European regulation ec 261/04

EC Regulation 261/2001 is a European regulation. It protects passengers who’ve suffered a flight delay, cancellation, or been denied boarding due to overbooking. Under this legislation, if your flight’s eligible, an airline can pay up to €600 in compensation.

EU Passenger Rights - What is EC261?

When it comes to EU Passenger Rights, EC 261/2004 is a regulation in European Union law that favours 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 travellers 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.

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

EU Airline Compensation – Which Flights are Covered by EU Law EC 261?

When it comes to EU law EC 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 (for example US flight cancellations) may be eligible under EC261 if they were booked as a connection to an EU 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 EU Flights

What’s not Covered: Extraordinary Circumstances

When it comes to knowing your rights on EU flights, it’s also important to be aware of situations where the airline is not responsible for flight issues that arise.

EC261 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 for flight delays that are 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 EC261 was introduced numerous court cases have been contested over what counts as an extraordinary circumstance. Our team keeps 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 compensation.

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

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Your Rights Under EU Law 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 delay exceeds 5 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 details All flights 1,500km or less Internal EU flights over 1,500 km Non-internal EU flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km Non-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 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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EU 261 Claim – Is There a Time Limit to File a Claim?

Your right to compensation under EC Regulation 261 2004  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 travellers 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.

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Commonly Asked Questions About EC 261

When can Americans claim flight compensation under EC 261?

A common misconception is that EC 261 only applies to flights within Europe, but that’s not the case. It can also apply on flights between Europe and the USA, for example.

That's because EC 261 covers all flights that depart from an EU airport, and all flights that land in Europe so long as the flight was with an EU carrier. It doesn't matter where the passenger comes from.

So if you were flying to or from Europe when your flight was disrupted, check if you're entitled to claim compensation.

Why Choose AirHelp for Your EU 261 Claim?

AirHelp is who you should turn to, to make your EU 261 claim when your travel has gone awry through delay or airline cancellations.

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 who’ve suffered a flight mishap.

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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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