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EU air passenger rights: Overview
Your air passenger rights are protected under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation 261 / 2004. When you experience a flight cancellation, are denied boarding, or you arrive at your destination at least 3 hours late, you can claim for compensation in accordance with this Regulation. This applies to those passengers flying within or from the European Union, as well as those on inbound flights to the EU with European airlines. The amount of compensation you may receive is dependent on the flight distance and can be 600 €, 400 € or 250 €. Another determining factor to consider when enforcing your rights against the airline is the deadline in which you can claim. This varies across the EU and is explained in further detail later in this article. In some cases, the company must offer the passenger a ticket refund or an alternative transport to the final destination.
As well as financial compensation, additional services should be offered by the airline, corresponding with the wait at the airport. These services include free access to communication, such as fax, email or telephone, as well as meals and refreshments. In the event an alternative flight departs the next day, the airline must provide free overnight accommodation, plus free transport between the airport and hotel.
It must be noted that the airline is only held liable if the flight irregularity is not due to extraordinary circumstances. For example, if a natural disaster is the cause of a problem during air travel, the airline is exempt from providing compensation.
The vast majority of airline passengers – around 80% - do not enforce their claim against the airline as most are insufficiently informed on their rights. Out of those who claim, only around 5% successfully do so independently, without enlisting the help of legal services. Airlines, aware of this, tend to use this situation to their advantage in order to avoid paying compensation.
MYFLYRIGHT, the experts for passenger rights, aim to put a stop to this unfair practice. With MYFLYRIGHT, you can check for free whether you have a compensation claim when you have experienced a flight issue. If you opt to use our services, bear in mind that no financial risk will be ever involved. Only in the event that your case is successful is a 25% commission plus VAT applied. If we have to engage our external lawyers, we charge a surcharge of 10%. For particular cases, we will transfer you an immediate pay-out within 24 hours. For these, a 35 % commission fee plus VAT is charged.
Flight Compensation under the EU Regulation
Flight irregularities are unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence while travelling. The EU Regulation 261 / 2004 was adopted in 2004 in order to regulate aviation and protect the rights of passengers.
The Regulation encompasses EU-wide rules on compensation and benefits for those passengers whose flights have been cancelled or delayed for 3 hours or more, or who have been denied boarding. Comprehensive details on possible compensation payments under the Regulation can be found in the following section.
Flight irregularities according to EC 261 / 2004
According to the EU Passenger Rights Regulation, there are three circumstances during air travel in which passengers can claim for compensation against the airline.
Here is an outline of which cases can result in compensation payment:
- Flight delay: Your flight is considered delayed if it is at least three hours late. This refers to the arrival time at the destination airport, not the time of departure.
- Flight cancellation: In cases where the airline cancels a flight within 14 days or less before the scheduled date of departure. You will also find more information on the topic in our article Missed connecting flight.
- Denied boarding: Where the passenger possesses a valid flight ticket and all necessary documentation for travel, yet the airline refuses to board them due to overbooking.
In case of a 3 hours flight delay at destination
In case of a cancelled flight 14 days before departure
In case of overbooking / denied boarding
EU Air Passenger Rights – ticket up & downgrading
It may happen that you are transferred by your airline to a lower seating class than the one you initially booked - for example, economy instead of business. In this case, you are entitled to a ticket price reduction according to the flight distance to the destination airport. The refund can be up to two thirds of the original ticket price.
The percentage scale of the ticket refund is as follows:
- A flight distance of up to 1 500 km will allow you a refund of 30% of the booked ticket price
- A flight distance of between 1 500 km and 3 500 km allows you to reduce the ticket price by 50%
- A flight distance of more than 3 500 km will give you a refund of 75% of the ticket price
On the other hand, it can also happen that you are upgraded to a higher travel class. In this case, the airline cannot charge you for the difference in ticket price.
Flight compensation rules: Distance
In the event of a flight cancellation, a boarding denial or a flight delay, you should be aware of the payments which you are entitled to. The amount of compensation depends on the flight distance to your destination.
You have the right to the compensation below for flights with the following route length:
- Flights of over than 3 500 km and beyond the EU border - 600 €.
- Flights within the EU that are longer than 1 500 km and all flights between 1 500 and 3 500 km – 400 €.
- Flights of up to 1 500 km within the EU – 250 €.
All amounts of compensation are understood per person.
Flight overbooking - compensation reduction cases
As clarified above, you also have the right to compensation if you take an alternative flight provided by the airline. However, the payment amounts previously described will be reduced by 50% if the flight falls within a specific period of time.
