How To Get Compensation When Your European Flight Is Delayed

Air travel can be stressful, especially when your flight gets delayed. At best, you might be stuck in the airport longer than you'd hoped for. But at worst, a late flight can result in unexpected hotel stays and other surprise expenses. In some cases, you could also miss your connecting flight due to a delay, creating a chain of more hassle and travel headaches.

Thankfully, you can breathe a sigh of relief when traveling through Europe, thanks to a European Union regulation known as EU 261. The regulation aims to provide protections for airline passengers who aren't able to travel as scheduled due to significant delays, cancellations, or denied boarding. Specifically, fliers can receive compensation to make up for their trouble and cover costs caused by the travel disruption.

To be eligible, you don't have to be a European resident or citizen, but your flight must operate in the EU (including any journey that departs from or arrives in an EU country). This includes the 27 EU states and most of their territories, as well as Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. Note that for a flight arriving in the EU from another region to qualify, it must be operated by a European airline.

How much can you receive after a delayed flight?

As long as you aren't flying with a discounted ticket (not including travel points and frequent flier benefits) and you haven't already received compensation or a new booking from the airline, there's a good chance you're entitled to reimbursement for your delayed European flight.

The EU 261 regulation states that passengers are to be granted benefits if they experience:

  •  a two-hour delay for flights of 1,500 kilometers or less
  • a three-hour delay for intra-EU flights exceeding 1,500 kilometers (or between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers for other flights)
  • a four-hour delay for trips longer than 3,500 kilometers

In these cases, travelers can expect to receive free meals and refreshments, two phone calls, and hotel accommodations and transportation when required. Additionally, you're entitled to compensation depending on the length of your flight:

  • For flights traveling 1,500 kilometers or less, expect 250 euros (about $270).
  • For intra-EU flights longer than 1,500 kilometers and other delayed flights between 1,500 and 3,500 kilometers, look forward to 400 euros (about $430).
  • For non-internal EU flights longer than 3,500 kilometers, you can claim a payment of 600 euros (about $650).
  • For delays of five hours or longer, you're eligible to receive a full or partial reimbursement of the flight ticket.

What to know when applying for compensation under EU 261

Long travel delays can be frustrating to deal with, and receiving compensation and other perks can help sweeten the pill. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when applying for benefits offered under EU 261.

First, you may not be eligible for compensation if the delay was the result of "extraordinary circumstances," such as security issues, political conflicts, worker strikes, or severe weather. Ask your airline to provide documentation of the cause of the delay to strengthen your case. If the airline was responsible for the delay and offered rerouting to your destination, you may only be entitled to receive half of the compensation allowance.

When submitting your claim, be sure to provide any boarding passes and booking documents you have from the flight. Then, search your airline's website for a compensation request form and instructions on how to submit your claim. Note that filing deadlines vary based on the location of the airline's headquarters, so don't ... delay taking action after your delayed flight.