Claim EU & USA Compensation for Delayed Flights

Air travel, though often a remarkable experience, can occasionally encounter turbulence in the form of unexpected flight delays. Fortunately, for those who have endured the frustration of a late flight, there exists a silver lining in the form of potential airline delay compensation. Under the European legislation known as EC 261, passengers may be entitled to receive up to $650 (€600) flight delay compensation.

US law does not mandate monetary compensation for delayed flights. However, many airlines offer forms of compensation such as meal vouchers, hotel accommodations, ground transportation to and from the hotel, and in some cases, travel vouchers.

Let's delve deeper into your air passenger rights and explore the process of claiming the compensation you rightfully deserve for your plane delay. We're here to guide you through the steps to ensure you receive the flight delay compensation you're entitled to.

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Airline Delay Compensation US

No regulations require airlines to financially compensate passengers for domestic flights in the US that are delayed or canceled. If your flight is significantly delayed, most airlines will rebook you on the next available flight to your intended destination at no extra cost. Some airlines may arrange for you to travel on a flight operated by one of their partner carriers, again without additional charges. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has published a list of airlines that offer such services, including meals for extended delays. Below, we have included a table summarizing some of these options in the event of controllable flight delays:

AirlineRebook on same airlineRebook on partner airlineMeal
Jet Blue✔️✔️✔️

The ten airlines reported by the DOT account for approximately 96% of domestic air traffic.

In addition to the information provided in the table, the DOT also lists other services guaranteed by these ten airlines:

  • Complimentary hotel accommodations for passengers affected by an overnight delay — except for Frontier Airlines.

  • Complimentary ground transportation to and from the hotel for any passenger affected by an overnight delay — except for Frontier Airlines.

  • Credit/travel voucher when a delay results in a passenger waiting 3 hours or more from the scheduled departure time — offered only by Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest.

  • Frequent flyer miles when a delay results in a passenger waiting 3 hours or more from the scheduled departure time — offered only by Alaska Airlines.

No airline provides cash compensation for delayed flights.

What is a controllable flight delay?

An airline delay is considered controllable when it is caused by the airline. Examples include:

  • Crew shortages or scheduling errors

  • Aircraft maintenance issues

  • Administrative problems, such as paperwork or processing delays

  • Lack of necessary equipment for the flight

  • Technical faults with the aircraft not related to weather

Uncontrollable factors include severe weather conditions, air traffic control decisions, security concerns, etc.

Right to a refund

If a flight has experienced a significant delay, passengers are entitled to a ticket refund if they choose not to fly. This applies regardless of the cause of the delay—whether it is controllable or uncontrollable. Unfortunately, the DOT has not clearly defined what constitutes a "significant delay," which is instead evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Upcoming Changes

In April 2024, a new rule was announced that will require airlines to provide automatic refunds for passengers on flights with significant delays. Airlines have been given six months to adapt to this new regulation, meaning the existing rules will remain in effect until then.

Other possible flight delay compensations for US passengers

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 law can also protect the rights of US passengers, for example:

  • Flights from Europe to the United States;

  • Flights departing from US airports to Europe, operated by European airlines.

This chart makes it clear:

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

If Your Plane is Delayed on the Tarmac

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.

Delayed Flight Claim - EU Airline Compensation

Within the framework of EC 261, there exists a potential avenue for you to pursue a claim for flight delay compensation totaling $650 (€600) in cash. This plane compensation is within reach if certain conditions are met, ensuring that you don't bear the brunt of a late flight without recourse. To be able to claim flight delay compensation from airlines, consider the following scenarios:

  • You arrived at your destination more than 3 hours later than planned.

  • Your flight took off in the EU (many flights into the EU also qualify)

  • You 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 3 years ago.

  • The airline was responsible for the delay (e.g. operational circumstances and technical difficulties).

  • It doesn’t matter whether the airline has already provided you with food, refreshments, or travel vouchers.

Understanding your rights and meeting these criteria is vital in ensuring you receive the compensation for delayed flights you rightfully deserve.

What Are You Owed in Flight Delay Compensation?