Here is a table which explains this in more detail:
Airline passenger rights to additional services
The EU Passenger Rights Regulation sets out, as well as the compensation outlined above, additional compensation and services which must be provided to passengers in the event of cancellations, delays or denied boarding.
According to the EU Regulation, in case of denied boarding, flight cancellation and flight delay from 5 hours, the airline is obliged to offer passengers the following:
- A refund of the ticket price or a refund for any unused parts of the journey.
- The earliest available return flight to the original airport of departure, free of charge.
- The earliest available flight or alternative transportation (bus, taxi, train etc.) to the destination.
Passengers additionally have the right to certain care services, such as free meals and drinks and two free phone calls, faxes or e-mails in relation to the waiting time at the airport. If the passenger’s alternative flight departs the following day, the airline must offer free overnight hotel accommodation, plus free transfer from and to the airport.
The table below is an overview of the rights and services which passengers have the right to.
EU Regulation: Flight compensation calculator
With the MYFLYRIGHT compensation calculator, you can easily, without obligation, check whether you have a claim for compensation and if so, how much you can expect to receive. All you need to do is enter your flight number and date.
Up to 600 €* compensation. 3 years retroactively.
If you find you are entitled to compensation, you can opt to submit your case with MYFLYRIGHT via our online form.
EU regulation 261 / 2004: Passenger rights
Whether or not you have the right to compensation under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation is dependent on the following three factors:
- Flight route and airline's headquarters – are the headquarters of the airline in the EU and did the flight take place within the EU?
- Responsibility and cause - was the flight issue due to extraordinary circumstances or was it the fault of the airline?
- Compliance with deadlines - has the claim for compensation been submitted within the statutory timeframe?
EU passenger rights: Compensation based on route
When making a claim against the airline, the flight route plays an important role. The following flights are covered according to the EU Regulation:
- All flights within the EU, regardless of the location of the airline’s headquarters.
- All flights from the EU to a non-EU country, regardless of where the airline’s headquarters are.
- All flights into the EU from a non-EU country, as long as the airline has its headquarters within the EU. This also includes Switzerland, Iceland and Norway.
So, any flight from a non-EU country to the EU, where the airline’s headquarters are located outside the EU, will not be protected under the Regulation.
The table below shows flights routes where the EU Regulation applies:
Passenger rights in extraordinary circumstances
Although there are cases where the airline is to blame for disruptions, there are certain instances which are beyond their control. These are referred to as ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and include occurrences such as a sudden storm, or bird and lightning strikes. When the flight irregularity is due to extraordinary circumstances, the airline cannot be held responsible and is therefore not liable to provide compensation. However, judging whether an extraordinary circumstance is the cause of the flight issue is a grey area and is not precisely defined, and airlines tend to use this to enable them to avoid compensating passengers. Consequently, it is crucial to be aware of when you have a valid claim and when the airline is liable.
When it is unclear if an extraordinary circumstance has taken place, the case is taken to court. It is then assessed whether the airline took all preventative measures possible to prevent the flight disruption. There have been multiple court cases involving this subject which can now give passengers more clarification on when they have the right to compensation from the airline.
Here is a brief overview outlining cases where the airline is exempt and where it is liable.
In case of denied boarding, the airline refuses the passenger boarding of the aircraft. There are a number of legitimate reasons for the airlines to do this. In such cases, the passenger cannot claim for compensation against the airline.
The table below shows the most common reasons for denied boarding and in which cases the airlines are liable.
Claim deadlines under EU Regulation 261 / 2004
In order to be able to claim your compensation claims in accordance with the EU Passenger Rights regulation, you must comply with certain limitation periods. These vary across the EU from country to country, as the deadlines are set on the basis of national law.
In Germany, for example, the statutory timeframe in which you can claim is 3 years; however, in the UK it is 6 years. Moreover, the date when the timeframe begins differs depending on the country. For the UK, this period starts from the date the flight problem occurred, whereas in Germany it starts from the end of the calendar year in which you experienced the irregularity.
The following table gives you an overview of the respective limitation periods in selected EU countries.
Before you claim flight compensation: Checklist
Although these statutory timeframes mean that you do not have to be stressed about claiming during your trip, it is always recommended to gather all relevant documents and information to begin the process. This way, you can be assured that nothing is lost, and all details of your situation are fresh in your mind. To make sure you have the best possible result, try to compile as much as you can.
EU 261 / 2004: Business & package travel
Whether heading off for your summer holiday, or to give an important presentation for work, facing a problem with your flight is frustrating and can ruin a trip.
