Air travel is not always the smooth-sailing experience we’d like. Unfortunately, flight delays happen. If you’ve been on a delayed flight, particularly one that arrived three or more hours late, you may be able to claim flight delay compensation. Read on to learn about your air passenger rights and what to do when your flight’s delayed
At AirHelp we think that if you’re stuck and inconvenienced at an airport due to a fault of the airline, you shouldn’t be the one out of pocket. That’s why we’re on a mission to help air passengers. Both by educating passengers on their rights, and building technology to make claiming easier.
If your delayed flight was into or out of Europe, you could be entitled to up to €600 in compensation. That’s because Europe has strong regulations on air passenger rights.
EU law EC 261 says you can file a claim for cash compensation if…
You arrive at your destination more than three hours later than planned.
You have checked in for your flight on time (generally no less than 45 minutes before departure).
You encountered these problems on a flight operated no more than three years ago.
The airline is responsible for the delay (e.g. operational circumstances and technical difficulties).
The flight took off in the EU (from any airline) or landed in the EU (provided that the airline is headquartered in the EU).
It doesn’t matter whether the airline has already provided you with food, refreshment or travel vouchers.
No matter where you live, if you’re flying from a European airport, or flying into Europe on a European airline, you can claim for flight delay under EC 261. This chart makes it clear:
|Itinerary||EU Air Carrier||Non-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|
The USA does not have it’s own comprehensive set of air passenger rights covering flight delays, with one exception:
There are clear laws on your rights if your plane is delayed on the tarmac. These entitle you to information, food and water. You can read exactly what they cover here.
130 nations, including the USA, are signed up to the 2003 Montreal Convention. This sets out air passenger rights for several types of flight disruption, including flight delays.
The convention addresses “damages” resulting from flight disruption. An example is financial damages. If your delayed flight meant you had to pay for an additional night in a hotel, you should be reimbursed for this. You can read more about the Montreal Convention here.
When it comes to compensation for delayed flights, it all boils down to timing. For flights covered by EU law EC 261, any delay longer than three hours entitles you to financial compensation.
The amount of compensation you’re entitled to depends on a couple of factors, including how long you have been delayed, and the distance of your flight. This chart breaks it down:
|Length of delay|
|Less than 3 hours||3 – 4 hours||More than 4 hours||Never arrived||Distance|
|€ –||€250||€250||€250||All flights 1,500 km or less|
|€ –||€400||€400||€400||Internal EU flights over 1,500 km|
|€ –||€400||€400||€400||Non-internal EU flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km|
|€ –||✔️ €300||✔️ €600||✔️ €600||✔️ Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km|
Flight delay is based on the time you arrive at your final destination. This is important because even if your flight takes off late, the airline may still be able to make up time in the air.
But what exactly is a flight’s “arrival time?”
In September 2014, the European Court of Justice (case C-425/13) defined “arrival time” to be the moment at which the aircraft has reached its final destination and one of its doors is open.
This is based on the assumption that, at that moment, the passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft.
This can sometimes be a difference of 15 minutes or more from the time you landed, so it’s important to be precise if you are claiming for your flight delay.
How long can a flight be delayed without compensation? Three full hours.
What happens when major flight delays occur when passengers are travelling for business or as public officials?
Many people think that their employer will be entitled to any compensation for a delay during a business trip but that’s not the case.
In fact, it is the passenger who has suffered the inconvenience that is entitled to flight delay compensation, not the person who paid for the ticket.
This is the general principle set out in the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation for major flight delays, cancellations and cases of overbooking. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employee of a private-sector company or a public official.
When you’re stuck waiting for the airline to get you back on track toward your destination, European law EC 261 says you’re entitled to a number essentials, depending on your flight details.
The carrier must provide you with meals and refreshments during the delay as well as access to communications, including two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, and emails.
If overnight accommodation is necessary, they must provide you with a hotel room, and transportation to and from the airport.
Right to reimbursement or re-routing
In addition to compensation for your loss of time, if your 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.
Upgrading and downgrading
If you are offered an alternative flight and are lucky enough to get an upgrade, the airline isn’t allowed to charge you anything extra. On the other hand, if the class of the alternative flight is lower, you can get a reimbursement of between 30-75% of the price you originally paid.
Even if you are compensated under EC 261, this doesn’t affect your right to request further compensation.
This rule doesn’t apply in cases where passengers have voluntarily surrendered their reservations. But bear in mind that the amount you are entitled to under EC 261 may be deducted from whatever additional compensation you receive.
Obligation to inform passengers of their rights
Airlines are obliged to inform passengers about their rights and the content of EC 261. This means that every airline has to display information on passenger’s rights at check-in counters.
You can find the full text of the regulation on this link.
When your flight is delayed, your airline may offer you compensation in the form of flight vouchers. Of course when you’re tired and frustrated and someone is offering you a voucher for a new flight, it’s very hard to say ‘no’.
However, you should check that by accepting a voucher, you’re not waiving your right to claim for the compensation you’re legally entitled to. EU regulations clearly state that compensation should be paid in cash, electronic transfer or checks, unless the passenger chooses to accept travel vouchers instead.
Essentially, it’s your choice as to whether to accept the vouchers or not. The data says that most people do.
