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EU Flight Delay Compensation: All You Need to Know

Planning to fly in Europe? If you are, you would be wise to familiarize yourself with the Air Passengers Rights and Regulation 261/2004. Basically, this regulation outlines a series of rules for compensation and assistance that must be provided to passengers who experience delays, cancellations or a denial of boarding due to overbooking. These policies are not restricted to citizens of EU countries – rather, they apply to anyone departing from a EU airport.

This post is a summary of what you are entitled to and what you need to do to get it. Worth noting however, is that in the event of a cancellation the airline is legally required to provide you with information on the regulation and your entitlements. So – if you can’t remember all the details, be sure to remember that all you need to do is ask!

Qualifying for Compensation

In order to qualify for this regulation you must have a reservation and you must have arrived on time for your flight, as outlined by the airline’s check-in policy. Furthermore, you must be:

  • Departing from any airport in the EU
  • Arriving in the EU with an EU carrier, or a carrier from Iceland, Norway or Switzerland

Assuming you meet those criteria, your flight disruption must then fall into one of the following three categories:

1. Denied Boarding
In the event that an airline has oversold their flight, you may find either yourself or others on your flight denied boarding. Standard protocol requires airlines to first call for volunteers who might give up their seat for another passenger. If they are still oversold with the volunteers, they will then deny boarding to certain passengers. Whether you were denied or volunteered, you are then entitled to the compensation programs outlined below.

2. Delays
If your flight is delayed, you then need to look into the length of your delay relative to the total distance of your flight to understand the compensation you are eligible for.

  • Delays of over two hours for flights less than 1500km
  • Delays of over three hours for flights that are between 1500 and 3500km
  • Delays of over four hours for flights that are over 3500km
  • Delays over five hours for any distance

3. Cancelled Flight
If your flight is cancelled entirely, you are eligible for compensation.


The rules surrounding compensation again vary based on the length of your intended flight, and the nature of your interruption.

Delays have the most straightforward compensation regulations. They stipulate that if your delay falls into the aforementioned delay/distance windows, you are entitled to complimentary refreshments and communication. Should your delay last overnight, you are also entitled to accommodation.

If your delay is over five hours you are permitted to abandon your journey entirely, receiving compensation for:

  • Your unused ticket
  • Any other tickets that become unusable as a result of abandoning your journey
  • A ticket back to your original point of departure, if relevant

If your flight was cancelled or your were voluntarily/forcefully denied boarding, your compensation then falls into three categories, which can apply simultaneously depending on the circumstance.

1. Cash Compensation
Cash is provided as compensation for the inconvenience of cancellations, re-routing or for flights that arrive at their destination over three hours late. It is not provided in lieu of the following two categories. Compensation amounts are based off of your flight distance:

  • Under 1500km: € 250
  • 1500km – 3500km: € 400
  • Over 3500km: € 600

In the event that your flight is re-routed (or if the carrier offers you a re-routing that you turn down), your cash compensation is halved from the above amounts.

Note that airlines are not required to provide compensation in the case of extraordinary circumstances that could not have been foreseen such as severe weather or a security risk.

2. Re-Routing
If you are re-routed, you are able to choose between one of the three following compensation options:

  • Repayment for your unused flight, any flights that become unusable as a result of abandoning your journey and – if relevant – a return flight to your point of departure
  • Re-routing to your intended destination under similar conditions as early as possible
  • Re-routing to your intended destination under similar conditions at your leisure

If you happen to be re-routed to a nearby airport to your intended destination, the airline must also cover any transport fees associated with that change.

3. Refreshments, Communication and Accommodation
If you are delayed or denied boarding, you are always entitled to refreshments, communication and accommodation

  • Meals are offered relative to the time of your delay and the distance of your flight
  • Two telephone calls, emails, faxes or emails are given to each passenger
  • Accommodation is provided if required to stay overnight

The only case where these benefits may be withdrawn is if providing them would prolong the delay further.

How to Submit a Claim

Claims are submitted through the Air Passengers Rights EU Complaint Form. It is important that you keep a copy of your submission for your own records.

If the results of this form are unsatisfactory, you can also complain to the National Enforcement Body in the relevant EU country.

If you’d rather not manage the process yourself, there are also a number of companies that file claims for you. Most of these companies do charge a commission of up to 25% on successful claims, so be sure to make note of that before filing.

Other Important Points

In addition to the policies mentioned above, there are a few other key elements of this regulation that are worth being aware of…

  • If your ticket is upgraded, the airline may not request additional payment
  • If your ticket is downgraded, you must be refunded 30/50/75% of the cost of your flight depending on the distance of the flight
  • Refunds must be provided in cash, electronic bank transfer, bank draft or check
  • Travel vouchers can only be provided with the signed agreement of the passenger
  • The airline must inform you about your rights regarding these regulations
  • Lost or damaged luggage is eligible for claims of up to € 1220 and all claims must be filed within 7 days of receiving your luggage. Valuables that exceed that ceiling may be eligible for exceptions and greater reimbursements. All these claims are filed with the particular airlines.

Stay tuned for additional developments associated with this regulation, as a number are currently under review. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about the experiences any of our readers have had following up on one of these claims. Please share!

Photo Credit: bunhill / iStock


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  • Hi Lindsay! Thanks for this timely post! I submitted a claim directly with KLM last month for compensation, but haven’t heard back. Do you suggest I complete the form? I don’t see an address to mail the form? Last month, there was a system wide IT outage for all KLM flights out of AMS. We were stuck on the plane for close to 5 hours. The flight eventually flew and we arrived at our final destination – NRT which is over 3500km away from AMS.

    • According to one traveller on our Facebook page, the claim took two years!!! You definitely need some patience.