EU 261 Compensation Simplified

EU261 compensation offers legal protection to travellers. In the event of a flight mishap like a flight delay or cancellation, EU261 seeks to enforce the rights of air passengers. If eligible, an airline can be obligated to pay up to to €600 in compensation per traveller.

Following the UK's exit from the EU, there is now a UK version of the law, which allows passengers to claim up to £520 under similar circumstances.

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Claim your compensation for a flight disruption under EC Regulation 261/2004.

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What are your EU passenger rights according to EC 261?

When it comes to EU Passenger Rights, EC 261/2004 is the go-to legislation.

This regulation in EU law favors the passenger. It holds airlines financially accountable when air travel takes an unexpected turn, so long as the disruption was not caused by circumstances outside of the airline’s control.

In comparison to other laws on passenger rights, EC 261 is one of the most comprehensive. This important piece of legislation plays a vital role in advocating for air travelers and passenger rights, and not only for European travellers. All passengers departing from a European airport are covered under EC 261. And in some circumstances, passengers flying into Europe from other worldwide destinations may be covered as well.

What is EC261 Compensation for Disrupted Flights?

Travellers often do not understand that in many instances, airlines are legally and financially responsible for flight issues, not the passenger.

Depending on your flight, flight scenario, and ultimate destination, understanding passenger rights and filing for EU airline compensation can mean up to €600 per person in reimbursements.

To make an EU 261 claim, AirHelp can assist with our staff of legal experts to iron out the finer details and legal jargon.

Just select what happened on your disrupted flight:

Denied boarding
Flight cancellation
Long delay of flights (3 or more hours)

The amount of EU261 compensation passengers are entitled to depends on a lot of factors including the distance traveled and the amount of time you are delayed reaching your final destination.

EU Airline Compensation – Which Flights are Covered by EC261?

When it comes to EC regulation 261 2004 compensation, it’s beneficial to know which flights are covered by the legislation. Most routes within Europe are covered. This includes not only EU airspace, but also Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the so-called “outermost regions” (French Guiana and Martinique, Mayotte, Guadeloupe and La Réunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira and the Azores, and the Canary Islands).

Many international flights are covered, as well. If your flight departs from an airport in the EU, it’s covered. If your flight departs from elsewhere but your destination is in the EU, coverage depends on the airline ⎯ if it’s a European carrier, you’re covered.

If you’re confused, here’s a simple chart to help:

ItineraryEU air carrierNon-EU air carrier
From inside the EU to inside the EU✔️ Covered✔️ Covered
From inside the EU to outside the EU✔️ Covered✔️ Covered
From outside the EU to inside the EU✔️ Covered❌ Not Covered
From outside the EU to outside the EU❌ Not covered❌ Not covered

In some cases, disrupted flights outside the EU may be eligible under EC261 if they connect to a covered flight that is with the same carrier and part of the same flight reservation (under one booking reference number). The easiest way to find out if you’re covered is to use the AirHelp eligibility check.

Know Your Rights on EU Flights

What’s not Covered: Extraordinary Circumstances

Knowing your rights on EU flights is crucial to ensure you know when you can claim EU261 compensation if an airline treats you unfairly.

It’s also important to know the flight circumstances in which an airline isn’t obligated to pay you compensation.

EC 261 says that airlines do not have to pay compensation if the disruption was caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which are events outside of their control. For example, you will not be eligible for compensation if your delay was a result of one of the following:

Extraordinary Circumstances
❌ Strikes initiated by airport employees or air traffic control
❌ Political unrest
❌ Inclement weather
❌ Security risks

However, airlines must still show that they have taken reasonable measures to prevent the delay. For example, bad weather may be considered an extraordinary circumstance. However, if other airlines were prepared for it and prevented delays, whilst yours didn’t, you should still be entitled to compensation.

In the years since EC 261 was introduced numerous court cases have been contested over what counts as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. Our legal experts keep up to date with these latest developments. We were particularly pleased with the 2018 ruling by the European Courts of Justice that airline staff strikes cannot be considered an extraordinary circumstance. That means that thousands of passengers who have been affected by airline staff strike action will now be eligible for EU 261 compensation.

Every year, millions of people miss out on the compensation they are owed under European Regulation EC 261.

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What Are Your Rights Under EC 261?

In addition to EU airline compensation which is monetary, EC 261 includes other rights relating to your treatment. Here are some of the highlights:

Obligation to inform passengers of their rights

Your first basic right is to be informed about the content of EC 261. Every airline has to display information on passengers’ rights at their check-in counters in every airport where they operate. If our breakdown of the legalese is still not enough, you can read the actual text of EC 261, as well.