But you must remember that it’s worth finding out what you might be entitled to if you refuse the airline’s offer and insist on cash instead.
Most people don’t know their rights on what compensation they’re owed. We surveyed European air travellers and found that 85% don’t know their rights, and globally 16 million passengers do not receive the compensation that they are entitled to.
Almost all 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, Guadeloupe and La Réunion, Saint-Martin, Madeira, the Azores, and the Canary Islands).
A common misconception is that EC 261 only applies to flights within Europe, but that’s not the case.
If your flight departs from any airport in the EU, it’s covered. And it’s also covered if your flight departs from outside the EU but is with an EU airline.
The regulations in EC 261 state that an airline can avoid liability if the delay is caused by “extraordinary circumstances”.
These include situations like lightning strikes, medical emergencies, air traffic control strikes, serious adverse weather conditions, airport employee strikes or air traffic control strikes, air traffic control restrictions, sudden malfunctioning of the airport radar, acts of sabotage, political unrest, acts of terrorism… you get the idea.
Does snow count as a serious adverse weather condition?
It depends whether or not the airline could have prevented the problem.
If, for example, the airline failed to ensure that there were sufficient supplies of de-icer before the onset of winter, it could be held responsible for the delay – especially if flights operated by other airlines were able to depart on time.
Airline strikes do not fall under extraordinary circumstances
In April 2018, the European Court of Justice made a ruling stating that internal ‘wildcat strikes’ by flight staff do not constitute extraordinary circumstances.
Therefore, airlines must now compensate air passengers for flight delays and cancellations, when an airline strike is to blame.
With travelers flying further afield than ever, it’s not unusual for a flight to have one (or more) stops, or connections, on the way.
And if any one of those flights are delayed it can cause you to miss your connection and throw the whole journey into chaos.
Firstly, if you do miss a connection because of a delayed flight, it is the airline’s responsibility to find you a replacement to the final destination on your ticket.
In addition you could be entitled to compensation under European laws. If the time you arrive at your final destination is over three hours later than your original flight, you could claim up to €600.
It’s important that your flights are booked together and part of the same journey. If you booked your own onward flight separately, that would not be covered.
You can read a lot more information on our missed connection advice page.
If you’ve just found out your flight is delayed, don’t stress, follow our easy step-by-step guide on how to make the best out of the situation.
Hold onto your boarding pass and all other travel documents .
Ask why the flight was delayed.
Gather proof of the delay, for example photos of the departure board or communications from the airline confirming the disruption.
Make a note of the arrival time at your destination.
Ask the airline to pay for your meals and refreshments.
Don’t sign anything or accept any offers that may waive your rights.
Choose to wait it out or call it off if your delay is more than five hours.
If needed, get the airline to provide you with a hotel room.
Keep your receipts if your delayed flight ends up costing you extra money.
We understand that many air passengers do not have the time, experience or inclination to fight with airlines in order to claim the compensation they’re owed.
AirHelp is able to submit claims on passengers’ behalf:
We'll tell you quickly if we think you are eligible for compensation.
We'll handle all communication with the airline.
There's no risk, we only charge a fee when we're successful in getting your compensation.
Airlines have different procedures and required documents in order to make a claim. The best advice is to hold on to all documents if your flight is delayed.
One of the advantages of filing a claim with AirHelp, is we know exactly what each airline will require. We’ll help you to find the right documents when you kick off your claim.
If you’re going to file directly with an airline, you can expect some pushback. Even with EC 261 on your side, they might not be enthusiastic – or quick – about paying you. To give your claim the best chance of succeeding, make sure you gather together all the documentation you can.
Free flight delay compensation checker
With a few clicks of your finger, you can transform your delayed or cancelled flight into a reimbursement claim.
After you have gone through our eligibility checklist via our flight delay compensation checker and qualify to seek compensation, the good news is you can make a delayed flight claim.
We understand how frustrating it is to suffer a flight delay or cancellation and our app delivers real-time flight compensation eligibility decisions.
Boarding pass scanner
There is no need to manually enter or remember your flight details or booking numbers—just scan the barcode on your boarding pass. After this, our compensation calculator takes care of everything.
Free flight delay compensation calculator
Using the online boarding pass scanner, you are able to check flight delay compensation eligibility instantly.
After you enter your flight details into our free flight delay compensation calculator, within seconds you are notified if you are eligible or not to make a claim for your delayed, canceled or overbooked flight.
AirHelp is the leading flight compensation company in the world, helping passengers understand their rights and get compensation for delayed or canceled flights, and in instances of denied boarding.
AirHelp is the best-rated flight compensation company in the world with a 9.5 score on Trustpilot.
We have already helped more than 16 million passengers.
To avoid the burden of time and navigating the complex legal system.
Airlines may deny your initial claim or ignore your claim request entirely, our team tackle bureaucratic hurdles to get you the money you deserve.
In 2012, a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice declared that passengers were entitled to compensation for long delays, as long as certain conditions were met.
Following on from that ruling, the floodgates opened for flight delay compensation claims to be made by disgruntled passengers.
AirHelp’s team strives to ensure that passengers are relieved from the stress of making a claim.
We take on the responsibility of enforcing your right to compensation from the airline.
To date, we have helped over 10 million passengers process their airline compensation claims.
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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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