Passengers are protected under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation 261 / 2004 for both package and business travel, should there be a flight cancellation, delay or a case of denied boarding.
For certain situations, you can claim for a price reduction against your tour operator. By using the Frankfurt table as a guideline, passengers can check the potential of claiming this reduction when they experience flight disruptions while travelling as part of a package holiday. Further details on your rights to compensation regarding business and package travel, as well as the Frankfurt Table, are provided in this section.
EU passenger rights: Business travel
When your flight is delayed or cancelled or you are denied boarding on the way to an important meeting, interview or conference, this can have a serious impact on your business.
So, who is entitled to compensation when it comes to business travel – the traveller or the employer?
Bear in mind that according to the EU Regulation, passengers are entitled to compensation from the airline, regardless of who booked the flight ticket or trip.
However, you should be aware that some employee contracts contain a clause which specifies that the company, not the employee, will be paid compensation. If this is the case in your contract, your right to compensation is waived.
Regulation 261 / 2004: Package holidays
With package tours, you have the possibility of compensation from your airline for flight delays of at least 3 hours, flight cancellations or flight overbooking, just as if you were travelling independently. When your flight is delayed by 4 hours or more, you can not only receive compensation from the airline, but also a refund of a part of the cost of your package from your tour operator.
It is important to remember that if extraordinary circumstances were the cause of the issue, you do not have a claim.
Flight disruption compensation: Frankfurt Table
The Frankfurt Table was created to give passengers who have experienced a flight irregularity while travelling as part of a package tour a guideline on potential claims. It is a collection of cases from Frankfurt court in Germany of passengers who have claimed for price reductions against their tour operator and shows how much in percentage a passenger could possibly claim.
The Frankfurt Table is only a tool for reference and is not legally binding. Each case is judged individually, and the specific price reduction applied is calculated in accordance with this judgement. It is nevertheless useful to give passengers an indication of the reduction which could potentially be implemented in their case.
EU flight compensation: Claim costs
When you are affected by your flight getting cancelled or being delayed, or you have been denied boarding, you have several options when it comes to pursuing a claim against the airline.
You can enforce your rights individually or you can enlist the help of legal services. Often, when you choose to pursue your case on your own, it is likely that the help of a lawyer will be required, and this will entail a fair amount of dedication and cost risk.
The amount of time it takes to gather all necessary documentation regarding your case is considerable, moreover the process of enforcing your rights against the airline can be lengthy and frustrating. In our experience, about half of the cases received by us result in the courts. This is a drawn-out process which you can avoid by enlisting MYFLYRIGHT’s services.
There is also a certain amount of risk involved when claiming independently. Airlines do not always disclose every piece of information regarding your case, for example if extraordinary circumstances are involved. By the time all relevant details are provided by the airline, you may have already expended a significant amount of time and effort, not to mention the costs involved. In some countries, such as Germany, you are liable for all legal fees if your case is unsuccessful in court. The following table shows a rejected court case in Germany, where 2 people claim for 400 € each in compensation:
In order to avoid rising legal costs, MYFLYRIGHT is a convenient option and you can pursue your case with us with no financial risk involved. If, however, you still wish to make your claim on your own, the following information will be helpful.
How to make your claim for flight compensation
To pursue your claim against the airline independently, there are several points to take into consideration and important steps to take.
Step 1. Write a letter to the airline. You can write the letter yourself or make use of our letter template. When using our template, you can either go online and fill it in, then email it to the airline, or you can print it, fill it in, then mail it. If you mail your letter, it is best to select registered post in order to have proof of when the airline receives it. This can be used as evidence later in court, if necessary.
You must include the following information in your email or letter.
Any additional documentation, such as purchase receipts, can be scanned if you send your letter via email.
You should set a deadline in which you wish to settle your claim for compensation. The recommended time period is 2-3 weeks. If you have not received a response by the time your deadline has passed, go to Step 2.
Step 2. You now have the choice between a few options. You can enlist the help of legal services in order to file a lawsuit, have MYFLYRIGHT pursue your case for you, or send a second letter to the airline. If you choose to try with another letter, set the compensation deadline again for 2-3 weeks and send it using registered post.
Step 3. If, after your second letter, the airline still has not responded, you need to take the case to court. Airlines can no longer avoid your claim when they are presented with a lawsuit.
Keep in mind that when your case in unsuccessful in court in some countries, you are obliged to pay all the legal fees involved.
You can bypass the cost risk involved in claiming independently by turning to MYFLYRIGHT. Our travel experts pursue your claim for you, sparing you considerable time, nerves and money.