What are Your Air Passenger Rights? Rules for Flight Compensation

When it comes to flights, there are specific air passenger rights which dictate the rules for flight compensation. There are two regulations which cover most flight problems for EU passengers: Regulation EC 261/2004 (or EC 261) and the Montreal Convention 1999.

Each of these covers different flight problems and is applied under different circumstances, depending on the flight problem. Learn more about these regulations on this page, and how they dictate your flight passenger rights.

The Flight Compensation Regulation EU 261/2004 (EC 261)

The EU 261 Regulation establishes the rules for flight compensation and assistance to passengers. It applies in the following cases:

The minimum flight compensation a passenger can claim under this regulation is €250, and the maximum is €600. The EC 261 came into force on the 17th of February, 2005. There are three specific thresholds which dictate the amount of compensation claimed by the passengers:

<1,500km

A flight of less than 1500km distance between the departure destination and final destination

 

Between 1,500 and 3,500km

A flight that’s greater than 1500km, but less than 3500km in distance between the departure destination and final destination

 

>3,500km

A flight that’s greater than 3500km in distance between the departure destination and final destination

 

The EC 261 Dictates Only EU Airline Passenger Rights!

The EU 261 Regulation establishes the rules on flight compensation and assistance to passengers. It applies in the following cases:

This regulation is applicable for flights operating within, from, and/or to Europe. The regulation applies to flights:

Between EU member states

Departing from an EU member state

Travelling from outside the EU to an EU member state with an airline based in the EU

Furthermore, EU 261 applies only if the passenger has:

A confirmed reservation for the flight in question

Arrived and checked-in as indicated on their ticked, or if there isn’t an indication, they checked in no less than 45 before the flight’s departure

With the exception of:

A reservation that’s with a free or discounted ticket that’s not available to the public, but not a ticket obtained via a frequent-flyer program (a loyalty program offered by an airline)

The EU 261 and Cancelled Flights

The EU 261 regulation applies for cancelled flights if they meet the aforementioned criteria. According to the regulation, the passengers are entitled to one of the following:

Being re-routed to their initial destination as early as possible;
Being re-routed later, when the passenger chooses, to their initial destination, or;
A refund for the tickets and a flight back to their initial departure destination.

The refund is based on the full price the passenger has paid for the flight or flights that weren’t used, plus any connecting flight or flights that were rendered redundant because of the cancellation. In the case of re-routing to a different airport that flies to the same destination, the airline must cover all costs for the transport between the original airport and a destination that’s close to the second airport. However, should the passenger choose a re-routing as early as possible, the EC 261 is unclear whether the airline are to cover the expenses for the travel between the airports.

Flight Compensation Rates

Following everything above, the airline must also pay cash compensation for the flight. There are three specific thresholds which dictate the amount of compensation wich can be claimed by the passengers:

<1.500km

A flight of less than 1500km distance between the departure destination and final destination.

Between
1,500 and 3,500km

A flight that’s greater than 1500km, but less than 3500km in distance between the departure destination and final destination.

>3,500km

A flight that’s greater than 3500km in distance between the departure destination and final destination.

Exceptions Compensation for Cancelled Flights

The airline isn’t required to pay compensation if:

  • The flight was cancelled due to extraordinary circumstances (like bad weather)
  • They have notified passengers that the flight is going to be cancelled at least two weeks before departure
  • They have notified the passenger between one and two weeks prior to departure, and they reroute them so they can depart no more than two hours earlier than scheduled, and arrive no later than four hours than scheduled
  • They have notified passengers less than one week prior to departure, and they re-route them so they can depart no more than one hour earlier than scheduled, and arrive no later than two hours than scheduled

The EU 261 and Flight Delays

As the EC 261 regulation states, every flight delay that is above 3 hours should be considered as a cancelled flight, and is therefore eligible for compensation claims as if the passengers were on a cancelled flight.

This means that the same compensation amounts are applied for delayed and cancelled flights

<1.500km

For a delayed flight under 1500km, the compensation amount is €250

Between
1,500 and 3,500km

For a delayed flight between 1500km and 3500km, the compensation amount is €400

>3,500km

For a delayed flight above 3500km, the compensation amount is €600

In addition to compensation, if the flight is delayed to depart on the day after the original departure day, the airline has to provide accommodation for the passengers. Optionally, passengers are allowed to abandon their journey if the flight was delayed for more than five hours. If they do, the passengers are entitled to a refund for all unused and all used tickets, based on if the journey lost purpose as a result of the delay. Additionally, the airline should provide a flight back to the original departure point, if relevant.

Remember, flight delay is based on the arrival time that’s scheduled. Scheduled arrival time is defined as the moment when the plane doors open once it lands.

Exception for Delay Compensation

Passengers are entitled for compensation for any flight delayed for more than three hours. However, there’s only one exception: If the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances.

The EC 261 and Denied Boarding Due to Overbooking

Overbooking is not a rare occurrence, as it happens very often. Airlines sell more tickets than seats available, expecting some passengers to cancel their tickets. However, in the occasion more passengers regularly check-in than seats available due to overbooking, the airline does two things, in succession:

Firstly, they ask for volunteers who will give up their reservation with a benefit that’s negotiated between the airline and the passenger
Secondly, if there are not enough volunteers, the airline involuntarily denies passengers boarding to the plane at random
Passengers are entitled to a full compensation as for a delayed flight, if the denied boarding caused them to have a delayed arrival to their target location of more than three hours. Therefore, the same compensation amounts apply here, as with cancelled flights:

<1.500km

For denied boarding that caused a delay, for a flight under 1500km, the compensation amount is €250

Between
1,500 and 3,500km

For denied boarding that caused a delay ,for a flight between 1500km and 3500km, the compensation amount is €400

>3,500km

For denied boarding that caused a delay, for a flight above 3500km, the compensation amount is €600

Additional Compensation Rules

Should passengers choose rerouting or refunding, it means they opt for one of the following:

  • The cost of all unused and used tickets is refunded, and a flight back to the original point of departure at the earliest opportunity is given (where applicable)
  • They are given rerouting under similar conditions (class, seat) to the intended final destination at the earliest possible opportunity
  • They are given rerouting under similar conditions (class, seat) to the intended final destination at the passenger’s choice, which is subject to the chosen flight’s availability of seats

Finally, if the passenger’s rerouting includes going to an airport different from the one their flight was supposed to be, the airline must pay for the transport of the passenger to this destination, or an agreed nearby destination.

Finally, if the passenger’s rerouting includes going to an airport different from the one their flight was supposed to be, the airline must pay for the transport of the passenger to this destination, or an agreed nearby destination.

Entitled to Assistance

When passengers are entitled to assistance, they must be offered the following, free of any charge:

Refreshments (drinks) and meals proportional to the waiting time

Two telephone calls, faxes, telex messages or two emails

Hotel accommodation and transport between the hotel and the airport, if a stay for one or more nights is needed, even when not intended by the passenger, but it has become necessary because of the circumstances

However, in the case of flight delays, if offering the above will lead to the flight being delayed even further, the airline may withdraw the offer.

The Montreal Convention

The Montreal Convention is a treaty which was adopted by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) member states in 1999. It was aimed to amend the Warsaw Convention’s rules regarding compensation for victims of air disasters. One of its main concerns is baggage damages. This Convention isn’t only applied for baggage damages for flights operating within or from Europe, as it’s adopted by multiple countries on all populated continents.

21 Days

when the baggage isn’t delivered to the owner for a period up to 21 days 

> 21 Days

when the baggage isn’t delivered to the owner for a period of more than 21 days

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