How Much Compensation Should You Get for Flight Delay?

When it comes to flights falling under the purview of EU law EC 261, a delay exceeding 3 hours automatically triggers your eligibility to claim compensation due to the inconvenience caused by the late flight.

The precise amount of your entitled flight delay compensation hinges on several factors, primarily the duration of your delay and the distance of your flight. The following chart provides a breakdown of these crucial details, so you have a better understanding of your possible late flight compensation:

Less than 3 hours3 – 4 hoursMore than 4 hoursNever arrivedDistance
❌ € –✔️ €250✔️ €250✔️ €250All flights 1,500 km or less
❌ € –✔️ €400✔️ €400✔️ €400Internal EU flights over 1,500 km
❌ € –✔️ €400✔️ €400✔️ €400Non-internal EU flights between 1,500 km and 3,500 km
❌ € –✔️ €300✔️ €600✔️ €600Non-internal EU flights over 3,500 km

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Right to Care: What You Can Get Besides EU Flight Delay Compensation

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 some 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.

Beyond Airline Compensation: Other Rights That Come With EC 261

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.

Further compensation

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.

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Which Flights are Covered by Airline Delay Compensation?

Are All Delayed Flights Covered by EC 261?

Almost all routes within Europe are covered for airline delay compensation.

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.

In fact, if your flight originates from any airport within the EU, it falls under the protective umbrella of EC 261. Moreover, if your flight takes off from a location outside the EU but is operated by an EU-based airline, it still qualifies for coverage and the associated flight delay compensation. This comprehensive reach ensures that a significant number of air travelers are eligible for compensation when faced with flight delays, irrespective of their departure point.

How EU Flight Delay Compensation is Calculated

The calculation of flight delay compensation hinges on the moment you arrive at your ultimate destination, a vital aspect to consider. This is because, even if your flight experienced a late departure, airlines may still have opportunities to reduce the delay during the flight itself.

So, what precisely constitutes a flight's "arrival time"?

In a landmark decision in September 2014, the European Court of Justice (case C-452/13) provided a clear definition of "arrival time." According to this ruling, "arrival time" is officially recognized as the point at which the aircraft reaches its final destination and at least one of its doors is opened.

This definition is rooted in the principle that, at this moment, passengers are granted permission to disembark from the aircraft.

It's worth noting that this definition of arrival time can occasionally result in a variance of 15 minutes or more compared to the time at which the plane physically landed. Therefore, when pursuing a claim for your flight delay compensation, precision in determining the arrival time is paramount to ensure you receive the airline compensation you are entitled to.

How long can a flight be delayed without compensation? 3 full hours.

Airline Compensation is Not Required for Extraordinary Circumstances

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, 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 on 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.

Do Airline strikes fall under extraordinary circumstances?

In March 2021, the European Court of Justice made a ruling stating that 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.

Can You Get Airline Compensation if You Miss a Connecting Flight?

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 is 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 3 hours later than your original flight, you could claim up to $650.

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 your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to $650 in compensation.

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How to File a Claim to Get Flight Delay Compensation

Airline Compensation: What To Do When Your Flight is Delayed

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 any 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.

How to Claim Flight Delay Compensation with AirHelp

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.

Why use AirHelp:

  • 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.

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Documents You Need to Claim Flight Delay Compensation

Airlines have different procedures and required documents 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.

Tools to Help You Claim for Flight Delay Compensation

Online eligibility checker
With a few clicks of your finger, you can transform your delayed or canceled flight into a reimbursement claim.

After going through our eligibility checklist and qualifying, the good news is that you can claim compensation for a delayed flight.

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International Delayed Flights: The Montreal Convention

Over 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.

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How Can AirHelp Help?

How AirHelp Can Enforce Your Rights

  • 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 9.2 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, but our team tackles bureaucratic hurdles to get you the money you deserve.

AirHelp’s Impact on Flight Delay Compensation Claims

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 16 million passengers process their airline compensation claims.

If your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last 3 years, you could be eligible for up to $650 in compensation.

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Common questions about flight delay compensation

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