EU261/ 2004 Regulation

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Your passenger rights are protected in Europe

The EU air passenger rights apply – as the name suggests – to all passengers taking off from within the European Union and to all those flights taking off from a third country and landing in the European Union. For flights from outsides the EU the operating airline must be a European carrier as specified in the Regulation on air passenger rights EU 261/2004. However in the event of flight delays or cancellations who has the time and motivation to research aviation law? No matter whether on holiday or on a business trip: travel interruptions are always annoying and no one likes to write complaints. For this reason, we have summarized the most important points for you. We will also be happy to advise you further on your passenger rights.

Where does the EU Regulation 261/2004 on air passenger rights apply?

In 2004, the European Union issued a Passenger Rights Regulation under the article EU 261/2004 on air passenger rights, which includes anyone who flies to or from an airport in a member state of the European Union, or flies from a third country and landing in a member state of the European Union. In order for these rights to take effect when travelling from a third country to the European Union, the airline must be headquartered in the European Union.

Flights covered by the EU Regulation on air passenger rights

Flight route
EU airline (e.g. Lufthansa, Ryanair)
Non-EU airline (E.g. United Airlines, Emirates)
Flights within the EU (Munich → Barcelona)
Flights into the EU (New York → Dusseldorf)
Flights outside the EU (Hamburg → Moscow)

The EU Regulation contains separate rules for certain individual territories. This EU Regulation also sets out the compensation and assistance to be paid to passengers in the event of a cancellation or delay.

This order specifies how the rights of passengers should be respected. This is to be initially achieved through low level flight cancellations, however the airlines are not immune to arising irregular incidents. For this reason, the EU Regulation on air passenger rights stipulates that, in the event of any incident, passengers will receive the most satisfactory level of on-site support possible. This may look like:

  • The passenger can cancel the flight and have his or her money refunded.
  • The journey should be able to continue under normal conditions.
  • The passenger shall receive appropriate care and sufficient food during the waiting period.
  • In case of cancellation, the passenger shall receive corresponding alternative transfer.

What is not covered by the EU Regulation

Even when airlines do their utmost to ensure a smooth trip, there may be circumstances arising that prevent a planned flight. Thanks to the EU Regulation 261/04, air passenger rights are protected, but there are also exceptions which exempt airlines from the obligation to pay compensation. As a rule, the exception refers to so-called ‘extraordinary circumstances’, such as a pilot strike or bad weather conditions. If the irregularity occurs due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’, the airlines cannot be held liable for it and thus the passenger’s claim is void. Unfortunately, airlines often provide false information to deny any responsibility. One of the most frequently voiced inaccuracies is that a technical error represents an extraordinary circumstance. The European Commission points out in its guidelines that technical errors are not considered extraordinary circumstances. Misleading passengers will of course save airlines a lot of money, but at the same time it will only cause more frustration amongst aggrieved passengers. As a passenger, it is not always easy to find out the real reason for a flight irregularity. In the case of an irregularity passengers should always request the reason for this from the airline.

When is the airline responsible for cancelling a flight?

Airline carries responsibility

Technical problem Mismanagement of the respective airline Economic problem of the airline Staff shortage Non-observance of the rest times of the staff

Airline carries no responsibility

Strike of pilots or ground personnel Storm Political crisis Bird strike Lightning strike

EU261 compensation rights - know your passenger rights!

It is almost impossible for a layman to have an in-depth understanding of the EU261 compensation regulation on air passenger rights. As this amounts to legal regulations that include multiple provisions that cannot be grasped during a fast overflight. In addition, there are number of National Court rulings that provide insight and precedent on some areas of air passenger rights.

When does passenger law apply?

The most important passenger damage claims relate to the areas of flight cancellation, delay and denied boarding. The EU Regulation on air passenger rights will additionally cover ticket downgrades. If you should ever find yourself in the awkward position of an irregular flight, you as a passenger have the right to receive proper care. All four types of passenger claims are explained in detail below.

Flight cancellation

You have booked a seat on a plane and want to start your journey – then your flight gets cancelled and cannot be completed. By the way, a redirected flight is also considered a flight cancellation, unless the passenger is offered an alternative means of transport.

Ideally, you can receive a legal compensation payment of up to 600 € for this – but only if there are no ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that the airline could not have avoided.

