Air Passenger Rights Introduction: Compensation and Beyond
Millions of air passengers travel each year, but a large number do not realise that there are air passenger rights to protect them when they fly. AirHelp is here to support all passengers — we’ll help you understand your rights, and receive the compensation you’re entitled to.
What are air passenger rights?
Passenger rights vary from country to country, but at their core they are simply regulations that protect air travellers, ensuring they are properly cared for and compensated in the event of flight delays and cancellations, or when their property is lost or damaged.
As an air passenger, you have rights — no matter where you call home.
It doesn't matter which airline you are flying with, you are protected by some form of airline passenger rights — in most cases, by the regulations of the territory which your flight departed from.
Unfortunately, our research shows that as many as 85% of all air passengers are not aware of their flying rights — which means that many travellers miss out on the compensation owed to them, or settle for less.
We’re here to help.
AirHelp has been in the industry since 2013. We’re the biggest passenger rights organisation in the world, and have helped over 16 million passengers to date.
Find out how much you’re owed after a delayed or cancelled flight — no matter where you are from.
Europe: Regulation EC 261
EC 261/2004 is a regulation in EU law that protects passengers. It holds airlines financially accountable when air travel takes an unexpected turn, as long as the disruption wasn’t caused by something outside of the airline’s control.
EC 261 is one of the most comprehensive laws on passenger rights. As well as saying what care passengers should expect, it names the amount of compensation airlines must pay — between €250 and €600 — and the circumstances when passengers should receive the cash — delayed flights over 3 hours, flight cancellations less than 14 days in advance, and in cases of denied boarding.
All passengers departing from an EU airport are covered under EC 261. And in some circumstances, passengers flying into Europe from other worldwide destinations may be covered as well.
|Flights under 1,500km||Flights between 1,500km - 3,500km||Flights over 3,500km|
|All flights within the EU over 1,500km|
"UK 261" passenger rights
Before the UK left the EU at the end of 2020, they adopted many EU passenger rights into UK law. That means that passengers flying from the UK, or travelling on UK airlines also have strong passenger protections.
Passengers are still entitled to compensation if their flight is delayed over 3 hours, cancelled, or overbooked, unless the airline isn’t responsible for the problem.
One of the biggest changes is that compensation amounts under UK law are in British pounds, and range between £220 and £520. Over time the laws are likely to become more different, as the UK isn’t required to mirror future changes to EU law.
See if you’re owed flight compensation.
|Flights under 1,500km||Flights between 1,500km - 3,500km||Flights over 3,500km|
USA: National US laws
Unfortunately, US laws regarding passenger rights when your flight is delayed or cancelled are not as extensive as European or other international laws.
US laws are, however, beneficial to individuals who are denied boarding: airlines in the US are more likely to overbook their flights than airlines in Europe. Consequently, there are strong laws in place governing your right to be compensated. If you are denied boarding due to overbooking in the US you could be entitled to up to $1,350 compensation. See our advice on overbooked flights for more information.
Additionally US laws can help passengers in the US experiencing tarmac delays or travellers who experience luggage problems.
Brazil: ANAC 400
Anyone flying in Brazil is protected by legislation from Brazil’s National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC), known as ANAC Resolution Nº 400.
These laws clearly set out airlines’ responsibilities to their passengers whenever there are flight issues such as delays, cancellations or time changes. They offer air passengers a great deal of consideration, specifying exactly what care airlines must provide, and when.
Where an airline has failed to care for their passengers, Brazil’s Consumer Code allows passengers to claim compensation for the inconvenience — which could be up to R$10,000.
|Delay (over 4 hours)||Cancellation (less than 72 hours notice)||Overbooking|
|Up to R$10,000||Up to R$10,000||R$3,000|
|Up to R$10,000 in some circumstances|
Global: Montreal Convention
The Montreal Convention (or MC99) is a multilateral treaty which has been adopted by over 130 countries around the world. Its aim is to establish airline liability in the case of flight delay or luggage problems.
While this law isn’t the most comprehensive, so many nations honor the regulation that it does offer millions of passengers basic rights on international flights.
For delays, flight cancellations, or boarding denials, MC99 protects against unexpected costs. For example, if you miss a prepaid reservation, have to pay for an extra night at a hotel, or rack up any other unforeseen expenses, you could get reimbursed, up to approx €6,000.
The Montreal Convention also helps passengers who experience problems with checked-in luggage on flights, allowing them to reclaim up to €1,200 when bags are damaged, lost, or delayed by the airline.
How AirHelp can help
AirHelp fights for passengers’ rights. We can help you understand what is rightfully owed to you and get fairly compensated when you experience common flight disruptions such as delays, cancellations, flight overbooking, and missed connections.
Commonly asked questions
Can I claim if the airline that I flew with is bankrupt?
