Compensation for overbooked, cancelled and delayed flights in the EU

Introduction

Air passengers have specific consumer rights under European law. EU Regulation 261/2004 provides protection when:

  • You are denied boarding against your will
  • Your flight is cancelled
  • Your flight is delayed

The Regulation applies to all passengers departing from an EU/EEA airport. It also applies to passengers departing from an airport outside of the EU/EEA but arriving at an EU/EEA airport on an EU/EEA licensed carrier (unless they have already received compensation or assistance in that non-EU/EEA country).

The Regulation does not apply if you are travelling free of charge or at a fare that is reduced and is not available directly or indirectly to the public. Tickets purchased under frequent flyer programmes or similar commercial programmes are not considered reduced fare tickets.

Check-in

When you purchase a ticket for air travel, you enter into an agreement with the airline. One of the terms of this agreement is that you must confirm that you will be ready to take the flight on the date of travel (confirming your reservation) and you must present yourself at check-in to demonstrate that you have a valid ticket and are ready to fly on the date on your ticket.

Reservation not confirmed or not checked in

If you have not confirmed your reservation in time or presented yourself for check-in at the time stipulated by the airline, the Regulation does not apply. The airline can refuse to allow you to board the aircraft as you have not honoured your part of the contract with the airline and the airline can legitimately argue that you have breached the terms of your contract with them.

If you have been denied access to the aircraft in these circumstances, the airline is not obliged to offer you any compensation nor are you are entitled to any compensation. The airline may, however, agree to accommodate you on a later flight (without or without charge) if there is availability. If you did not confirm your reservation or you did not present yourself for check-in at the stipulated time, it depends on the custom and practice of the individual airline as to whether or not you must pay again for the flight.

Reservation confirmed and checked in

If you are denied boarding, or your flight has been cancelled or delayed, and the Regulation does apply, the airline must provide you with a written notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance. You must be offered 2 free telephone calls, fax messages, or emails. In addition, a sign must be displayed at the check-in area referring to air passenger rights under the Regulation.

Denied boarding

Denied boarding means that the airline has refused to accommodate you on scheduled flights and charters although you have a valid ticket, you have confirmed your reservation on your flight and you have presented yourself for check-in within the required time limit as stipulated by the airline.

Denied boarding happens when airlines sell more tickets for a scheduled flight than there are seats on the aircraft.

Volunteers

Where a flight is overbooked the airline will first call for volunteers to surrender their confirmed reservations to the airline in exchange for agreed benefits. The volunteers are also entitled to a choice of:

  • Refund of the cost of their ticket within 7 days if not wishing to travel or
  • Re-routing to their final destination at the earliest opportunity or
  • Re-routing at a later date at the passenger’s convenience, subject to availability of seats

Non-volunteers

If there are not enough volunteers, the airline may deny boarding to passengers against their will but must compensate them and offer the appropriate assistance set out in the Regulation.

You must also be offered a choice of:

  • Refund of the cost of your ticket within 7 days if not wishing to travel or
  • Re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity or
  • Re-routing at a later date at your convenience, subject to availability of seats

A refund is a full refund of the ticket for the part or parts of the journey you have not made and for the part or parts you have already made, if the flight is no longer serving any purpose to your original travel plan. When relevant, it also includes a return flight to your first point of departure at the earliest opportunity.

If you choose a refund, compensation must also be paid. The amount you are entitled to depends on the distance of the flight that you have not been allowed to board. See Compensation below.

If you choose re-routing, the compensation that is paid depends on the length of delay past the original planned time in arriving at your final destination. See Compensation below.

Free meals and refreshments must be offered in reasonable relation to the waiting time. Hotel accommodation must also be offered free of charge where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, as well as transport between the hotel and the airport.

Cancelled flights

Where your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a choice of:

  • Refund of the cost of your ticket within 7 days or
  • Re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity or
  • Re-routing at a later date at your convenience, subject to availability of seats

You may also be entitled to compensation.

When compensation is not payable

You are not entitled to compensation if:

  • You have received at least 2 weeks’ notice of the cancellation; or
  • You have received between 2 weeks and 7 days’ notice but you have been offered an alternative flight departing no more than 2 hours before your original departure time and arriving at your final destination less than 4 hours after your original scheduled time of arrival; or
  • You have received less than 7 days’ notice but you have been offered an alternative flight departing no more than 1 hour before your original departure time and arriving at your final destination less than 2 hours after your original scheduled time of arrival.

If the airline can prove that the cancellation was caused by an extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken, no compensation is payable. Examples of extraordinary circumstances may include weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, security risks and industrial disputes that affect the operation of the flight.

Refunds and re-routing

If you choose a refund and you are entitled to compensation, the amount you are entitled to depends on the type of flight. See Compensation below.

