Flight Delay Compensation EU

Having your flight delayed or your connecting flights missed and not knowing what to do next can certainly be a lot more confusing than imagined. Aside from ruining travel plans or missing valuable business matters, most of the air passengers are completely unaware of their European passenger rights. Since the EU261 compensation regulation has been adopted, air travellers have been protected against flight disruption, meaning that if they are eligible under EU law, they can claim flight delay compensation and theoretically receive up to 600 EUR. This is, of course, possible only under some very specific EU flight compensation rules, which indicates the importance of understanding the EU passenger rights in debt. 

To help you learn more about your European union air passenger rights, this text will provide you with the ultimate guide to claim EU flight cancellation or delay compensation. The following topics will be discussed:

  • What is the flight delay compensation under Regulation 261/2004?
  • Which flights fall under EU flight regulations?
  • How much time do you have to file a EU261 compensation claim?
  • What is the crucial length of the delay and what are you eligible for? 
  • Under what circumstances regarding the airline can you get flight delay compensation?
  • What does “extraordinary circumstances” mean and does the EU261 apply in such cases?
  • What are the EU flight compensation amounts you can get?
  • What if my flight is cancelled?
  • How to file an eligible flight delay compensation claim – what are the 3 possible options that you have?

EU regulation 261/2004

The Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament (mostly known as EU261 or EC261) sets “common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights”. It protects passengers from airlines violating their EU flight passenger rights and holds air carriers accountable for every flight disruption caused by them. It also serves as a strong incentive for airlines to improve their performance and punctuality. So the law applies, when:

Passengers who are on a business trip, have booked a package holiday via a travel agency, fly with children or within a group, use a low-cost airline or have a reduced ticket under loyalty programs of any kind are also covered by the EU regulation and should be compensated when eligible.

EU regulated flights

It can be quite difficult to determine which of your delayed flights fall under the protection of the European regulation for flight delays and cancellations. Flying from Vienna to Amsterdam, for example, is straight forward an EU regulated flight, because it is operated within the territory of Europe. But when you travel from outside the European Union, let’s say, from another continent, things could get a lot more confusing.

According to the EU 261/2004, a flight is subject to EU regulations when: 

  • It’s flying within the airspace of the European Union, meaning that it’s departing or/and landing within EU 
  • It’s departing from outside the European Union, but it’s operated by an EU registered air carrier
EU 261-2004 flight coverage

It’s important to have in mind, that flights from and to Martinique, Saint-Martin, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and La Réunion, Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands, as well as, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia are also covered by the regulation as part of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA). 

However, despite these EU261 rules, knowing which claims are eligible for EU travel compensation can still be very complex, especially when it comes to two or more different airlines operating your flight route.

Time limits

You have just recently heard of the Flight Compensation Regulation and consider filing a claim for that one particular flight delay of 4 hours from 3 years ago. But is it possible to get delayed flight compensation and what are the time limitations that you need to take into account? 

How far back you can claim depends on the country specifics. In the UK, for example, claims must not be older than six years according to the so-called ‘statute of limitations’. To be more precise, in order to know how much time you have to make a EU261 compensation claim, you will need to first find out in which country the air carrier is registered. The court’s jurisdiction will determine the specific limitation periods. Here is a handy table of all countries and their time limits:

countries limitation flight delay compensation eu

Length of the delay

Speaking of flight delays and how to get compensation for them, there is a certain condition that should be met in order to be eligible under EC 261. You are able to claim only if your flight has been delayed by 3+ hours, meaning it also has to land with 3+ hours delay at its final destination. Even if you have waited this much for the plane to depart, airlines can make up for the lost time and land under 3 hours late. In this case, you won’t get any money back.

An example: Your flight departed at 2 PM instead of 12 AM, which means it was already 2 hours late when taking-off. However, it made up for the lost time, so your flight arrives under the 3-hour mark and you don’t get compensation.

Whether you are eligible for flight delay compensation in the EU or not, you are entitled to several essentials to help you with the inconvenience. Here is a list of the things your airline should provide you with:

  • Refreshments and food depending on the waiting time 
  • Free access to online communication or phone calls 
  • Accommodation and transportation between the airport and the hotel if the delay is overnight

The delay is the airline’s fault

Not only that the delay needs to be more than 3 hours, but it should be the airline’s fault as well. This might be the hardest information to obtain when there’s an announcement about your flight delay. Approaching the airline’s staff to ask about the delay reason while stuck at the airport is a must. Getting an adequate answer is rather difficult. Knowing that such information will make claiming EU flight delay compensation a key factor gives airline companies a motive not to provide you with straightforward answers. So keep in mind that compensation will only be payable if the airline is responsible for any kind of flight disruption. But what counts as an airline fault: 

  • Technical faults with the aircraft or equipment failures
  • Understaffing, sick crew or any kind of human mistakes
  • Late submission of documentation
  • Strikes by the airline’s own crew

As mentioned above, most airlines don’t report the exact cause of the delay, making the proving of eligibility a real struggle for the common air passengers.

