- People traveling to or within Europe can get paid for canceled or delayed flights.
- EU regulations say that passengers affected by certain delays and cancellations are entitled to up to 600 euros.
- In the US, airlines are not required to compensate travelers for long delays or canceled flights.
In a summer marked by canceled flights, airport staffing shortages, and all sorts of travel mayhem, it’s important to know your rights as an airline customer.
In the US, for example, airlines need to compensate passengers bumped from oversold flights, but they aren’t required to do anything for travelers slammed by long delays or cancellations. The best you’ll get is a meal voucher or a discounted hotel rate — if you’re lucky.
But people traveling in Europe — where so-called “flightmares” have become all too common — get much stronger consumer protections that entitle them to cash and other perks for delayed or canceled flights. A regulation known as EU261 guarantees you’ll get cash, meals, or hotel accommodations depending on the flight you booked and why it was changed.
What flights qualify?
The EU’s air passenger rights cover travelers flying:
- Within the EU on an EU or non-EU airline
- To the EU on an EU airline
- From the EU on an EU or non-EU airline.
The rules apply in the EU’s 27 member states, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and some other territories like the Canary Islands. The EU recently expanded EU261 to cover connecting flights in the US that were booked as part of a single ticket from a European airline, so some domestic flights qualify too.
What you get for a delayed flight
EU261 requires airlines to provide meals; refreshments; and two free phone calls, emails, or faxes to travelers who experience the following:
- A delay of two-plus hours for flights up to 1,500 km
- A delay of three-plus hours for intra-EU flights longer than 1,500 km and other flights between 1,500 and 3,000 km
- A delay of four or more hours for all other flights
If a flight’s departure is postponed until the next day, travelers are entitled to an overnight stay in a hotel and travel to and from the airport. For flights delayed by more than five hours, airlines must offer to reimburse one’s ticket and offer a flight to their original point of departure.
When you get paid for a delayed flight
If your arrival is delayed by more than three hours, you’re entitled to cash compensation that varies depending on the length of the flight:
- 250 euros ($251) for flights of 1,500 km or less
- 400 euros ($402) for intra-EU flights longer than 1,500 km and other flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km
- 600 euros ($602) for flights longer than 3,500 km
Passengers are not entitled to a monetary reward if their flight was delayed due to extraordinary circumstances, including political turmoil, extreme weather, and flight safety issues. Worker strikes and some technical issues do not count as extraordinary circumstances.
What you get for a canceled flight
For canceled flights (including ones that arrived at a different airport than scheduled or were forced to return before reaching their destination) airlines must give passengers the choice of three options:
- Reimbursement and a return flight
- Rerouting to their final destination as soon as possible
- Rerouting to their final destination at a later date
If a customer accepts a new flight to a different airport that does not serve the same region, the airline must cover the cost of transportation to their original destination. Under EU261, flights that depart an hour earlier or more than scheduled are considered cancelled.
When you get paid for a canceled flight
If the airline failed to notify you of the cancellation within 14 days before your scheduled departure, you may be entitled to the same compensation as for delayed flights. As with delays, airlines do not need to pay out if the flight was canceled due to extraordinary circumstances.
Travelers also aren’t entitled to compensation for canceled flights — even ones canceled with less than 14 days’ notice — if the airline offers a new flight that departs and arrives within a sufficiently similar timeframe. If an airline reroutes you and you arrive at your destination with a 2-4 hour delay, your compensation will be cut by 50%.
What if a flight is overbooked?
If you checked in on time and were denied boarding because of an oversold flight, you’re entitled to the same perks that cancellations afford. You’re also entitled to refreshments, food, phone calls, and, if necessary, hotel accommodations and transportation to and from the airport.
How to file a claim
The EU instructs travelers to complain to the airline they flew on using that company’s form or the EU air passenger rights form.