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Flight Delay Compensation: The Rules

AuthorAda Kozłowska

Here we go. We recognise that EU regulations are a very dry area, so it’s no wonder that people struggle to keep up to date on their consumer rights. You really have to dig around to find the latest nuggets.

The great news is that a November 2009 ruling saw the European Court of Justice adapting Regulation (EC) 261/2004 on flight delays, which makes cash compensation possible in the event of delays of three hours or longer at the destination.

But there are some more details you should be aware of. First of all, the Regulation is applicable to all worldwide airlines when departure takes place within the European Union (EU) and, in the case of flights from outside the EU to a destination within the EU, only to airlines licenced in an EU member state. Bear in mind, though, that exceptions may occur if the airline can prove that the delay was caused by “extraordinary circumstances” outside of its control.

Remember that flight cancellation in London four years ago?

You also need to know that Regulation (EC) 261 does not set a time limit on how far back claims can go, instead stating that this should be determined by the laws in respective EU countries. In the UK, the statute of limitations law is six years, so by this logic an airline should consider claims for delays dating back six years from the time the claim is submitted.


The regulations aren’t just about compensation, but about passenger comfort. In the event of long delays (two hours or more, depending on the distance of the flight), all passengers must be offered free meals and refreshments plus two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails. If the time of departure is deferred until the next day, passengers must also be offered hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the place of accommodation.

Clear communication

The airline has a duty to inform travellers of their rights, on location in the airport. It must display a clearly legible notice at check-in: “If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance.” An airline should provide each passenger affected with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance in line with this Regulation. In respect of blind and visually impaired persons, the provisions of the Article should be applied using appropriate alternative means.

Transfer costs

In really tiring cases where the delay is five hours or longer, passengers may opt for reimbursement of the full cost of the ticket together with, when relevant, a return flight to the first point of departure. When, in the case where a town, city or region is served by several airports, an airline offers a passenger a flight to an airport alternative to that for which the booking was made, the airline should bear the cost of transferring the passenger from that alternative airport either to that for which the booking was made, or to another close-by destination agreed with the passenger. For more info on The Rules, check out the link below:

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