Where the choice is re-routing, the compensation that is paid depends on the length of delay past the original planned time in arriving at your final destination. See Compensation below.

Free meals and refreshments must be offered in reasonable relation to the waiting time. Hotel accommodation must also be offered free of charge where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, as well as transport between the hotel and the airport.

Delayed flights

Whether a delayed flight comes within the terms of the Regulation depends upon the distance of the route involved and the length of the delay. The following flights are covered by the Regulation:

  • Delays of 2 hours or more in the case of flights of 1500 km or less
  • Delays of 3 hours or more in the case of all flights within the EU of more than 1500 km, and of all other flights between 1500 and 3500 km
  • Delays of 4 hours or more in the case of all other flights

If your delayed flight is covered by the Regulation, free meals and refreshments must be offered in reasonable relation to the waiting time. Hotel accommodation must also be offered free of charge where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary, as well as transport between the hotel and the airport.

Refund

If the flight is delayed at least 5 hours, you must be offered a refund of your ticket instead of flying. A refund is a full refund of the ticket for the part or parts of the journey you have not made and for the part or parts you already made if the flight is no longer serving any purpose to your original travel plan. When relevant, it also includes a return flight to your first point of departure, at the earliest opportunity.

Delays over 3 hours

The Regulation does not state that compensation is payable in cases of delay. However, on 19 November 2009 the European Court of Justice ruled in the cases of Sturgeon v Condor Flugdienst GmbH and Bock and Others v Air France SA (pdf) that compensation similar to that paid for cancelled flights may be payable in delay situations where the delay exceeds 3 hours. This right was upheld by the European Court of Justice in further cases on 23 October 2012. The compensation that is paid depends on the distance of the flight and the length of delay past the original planned time in arriving at your final destination. See Compensation below.

If the airline can prove that the delay was caused by an extraordinary circumstance which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken, no compensation is payable.

Compensation

Compensation when getting a refund

Where a refund of the cost of the ticket is chosen and you are also entitled to compensation, the following compensation must be paid:

Type of flight Compensation
Flights of 1,500 km or less €250
Flights of over 1,500 km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
€400
All other flights €600

Compensation when re-routed

When the choice is re-routing and you are entitled to compensation, the amount of compensation you are entitled to depends on the length of delay past your original planned arrival time as follows:

Type of flight Delay Compensation
Flights of 1500km or less 2 hours or less €125
Flights of 1500km or less more than 2 hours €250
Flights of over 1,500 km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
3 hours or less €200
Flights of over 1,500 km within the EU and
other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
more than 3 hours €400
All other flights 4 hours or less €300
All other flights more than 4 hours €600

Upgrading and downgrading seats

If you are offered a seat in a higher class than your original booking, the airline cannot charge you an additional payment for this seat.

If you agree to be placed in a lower class than on your original booking, you are entitled to reimbursement of a percentage of the difference in price. In other words, if you booked a business/first class seat and the airline offers you a seat in a lower class it must refund you a percentage of the ticket price you originally paid. The percentage of the refund is calculated as follows:

  • 30% of the ticket price for flights of 1,500 km or less or
  • 50% of the ticket price for intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 km and for all other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
  • 75% of the price for all flights greater than 3,500 km

Package travel

If you are denied boarding, or your flight is cancelled or delayed, on a flight that has been sold as part of a package tour (that is, flight and accommodation), the airline is obliged to compensate the tour operator who has concluded a contract with you. The tour operator entered into a contract with you when it sold you your package tour and these rights are also protected in European law. Without prejudice to the rights under these laws, the tour operator is obliged to pass on to you the compensation paid by the airline to it.

Enforcement of your passenger rights

If you have a complaint about the assistance and compensation you have received for denied boarding or cancelled or delayed flights, you must begin by contacting your airline directly.

If you believe your entitlement to compensation/assistance has not been met, you should then make a complaint to the appropriate national enforcement body. Each member state is responsible for departures from airports within its territory and arrivals into such airports from third countries on EU/EEA-licensed carriers. If you have a complaint about a flight returning to Ireland from the EU/EEA, you contact the national enforcement body in the EU/EEA state your flight departed from.

The Commission for Aviation Regulation is the national enforcement body in Ireland. It deals with complaints arising from flights departing from Irish airports or those arriving at an Irish airport from outside the EU/EEA on an EUEEA-licensed carrier. Information on how to make a complaint to the Regulator is available on its website. It also has information on your rights on flightrights.ie.

Commission for Aviation Regulation

3rd Floor
Alexandra House
Earlsfort Terrace
Dublin 2
Ireland

Tel:(01) 661 1700
Fax:(01) 661 1269
Homepage: http://www.aviationreg.ie
Email: info@aviationreg.ie

Page edited: 25 March 2015