If the airline you flew with has gone bust and no longer exists, there is, unfortunately, very little chance for you to get compensation. This is because passengers are usually place last in a long line of creditors that an airline company will have to pay after going bankrupt. However, if your flight was operated by another company, you may be able to claim with them instead.
What does it mean if an airline is rescheduling my flight?
For delayed or cancelled flights, an airline may reschedule it to a different time or date from the original schedule you booked. As a passenger, you have the right to accept this new schedule or to ask for a refund instead. If you were informed about the new schedule at the last minute (e.g. less than 14 days before departure in the EU) you may be eligible for compensation on top of a refund, depending on various factors.
If I had a codeshare flight, can I get compensation?
You can get compensation if your disrupted flight meets the criteria. Usually, if you have a codeshare flight, it is the operating airline at the time of the delay or cancellation who is responsible for pay out. You can claim compensation if the connecting flights are part of the same booking and departing from the EU, or if it is an EU airline. The disruption should also qualify for compensation.
How long do I have make a claim for compensation?
Under most laws your right to flight compensation does eventually expire, so it’s important to know the Statute of Limitations for your claim. You can see the exact time limits for each above. It's important to know several different time limits can apply to your claim, as it depends both on where you were flying and where the airline has their HQ.
If my flight was part of a package holiday, can I claim compensation in case of a delay or cancellation?
Yes, you can claim as long as it meets the necessary criteria. Airlines are the ones responsible for compensating their passengers, so the laws apply even if the ticket was sold as part of a package holiday. Use our Compensation Check to see if you are eligible, or contact the airline.
Can I get compensation if I booked a flight through an online travel agent?
Yes, it doesn't matter where you booked your flight ticket, only whether you meet the requirements for compensation. You can claim compensation for flights that were delayed 3 hours or more, or cancelled less than 14 days before the scheduled flight. The airline must also be considered at fault for the disruption.
Am I allowed to claim extra costs after a flight delay or cancellation? What can I claim for?
You can only claim for essential expenses following a flight disruption. Some examples include:
Food and drink
You can claim extra expenses up to 2 years after your disruption. If you an AirHelp Plus member, we also offer reimbursement assistance for extra expenses.
If I have to wait several days for my delayed or cancelled flight to resume, who pays for my food and accommodation?
For lengthy delays, the airline will always be required to provide you with care, which includes food and accommodation, transport to and from the airport, and access to communication.
If my flight is delayed or cancelled, what happens to the hotels that I booked?
If your flight is eligible for compensation under EC 261, you could get up €600. If you had to book a hotel because of the disruption, then you can also reclaim these costs from the airline — so hold on to your receipts.
Additionally, we offer reimbursement assistance for necessary expenses if you are an AirHelp Plus member
What do I do if my seat was downgraded for my replacement flight?
If your original flight was cancelled and the airline downgrades your seats for the replacement flight (e.g. business class to economy class), you should get reimbursed between 30% to 75% of your initial ticket price. If you were upgraded instead, the airline cannot charge you extra for upgrading you. There's more information on upgrading and downgrading rights here.
If my flight was delayed or cancelled and the airline offers me a replacement flight, do I have to pay extra if it departs during high season?
If the replacement flight offered by the airline departs in the high season, you do not have to pay any additional costs. In some cases, you may even be eligible for compensation if the airline meets the necessary conditions.
How can I protect a future flight from possible delays or cancellations?
You can protect your future flights by getting travel insurance.
Additionally, if you need help with compensation, lost luggage or refunds, you can also become an AirHelp Plus member. AirHelp Plus offers support on many flight issues, and you will have access to a dedicated live chat that can also give you real-time advice before, during, and after you experience a flight delay or cancellation.
How do I calculate the distance between 2 airports to find out how much compensation I am entitled to?
The amount of compensation you’re owed depends on various factors — it includes not just the distance of your flight, but also the number of hours you’re delayed, whether the airline is responsible for the disruption, and where you are flying from, among other things. Since there are many factors at play, the easiest way to check how much you’re owed is to use our easy Compensation Check.
What can I do if I have a dispute with the airline?
If you have a dispute there are several options available to you: For compensation disputes, you can either claim directly with the airline or start a claim with AirHelp. If they wrongfully reject your claim, you can check with AirHelp to see if you are eligible, as we have independent data systems separate from the airline. In more difficult cases, we may need to hand the case over to our legal experts. For refund disputes, you can contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC Net) within your country. If you are an AirHelp Plus member, we can also provide refund assistance.
If the airline refuses to pay my compensation, who can help me?
If your airline refuses to pay your compensation even if you are eligible, you may have to challenge it in court. Thankfully, if you start a claim with AirHelp, we can handle all legal procedures for you. We operate on a no win, no fee policy — in other words, you only pay if we win you compensation.
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