 

Many passengers confuse the latter as their compensation. Note that the two are completely independent. Even if the airline paid for your hotel and meals, you are still entitled to delayed flight compensation.

 

Right to reimbursement or rerouting

If your flight is delayed by 5 hours or more, then you may also be entitled to a partial or full refund of your ticket. You may even request a return flight home or your original point of departure. Again, these rights do not influence the amount of compensation you are going to receive.

 

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.

 

Can I seek even further compensation?

Yes. Claiming delayed flight compensation under EC261 does not prevent you from pursuing even greater compensation. Although the dynamics and the procedures are very different, some passengers have tried pursuing the airline for damages, which were caused because of the delay. A perfect example of this would be a loss because of a missed business meeting.

The easiest way for you to find out if your delayed flight is covered and if you are entitled to a flight compensation is to use our Compensation Calculator

Learn more about EC 261 and your air passenger rights in the EU..

 

Flight delays in the US

The regulations for delayed flights within the US are very different. Unlike in the EU, American airlines are not obliged to pay compensation for delayed flights. That being said, it is not uncommon for US carriers to offer good-will payments, travel vouchers, air miles and upgrades as a form of compensation for your inconvenience. To increase your chances, make sure to keep your boarding pass and any other travel documents.

 

In the event that you’re stuck on board the plane for two hours or more, you’re entitled to food, water and access to a bathroom. When these tarmac delays exceed 3 hours (4 for international flights), the airline must let you disembark, unless there’s a security threat.

 

Find out more about US passenger rights.

 

Flight delays on international flights

 

Similar to EU Regulation 261/2004, the Montreal Convention of 1999 established common grounds for compensating passengers on international flights between participating countries. Today, over 120 nations have joined the regulation.

 

So what flights are covered?

The Montreal Convention is applicable in cases of international carriages. This includes flights between State Parties as well as flights within a single State Party that include a planned stopover in another country, no matter if this country has ratified the Montreal Convention or not.

 

  Country of Departure

  Planned Stopover

  Application of Montreal Convention?

  From State Party to State Party

  Irrelevant

  Yes

  Within a single State Party

  No

  No

  Within a single State Party

  Yes, in another State Party

  Yes

  Within a single State Party

  Yes, not in a State Party

  Yes

 

For example:

 

  • Flight Russia-Thailand (both State Parties): covered by Montreal Convention
  • Domestic flight in China without stopover: not covered by Montreal Convention
  • Flight China-China with a stopover in Thailand (State Party): covered by Montreal Convention
  • Flight China-China with a stopover in Vietnam (not a State Party): covered by Montreal Convention

 

Are all delayed flights covered by the Montreal Convention?

Similar again to EU261, the Montreal Convention doesn’t apply when the flight was delayed because of extraordinary circumstances. Such cases include adverse weather, Air Traffic control restrictions, lightning strikes, bird strikes, strike at the airport, medical emergency, security threats, political unrest, etc.

 

The airline can waive its obligation to pay compensation if they have taken all reasonable measures to prevent the flight disruption or if there was nothing they could do.

 

How much can I claim for my delayed  international flight?

At the difference of the EU Regulation, arriving late at your destination doesn’t make you eligible for a compensation. The Montreal Convention only covers “damages” resulting from the delay.

“Damages” are subject to different interpretations. Most countries only consider financial losses and physical injuries as damages, but not the psychological distress of having your flight arrive late.

In cases where you have incurred damages in the meaning of the Convention, you can claim compensation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has set a currency called Special Drawing Rights (SDR) to calculate the amount of the compensation. As of December 2017, the exchange rate was:

 

1 EUR = 0,84 SDR

1 USD = 0,70 SDR

 

You can follow the exchange rate here.

The Montreal Convention lets you claim compensation up to 4,694 SDR for damages resulting of your flight delay.


What type of documents should I keep to claim compensation under the Montreal Convention?

Make sure you keep all of your travel documents, including your boarding pass and electronic ticket. In addition, keep all the documentation and receipts to prove that you’ve had additional losses and costs, such as pre-paid reservations, accommodation and transportation.

 

When possible, ask the staff or crew what is the reason for the delay and mark it down. “Operational reasons” is not a real reason and does not say much. Feel free to inquire as much as possible as it is your right to be aware of the situation. Knowing the reason of the delay might help you down the road when claiming compensation.

 

How long after the delayed flight can I claim?

The Montreal Convention allows you to claim compensation for damages up to 2 years after the delayed flight. However, we strongly recommend that you submit your claim soon after the events occurred.

 

Find out more about International Passenger Rights.

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