Delayed or cancelled flight in Europe: how to be compensated thanks to the EU261 regulation?

In case of a delayed or cancelled flight in Europe, the law provides very precisely the cases and conditions of compensation for passengers through what is commonly called the EU261.

The EU261 is a European Union regulation that precisely regulates the rights of passengers and the obligations of airlines in case of delay or cancellation. This is an opportunity for passengers who, unlike in other parts of the world, do not have to suffer the arbitrariness of the airlines or even have to sue them to assert their rights.

Dans ce billet

To which flights does EU261 apply?

EU261 applies to :

All flights originating in Europe, regardless of the airline and destination.

– All flights to Europe if operated by a European airline.

For example, if you fly between Paris and Boston on Air France, EU261 applies to both the outbound and return flights. If you fly on Delta only the outbound flight is covered.

The EU261 applies to paid tickets at publicly available fares (not free tickets or fares not available to the general public).

Moreover, EU261 applies to all passengers regardless of nationality, European or not.

Finally, the EU261 applies in case of delays, cancellations, missed connections leading to a delay in arrival and even in case of denied boarding due to overbooking.

What compensation in case of delay?

The EU261 applies when you are delayed more than 3 hours upon arrival at the final destination. The airline must also be responsible for the delay, which leads to certain exclusions that we will discuss later.

The lump sum compensation depends on the distance of the flight and its destination.

  • 250 euros for all flights of 1,500 kilometers or less
  • 400 euros for all intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 kilometers and for all other flights of 1,500 to 3,500 kilometers
  • 600 euros for all flights over 3500

For flights outside the EU of more than 3500 km that are delayed between 3 and 4 hours, the lump sum compensation can be reduced by 50%.

In addition to this lump-sum compensation, the passenger has the right to be reimbursed for expenses incurred due to the delay:

  • hotel
  • food
  • transportation between the place of accommodation and the airport

If these services are not provided and paid for by the airline, the passenger is entitled to demand reimbursement of the sums incurred. So keep your receipts!

Ground assistance (catering, hotel etc) is due in case of delay of :

  • 2 hours for a flight of 1,500 km or less
  • 3 hours for a flight of more than 1,500 km within the European Union, for a flight between 1,500 and 3,500 km outside the EU
  • 4 hours for a flight of more than 3 500 km outside the EU

EU261 and Codeshare

Sometimes you have bought a ticket from one airline but it is operated by another: this is called codeshare.

In theory, if you buy a New-York Paris from Air France but it is operated by Delta, the EU261 does not apply. Since 2022 and a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Community, non-European airlines can be liable when they operate a flight on behalf of a European airline.

If a flight is operated outside Europe by a non-European airline but is part of a trip where the first flight is EU261 eligible, passengers are covered.

For example, you fly on Air France from Paris to New York and then you have a Delta flight to Miami on the same ticket. En cas de retard à l’arrivée à Miami l’E261 s’applique.

However, if you buy a New York-Paris flight from Air France but it is operated by Delta, the EU261 does not apply because the flight does not originate in Europe.

A bit complicated?

Remember one thing: if the flight departs from Europe, EU261 applies, even when connecting with a domestic flight outside Europe. If it originates from a non-European country, the nationality of the airline prevails, so EU261 only applies if it is European.

What compensation is available in case of a cancelled flight?

A passenger is also entitled to compensation for a cancelled flight if the flight was cancelled either:

  • less than 14 days before departure.
  • from 7 to 14 days prior to departure if offered an alternative flight that leaves no earlier than 2 hours before the originally scheduled time and arrives less than 4 hours after the scheduled arrival time
  • less than 7 days prior to departure if offered an alternative flight that leaves no more than one hour earlier than scheduled and arrives less than two hours later than scheduled.

In case of cancellation the passenger is entitled to the following compensation:

  • Refund of the ticket price at which it was purchased
  • If the trip has begun, the price of the parts of the trip not flown out and the parts flown that have become useless as a result of the cancellation.
  • Re-routing to the final destination as soon as possible and comparable travel conditions as soon as possible or at a later date at the convenience of the passenger.

When does the EU261 not apply?

As mentioned above, there are cases where the EU261 does not apply and where certain causes allow the airline to exempt itself from the lump sum compensation.

  • Bad weather
  • Strike
  • Political circumstances (terrorism, public disorder, threat to passenger safety…)
  • Natural disaster (tsunami, hurricane, volcanic eruption…)
  • Collision between the aircraft and birds or any other foreign object during the flight (not on the ground)
  • Unruly or sick passenger.
  • Delay due to the airport staff (waiting at the security checkpoints…)

There are a few useful things to know.

  • A strike is not an exceptional circumstance if it concerns only one airline.
  • An air traffic control strike is an exceptional circumstance
  • The airline must prove the exceptional circumstances.

Another thing to know: the airline must prove that it has taken all measures to avoid the occurrence of the damage, for example by seeking availability on other flights, other companies or even other airports.

But even in cases where the lump sum is not due, the airline must reimburse the expenses incurred.

Flying in different travel conditions

The airline may offer you to travel in a different class of travel from your original class to get you re-routed as quickly as possible.

In case of an upgrade, the company is not entitled to demand payment of an additional amount.

On the other hand, in case of downgrading, it must compensate you:

  • 30% of ticket price for all flights of 1,500 kilometers or less
  • 50% of the ticket for all intra-EU flights over 1500 km and all flights between 1500 and 3500 km
  • 75% of the ticket price for flights over 3500 km

Impact of Brexit on the EU261

Since the Brexit the EU261 no longer applies in the UK so a flight from London to the EU on British Airways is not covered.

How do I claim compensation on the basis of EU261?

The easiest way to proceed is to contact the customer service department of the airline that operated the flight (not the one that marketed it in case of codeshare). The airline will then either compensate you or refuse for more or less questionable reasons (inventing exceptional circumstances that did not exist), or even not answer you (there are some for whom it is a habit).

In this case you can proceed in different ways.

One possibility is to contact the national authority of the country where the company is based. In France it is the DGAC and you can file a complaint on its website.

Still in France, you can contact the Tourism and Travel Ombudsman provided that the carrier concerned is a member.

There are also a number of specialized sites that will take care of your case and initiate the necessary actions if required. You only pay a commission if the process is successful. Some examples: Airhelp, Air Indemnité, Claim Compass, Flightright… We mention these sites as examples only and have no connection with them and cannot vouch for the quality of their respective services.

Finally, you can file a complaint with the competent court.

How long can you claim compensation?

The passenger can claim compensation during a certain period of time after the date of flight, which varies from country to country. For example 5 years after the flight in France, Space, Scotland or Greece, 3 in Portugal, Germany or Austria, 2 in Italy, Malta or the Netherlands.

And then

Delayed flights often mean delayed or lost baggage. Here the Montreal convention applies with its specific rules.

Bottom line

The EU261 protects passengers against flight delays and cancellations from and within Europe in all cases and to Europe if the airline is European.

If its conditions of application can seem complicated, it works well and it is the region of the world where the passenger has the most rights in this matter.

Image : delayed flight by Black Salmon via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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