Right to reimbursement or re-routing

In addition to compensation for your loss of time, if your flight delay exceeds five hours, you are entitled to a full or partial refund of your original ticket and a return flight to your point of departure, if needed.

Right to care

When a flight disruption occurs and you’re stuck waiting for the airline to get you back on track toward your destination, you’re entitled to a number of essentials, depending on your flight details.
The carrier must provide you with:

Meals and refreshments during the delay

Access to communications, including two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, and emails
If overnight accommodations are necessary, they must provide you with a hotel room and transportation to and from the airport

The following chart explains when passengers become eligible for these rights:

Flight detailsAll flights 1,500km or lessInternal EU flights over 1,500 kmNon-internal EU flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 kmNon-internal EU flights over 3,500 km
Length of the delay2 hours or more3 hours or more3 hours or more4 hours or more

Upgrading and downgrading

If you are offered an alternative flight and placed in a higher class than the one you booked, the air carrier cannot charge you any additional payment. On the other hand, if the class of the alternative flight is lower, you can get a reimbursement between 30% and 75% of the price you originally paid.

Further compensation

Your right to EU 261 compensation under EC 261 does not affect your right to request further compensation. This rule does not apply in cases where passengers have voluntarily surrendered their reservations. Of course, the amount you are entitled to under EC 261 may be deducted from whatever additional compensation you receive.

Claim your right to compensation.

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EC 261 Compensation – Is There a Time Limit to File a Claim?

Your right to EC 261 compensation does eventually expire, but the time limit varies from one country to the next.

You should note that the country you claim in is not decided by your nationality, but is determined by where the headquarters of the airline is, or what court has jurisdiction in cases concerning the airline.

As always, we have a handy chart for you:

CountryLimitation period
Austria3 years
Belgium 5 years
Bulgaria1 year
Croatia3 years
Cyprus6 years
Czech Republic*3 years
Denmark3 years
Estonia 3 years
Finland3 years
France5 years
Germany **3 years
Greece5 years
Hungary 2 years
Iceland2 years
Ireland6 years
Italy 2 years
Latvia1 year
Lithuania 3 years
Luxembourg10 years
MaltaNo limit
Netherlands2 years
Norway3 years
Poland1 year
Portugal2 years
Slovakia2 years
Slovenia2 years
Spain5 years
Sweden***10 years
Switzerland2 years
United Kingdom6 years

*For Czech Republic, if a passenger notifies the airline within the first 6 months after flight disruption, the claim should be eligible for 3 years.

** For Germany, the limitation period expires on the last day of the third year (for example, the limitation period for a flight on 25/2/2016 expires on 31/12/2019).

** For Sweden, if a passenger notifies an airline within the first 2 months after a flight disruption, the claim should be eligible for 10 years.

How to Make Your EU261 Claim

Once you’ve established that you’re eligible to make an EU261 claim from an airline, the next step is to go through the process of trying to get it.
Did you know that only 55% of all passengers worldwide make a claim, even when they know they are entitled to it?

Many travelers tend to be daunted by the thought of a complicated and drawn-out legal process. This fear often leads to them not trying to seek out the compensation they deserve for their flight inconvenience.
That’s what AirHelp is for. We take the burden from you and simplify the process. All you need to do is enter your flight details in our easy-to-use compensation checker and we’ll take care of the rest.

Find out if you’re eligible for compensation today.

Had a flight disruption to or from the EU?

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Common questions about EC 261

How long can a flight be delayed before cancelled?

There is no hard rule for how much a flight can be delayed before it is considered to be cancelled. In some cases, delays can last for hours, in which case, the airline must provide you with food, access to communication, and accommodation — if needed. It becomes a cancellation when the airline declares they will not operate the flight for any reason. Then they must refund you the cost of the ticket, or offer you an alternative.

Depending on the flight regulations of where you’re flying, you may even be eligible for compensation.

Why Choose AirHelp for Your EU 261 Claim?

AirHelp is who you should turn to, to make your EU 261 claim when you’ve suffered your travel has gone awry.

We are the leading provider in the flight compensation industry and are committed to enforcing air passenger rights. To date, we’ve helped more than 16 million passengers.

AirHelp has been featured in:

The Mirror logoThe Express logoThe Daily Mail logoUK Business Insider logo

AirHelp is a part of the Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA) whose mission is to promote and protect passengers’ rights.


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