Extraordinary circumstances

Naturally, there are also a lot of other reasons that could cause a flight delay. According to EU flight regulations, circumstances out of the airline’s hands are marked as “extraordinary circumstances” (or “force majeure”), meaning that airlines can’t be responsible for the delay. Тhis automatically relieves them from the obligation to pay out flight delay compensation. Thus, it is very important to know what constitutes such circumstances, so you can determine whether you are eligible for compensation or not. Here is a checklist to help you out:

  • Extremely bad weather that would directly affect the flight 
  • Security risks or political instability
  • Airport or labour strikes
  • Airport or airspace closure 
  • Global pandemic 
  • Hidden manufacturing defects
  • Medical emergencies
  • Birds flying into the engine

An exception is made оnly if the airline has taken all reasonable measures to prevent the disruption.

The amount of compensation

If all of the above-mentioned conditions are met, you are eligible for European flight delay compensation. However, don’t trust ads stating that you will get 600 EUR. Unless your flight was longer than 3,500 km, you won’t have the chance to claim such an amount. How much money you can get from an airline and how is the compensation calculated is not dependent on the price of your ticket, but primarily dependent on the distance of your flight. If the travel distance is between 1,500 km and 3,500 km, you are only eligible for €400. For shorter distances up to 1,500 km, the amount of your compensation will be €250.

flight delay compensation amounts

If your EU261 compensation claim is reasonable, some air carriers might try offering you vouchers instead of paying compensation. Better not accept this – you are entitled to an actual payment in real money!

Cancelled Flight Compensation

You might already ask yourself – what happens if my flight is cancelled or I have a missed connection? According to EU regulations on cancelled flights, all general EU flight delay compensation rules apply to cancelled flights as well. There are, of course, some exceptions in which you won’t be eligible for such compensation. For instance, if the airline has notified you 14 days before your flight, you are not entitled to flight cancellation compensation. But you have the right to receive a refund or an alternative flight. 

If you haven’t been notified of a flight cancellation at least 14 days in advance, in addition to a reimbursement or a re-routing, you can claim a flight cancellation compensation and prove it was the fault of the airline.

What to do now?

If you’re wondering how to claim compensation for a flight delay, there are several different ways. You can either try to submit your claim on your own by contacting the airline directly through their website or contact form and wait for them to respond. As already mentioned, most airlines tend to prolong such communication, bearing in mind that most customers would give up on their attempts if they don’t receive a prompt response within weeks. Another option is to use the services of flight compensation brokers, which will help you file a complaint to the airline and get you compensated, but only if your case is most likely to be successful. After all, they operate on a “no-win-no-fee” model, meaning that you will get charged a market-average success fee of 20-40% for their service if they manage to get the amount from the airline. You could, of course, hire a lawyer with extensive experience in the European court and alternative dispute resolution and knowledge in claims procedures, but it would potentially cost you more than what you’d get from the airline.

In all cases, you will need to wait for a couple of months to potentially receive what you deserve. 

There is a fourth option, which guarantees you a secure payout every time your flight is delayed. Not by 3 hours or more, but only by 1! This instant flight compensation, provided by Colibra, a free travel app, only works pre-flight. You need to register your upcoming flight into the app and add your boarding passes prior to take-off, choose your preferable “delay pay time” and opt-in to receive a payment within  24 hours after landing. 

Colibra files compensations which are eligible for EC261 compensation from airlines in large batches. Rather than giving this compensation directly back to only those passengers who were eligible under EC261, Colibra shares the compensation received among all of their users who have faced a delay of 1-hour plus. This means that rather than only a few passengers getting a large payout for excessive delays, a larger number of passengers are able to get a smaller payout for all delays of 1-hour plus. Given that the chance of a 90-minute delay is 30x greater than the chance of a 3+ hour delay, Colibra offers a solution which means passengers are more likely to be paid more often.


Q: My flight was delayed. How do I claim compensation for my delayed flight?

A: If your flight is delayed by 3 hours or your flight was cancelled, you may be entitled to flight delay compensation under EU261 regulations. You need to first find out whether it was the airline’s fault, then contact the airline through their website, fill in an EU flight delay compensation form and explain what happened. Other possible options include hiring a lawyer to do all the work for you or using a professional flight compensation broker, who will charge you a success fee if they manage to collect your claim. Or you can use Colibra’s mobile app prior to your flight and secure your guaranteed compensation every time your flight gets delayed by 1 hour or more! This way claiming for flights will never be your concern anymore.

Q: How long does a flight have to be delayed for compensation?

A: In order to be eligible for flight delay compensation under EU law your flight needs to land at its destination with 3 or more hours delay. Thanks to its solidarity model, Colibra helps many passengers claim compensation they otherwise wouldn’t have received under EU261.

Q: What does EU261 cover?

A: EU261 covers all flights, operating within the EU airspace. It also includes several Non-European nations like Norway, Iceland or Switzerland, as well as all the nations included in the European Common Aviation Area. If the flight is departing from outside of Europe, it should be operated by a European-based air carrier to be eligible for compensation.

Q: What are “extraordinary circumstances” for flight delays?

A: Extraordinary circumstances for flight delays are all these conditions, which have prevented the airline from departing and/or landing on time and were beyond its control. The most popular ones are bad weather conditions, strikes, security risks, etc.

Q: What do I get if my flight is delayed?

A: Depending on the time of your delay you are entitled to several essentials, like food and drinks, access to online or phone communication, or even accommodation if the delay is overnight. Apart from that, you’re owned a flight delay compensation, which differs between 250 and 600 EUR.

Information By Flight Type – Learn more about your rights!

Information By Delay Duration – Learn more about your rights!

Information By Airline – Learn more about your rights!

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