The Traveller's Magazine icon
The Traveller's Magazine

Have you ever felt helpless when your flight has been cancelled or you haven’t received the compensation or service you deserve? You’re not the only one but few travellers know that they’re protected by the law in the European Union (which covers 27 countries plus Iceland, Sweden and Finland) against cancellations, delays, lost connections and overbooked flights…

The current legislation was created at the Warsaw Convention and was introduced into the Regulation [EC] 261/2004 which establishes the rules for compensating and assisting air passengers in the event of denied boarding, the cancellation of flights and in the circumstances of a flight delayed for a long period of time.

Air passengers have the right to know that they are protected under certain circumstances, whether they have purchased third-party travel insurance or not.

In short, this regulation is applied to:

  • all passengers arriving/departing from airports in the European Union (this includes all member states plus Iceland, Sweden and Finland)
  • all passengers departing from a third country to an airport located within the EU (unless compensation has already been given in that third country) if the airline company is a Community carrier

In the event that an airline does not comply with the current legislation then the passenger must contact the Civil Aviation Authority if the incident took place in the UK. Outside of the UK,  the European Consumer Centre Network should be contacted after making an official claim with the airline (or travel agency if you have purchased your ticket from them).

In all cases, the issue should try to be resolved between the passenger and the airline directly before involving the CAA or the ECCN.

Denied Boarding:

When an airline has overbooked a flight, they are forced to compromise with passengers by asking for volunteers to give up their seats and take a different flight at a later time. Passengers give up their seats for certain added benefits. The airline must offer these volunteers the choice between a full refund or re-routing.

When passengers are denied boarding, depending on the circumstances, they may be eligible for compensation between €250 – €600 depending on the flight distance and the delays incurring while being re-routed.

If you have volunteered to be re-routed the airline must provide you with food, access to a telephone a a night’s stay at a hotel if necessary. Transportation between the hotel and airport should also be provided.

Long Delays:

Delays can happen for a number of reasons, everything from foul weather to congested runways.  If your flight is delay then you are entitled to care (access to a telephone, food and drinks, hotel accommodation, transportation to/from hotel and the airport) from the airline if the delay is:

  • 2+ hours or more for flights of 1,500km or less
  • 3+ hours for longer flights within the EU or for flights between 1,500 km – 3,500 km
  • 4+ hours for flights over 3,500 km outside of the EU

You as an air passenger have every right to ask for a refund if your flight is delayed more than 5 hours. You are also entitled to be flown back to where you originally started your trip.

If you arrive at your final destination 3 hours or more late, then you may also be entitled to the same compensation as if you flight had been cancelled. That is, unless the airline can prove the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances.

On top of this, airlines can he held liable for any damages incurred because of the delays.


Unless your airline informed you 14 days in advance that your flight has been cancelled, or you were rerouted close to your final destination, or the airline can prove that the cancellation was caused by some sort of extraordinary circumstances (volcano ash?), financial compensation is due to the passengers affected.

In addition the airline must also offer you the choice of these three options:

  • full refund of your flight ticket within 7 days
  • re-routing to your final travel destination under similar conditions as you originally booked
  • if necessary the proper care (food and refreshments, access to a telephone, hotel accommodation, transportation to/from hotel to the airport)

Airline assistance:

In some cases, passengers may require airline assistance depending on the situation. If you are denied boarding or your flight has been cancelled or delayed then you are entitled to receive assistance from the airline (catering, communications, over-night stay, etc.). In the event that you are denied boarding or your flight has been cancelled you should be offered either an alternative option to continue your trip or a full-refund of the price of your flight ticket.

Note: All information on this page was current at the time of publishing. For the latest information, visit the European Commission for Passenger Rights.
footer logo
Made with for you