Here too, the devil is in the details: you are not entitled to a compensation payment if the airline informs you of the cancellation two weeks before the agreed departure time. You will have a claiming instances where,

  • The airline informs you about the cancellation of a flight up to 7 days prior to your departure and offers you an alternative means of transport in which the departure time may be a maximum of 1 hour before the originally booked departure time and the arrival time may be a set maximum of 2 hours after the original time.
  • The airline informs you between 7 to 14 days before the agreed departure time and provides you an alternative offer for transportation. Caution: The resulting departure time may not be earlier than 2 hours before the original departure time, while the arrival time may not be 4 hours later than originally planned.

Notification period for flight cancellations prior to the date of travel and the corresponding maximum delay / advance periods

Max. advance of the alternative flight Max. delay of the alternative flight
Up to 7 days 1 hour 2 hours
8-14 days 2 hours 4 hours
Over 14 days No claim No claim

Flight delay

Passenger entitlements in the event of a flight delay shall become effective if the departure is delayed by 2 hours or more at a distance of up to 1 500 kilometers. Passengers are eligible for certain care services.

With a delay of 2 hours or more, passengers are entitled to receive food and beverage free of charge, and in a sufficient amount in relation to the delay. If the delay spans a longer period of time, you will be entitled to free accommodation and transport.

In the event of a flight delay of more than 3 hours, passengers are also entitled to a legal compensation of up to 600 €.

Denied transport / refused boarding

The term denied boarding is used when the airline refuses the passenger entry onto the aircraft. This may be for health, safety or capacity reasons. And may also be the case if the passenger cannot produce any valid documentation for the journey. In such cases, the airline will initially attempt to gain voluntary withdrawal of the passenger from the flight.

In the case of capacity-related reasons, help is often offered in the form of compensation, such as rebooking at a later date or hotel accommodation. If a denied boarding occurs due to an overbooking, passengers can enforce extensive rights that ensure protection and compensation is provided to them. In the event of a delayed arrival of more than 3 hours, the same requirements will apply as those that apply for flight cancellations.

Ticket downgrade

It is possible that as a passenger you may be upgraded by the airline – e.g. business class instead of economy. In that case there is no surcharge for the plane ticket. It is also possible that you may be relegated to a lower seating class than the one you originally booked, in this instance you are entitled to a partial ticket price refund in relation to the flight distance. If you travel up to a distance of 1 500 kilometers, you will be entitled to compensation valued at 30% of the ticket price. At a distance of more than 1 500 kilometers to 3 500 kilometers it is 50% of the paid ticket price and 75% reimbursement of the ticket price will be refunded at a distance of more than 3 500 kilometers.

EU flight compensation - payments to expect

You are entitled to 250 € for a flight distance of up to 1 500 kilometers. If your flight distance is more than 1 500 kilometers, you are entitled to a claim of 400 €, which the airline must pay you as compensation. The compensation of 600 € is due for flights to or from non-EU countries with a flight distance of more than 3 500 kilometers. If the flight is within the EU and has a flight distance of 3 500 kilometers, the claim is only 400 €. The payment can be made either electronically, in cash or, if desired, in the form of travel vouchers. You can see that the EU flight compensation regulation is quite transparent and straight forward.

Compensation payments based on flight distance

New York
New York
600 € From 3 500 km
400 € Between 3 500 km / 1 500 km
250 € Up to 1 500 km

How to make a claim in the event of a flight irregularity?

In the case of flight cancellations, flight delays or boarding denials, you can complete a passenger rights complaint form and send it to the airline that carried out your flight. There are a few things to consider, so you should allow the airline a 2-week period until when the compensation payment should be transferred. In most cases, however, the airline does not respond to such letters and therefore the passenger has no choice but to take legal action. You should be completely certain of the cause of your flight damage, because in the event of extraordinary circumstances, the airline is not obliged to pay the compensation. In the worst-case scenario, you will be held liable for legal costs and court fees, which can amount to several hundred euros.

The simplest way to claim your compensation money is via MYFLYRIGHT since we will be your one stop solution to process your rights according the EU261 claim regulation. We assume communication with the airline, compile all necessary documents for the flight damage, involve our air traffic law experts and cover all costs. With us you never run a cost risk. Only if your claim is successfully enforced will we retain part of the payment to finance our service.

Get up to 600 €* in compensation