Compensation for overbooked, cancelled and delayed flights in the EU

Introduction

Air passengers have specific consumer rights under European law (pdf). You have a right to get assistance from your air carrier and you may be entitled to compensation in certain situations.

These situations are:

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

Who does the law apply to?

The law 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).

Who does the law not apply to?

The law 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. The law also does not apply if you do not have a confirmed reservation, relevant document (visa etc), you do not arrive at the boarding gate at good time or if you pose safety or security concerns.

Check-in (Confirming your reservation)

When you buy 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 specified by the airline, the law does not apply. The airline can refuse to allow you to board the aircraft.

If you have been denied access to the aircraft in these circumstances, you are not 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 specified time, it depends on the terms and conditions of your ticket 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 law 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 law.

Denied boarding

Denied boarding means that the airline has refused to accommodate you on scheduled flights and charters although you have a valid ticket, correct documentation (passport, visa etc.), you have confirmed your reservation on your flight and you have presented yourself for check-in within the required time limit as specified 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 law.

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.

If you choose to be re-routed as soon as possible then the air carrier must give you care and assistance whilst you are waiting on your alternative flight.

What is care and assistance by the airline?

Free meals and refreshments must be offered depending on how long the waiting time is. Hotel accommodation must also be offered free of charge where an overnight stay becomes necessary, as well as transport between the hotel and the airport. You must be offered 2 free telephone calls, fax messages, or emails.

If the airline does not give you the above assistance to you and you are forced to make your own arrangements, you should keep all your receipts. You are entitled to get reimbursed for your expenses.

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 depending on how long the waiting time is. Hotel accommodation must also be offered free of charge where an overnight stay becomes necessary, as well as transport between the hotel and the airport. You must be offered 2 free telephone calls, fax messages, or emails.

Delayed flights

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

  • 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 law, free meals and refreshments must be offered depending on how long the waiting time is. Hotel accommodation must also be offered free of charge where an overnight stay becomes necessary, as well as transport between the hotel and the airport. You must be offered 2 free telephone calls, fax messages, or emails.

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 law 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

You can calculate the distance of your own particular flight at www.gcmap.com.

Upgrading and downgrading seats

Upgrading

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.

Downgrading

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 or 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

Since 2019, you have new and improved rights and flexibility when you book a package holiday or book using linked travel arrangements. These rights and flexibility are due to the increasing use of internet booking. Read our page on package holidays and linked travel arrangements.

How to make a complaint

Complain to the airline first

If you have a complaint about a cancellation, long flight delay or an instance of denied boarding, complain to the airline first.

Complain to the appropriate national enforcement body

If your airline does not resolve your complaint, you should send it 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.

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. You can make a complaint online.

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.

For example, if you booked a return flight from Dublin to Malaga and the outbound flight (i.e. the Dublin to Malaga flight) was cancelled then you should contact the Commission for Aviation Regulation. However if the return flight (i.e. the Malaga to Dublin flight) was disrupted then you should contact the Spanish equivalent, the Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aérea (AESA).

Find more information on your rights and how to make a complaint on flightrights.ie. You can also find all the common questions about passenger rights in case of flight cancellation, delay or other areas.

Commission for Aviation Regulation

3rd Floor
Alexandra House
Earlsfort Terrace
Dublin 2
D02 W773
Ireland

Tel: (01) 661 1700
Locall: 1890 787 787
Fax: (01) 661 1269
Page edited: 28 February 2022