Compensation for Delayed or Canceled European Flights, Explained

  • People who travel to or within Europe can get paid for canceled or delayed flights.
  • EU regulations state that passengers affected by certain delays and cancellations are entitled to up to €600.
  • In the United States, airlines are not required to compensate travelers for long delays or canceled flights.

In a summer characterized by canceled flights, staff shortages at airports, and all kinds of travel chaos, it’s important to know your rights as an airline customer.

In the US, for example, airlines need to compensate passengers who have been shocked by excessive flights, but are not required to do anything for passengers who have been criticized for long delays or cancellations. The best you’ll get is a meal voucher or a discounted hotel rate - if you’re lucky.

But people who travel in Europe - where so-called “flights” have become so common - get much stronger consumer protections that entitle them to cash and other perks for delayed or canceled flights. The regulation known as EU261 guarantees that you will get cash, meals or hotel accommodations depending on the flight you have booked and the reason for changing it.

What flights are eligible?

The rights of air travelers in the European Union include air travelers:

  • Inside the EU on an EU airline or outside the EU
  • To the European Union on an EU airline
  • From the EU on an EU or non-EU airline.

The rules apply in the 27 member states of the European Union, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and some other territories such as the Canary Islands. The European Union recently expanded EU 261 to cover connecting flights in the US that were booked as part of a single ticket from a European airline, so some domestic flights are also eligible.

What you get for a late flight

EU 261 requires airlines to provide meals; refreshments; and two free phone calls, emails or faxes to travelers who encounter:

  • Delays of more than two hours for flights of up to 1500 km
  • An additional three hour delay for flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km and for other flights between 1,500 and 3,000 km
  • Delay of four hours or more for all other flights

If the flight departure is delayed for the next day, passengers are entitled to one night’s stay in a hotel and travel to and from the airport. For flights that are more than five hours late, airlines must offer to pay for the ticket and offer a flight to the original point of departure.

Dusseldorf Airport

INA FASSBENDER / AFP via Getty Images

When you get paid for a late flight

If your arrival is more than three hours late, you are entitled to monetary compensation, which varies according to the length of the flight:

  • €250 ($251) for trips of 1,500 kilometers or less
  • €400 ($402) for trips within the EU of more than 1,500 km and other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
  • €600 ($602) for trips of more than 3,500 km

Passengers are not entitled to a financial reward if their flight is delayed due to exceptional circumstances, including political unrest, severe weather and flight safety issues. Workers’ strikes and some technical problems are not exceptional circumstances.

What you get for a canceled flight

For flights that have been canceled (including flights that have arrived at an airport different from the scheduled flights or are forced to return before reaching their destination), airlines must give passengers a choice of three options:

  • Payment and return trip
  • Redirect to their final destination ASAP
  • Redirect to their final destination at a later time

If the customer accepts a new flight to a different airport that does not serve the same area, the airline must cover the cost of transportation to their original destination. Under EU 261, flights departing an hour or more earlier than the scheduled time are considered cancelled.

When you get paid for a canceled flight

If the airline fails to notify you of the cancellation within 14 days prior to your scheduled departure, you may be entitled to the same compensation for delayed flights. As with delays, airlines do not need to pay if the flight is canceled due to exceptional circumstances.

Passengers are also not entitled to compensation for canceled flights - even those canceled less than 14 days ago - if the airline offers a new flight that departs and arrives in a similar enough time frame. If an airline redirects you and you arrive at your destination with a delay of 2-4 hours, your compensation will be reduced by 50%.

What if the flight is overcrowded?

If you check in on time and are denied boarding due to increased sales, you are entitled to the same perks as cancellations. You are also entitled to refreshments, food, phone calls and, if necessary, hotel accommodations and transportation to and from the airport.

How to file a claim

The European Union directs travelers to file a complaint with the airline they have traveled to using that airline’s form or the EU Air Passenger Rights form.