You are currently viewing TPG’s guide to understanding EU261 flight compensation

TPG’s guide to understanding EU261 flight compensation

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Let’s be honest, flight delays and cancellations are an inevitable part of airline travel, and we’ve seen plenty of it in recent years.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., there’s no federal law requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed or canceled. 

The Biden administration has put public pressure on airlines to provide passengers with meals, lodging and other reimbursements with a federal dashboard that lays out each major U.S. carrier’s guarantees in the event of a “controllable” cancellation or delay — those non-weather disruptions that are the airline’s responsibility.

However, it’s ultimately up to each airline to implement its own policies.

It’s often a different story when traveling to, from or within the European Union, though. There, existing regulations provide monetary relief to passengers for flights affected by delays and/or cancellations thanks to a 2005 regulation known as EU261.

As a result, airlines have shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to passengers.

This guide details how EU261 works and how affected passengers can submit claims for compensation.

What countries are part of the EU?


EU 261 helps travelers on flights within the 27 EU nations, specifically: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

EU airline regulations also cover flights outside of the EU, specifically in Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Reunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin (French Antilles), the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. (The Faroe Islands, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not included.)

EU carriers, other carriers operating in these areas and flights on partner airlines or codeshare flights outside of the EU, including connecting flights in the U.S. operated by U.S. carriers, must abide by EU261 rules.

What flights are covered by EU261?

There are a few different scenarios in which EU261 may kick in to protect passenger rights. They include flight delays and cancellations on itineraries like these:

Related: This EU261 claim netted a passenger $1,900 for a delayed flight

Flight Itinerary You’re flying an EU carrier You’re flying a non-EU carrier
Flight from the EU to the EU This flight is covered by EU261. This flight is covered by EU261.
Flight from the EU to non-EU This flight is covered by EU261. This flight is covered by EU261.
Flight outside of the EU to the EU This flight is covered by EU261. This flight is not covered by EU261.
Flight outside of the EU to non-EU This flight is not covered by EU261. This flight is not covered by EU261.

As detailed above, EU261 applies to all flights entirely within the EU, and all flights departing from the EU, regardless of destination. If it’s a flight to the EU, though, only passengers flying on an EU carrier are subject to EU261 protections.

What about codeshare flights?

Thanks to airline alliances, there are many cases where you’ll book a ticket on one airline, but actually fly on one of its partners. For instance, you may purchase a ticket on Delta Air Lines but actually fly aboard Amsterdam-based KLM.

In the case of these “codeshare” flights, the airline actually flying the aircraft is responsible — not the airline from which you purchased the ticket.

This means if you purchase a ticket through Air France’s website, but the flight is operated by Delta Air Lines, you wouldn’t have EU261 protections for the flight to Paris. However, if it’s a flight aboard an Air France plane, you would. (You’d be protected on any airline for the return flight from Paris to the U.S.)

What to expect when booking an EU 261-eligible ticket

Travelers flying in the EU must receive a printed or electronic notice of EU air passenger rights, which is also posted at check-in desks, check-in kiosks and on the airline’s website. The airline must also give you a copy of this notice if you were denied boarding, your flight was canceled, or you experienced a two-plus hour delay.

To file an EU261 claim, you must have a valid ticket and booking confirmation. Although revenue and award tickets qualify for compensation, free or reduced fares that are not available to the public are excluded from compensation.

Certain US domestic flights are eligible

In some more limited cases, these protections may even apply to travelers on certain domestic flights in the U.S. (and other countries) thanks to steps Europe took in 2022 to broaden the rule to apply to connecting flights on an itinerary that originated in the EU.

Compensation for delays and cancellations


Rules for compensation are based on the specific time you were notified of the flight delay or cancellation and the distance of your intended flights. The longer the distance, the greater the compensation.

What is considered a flight delay under EU261?

Passengers on a delayed flight have a right to the airline’s assistance, reimbursement and a return flight, depending on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight.

If you are delayed three or more hours, you are entitled to compensation (see the chart below) unless the delay was caused by “extraordinary circumstances,” including weather, political instability, security risks and air traffic control decisions that are out of the airline’s control.

Things like mechanical and technical problems are not extraordinary circumstances. However, airline strikes, for example, may be considered an extraordinary circumstance if the disruption is due to strikes at a different airline.

In cases like the latter, airlines may be exempt from paying compensation but must prove the disruptions were unavoidable even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Related: Why new compensation rules for some delayed flights might not be as good as they sound

What should I expect if my flight is delayed?

When your flight is delayed beyond its scheduled departure time, EU261 entitles you to meals (in proportion to the wait time) plus two free phone calls, emails or faxes, within the following duration and distance constraints:

  • A delay of two-plus hours for flights of 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) or less
  • A delay of three-plus hours for intra-EU flights of more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) and for all other flights between 1,500-3,000 kilometers (932-1,864 miles)
  • A delay of four-plus hours for all other flights

If your new departure time is scheduled at least the day after your originally scheduled flight, you are also entitled to transportation to and from the airport to complimentary hotel accommodations.

If your flight is delayed at least five hours after the scheduled departure, the airline is required to reimburse your ticket. If you have a connecting flight, the airline is also required to offer you a return flight to the departure airport at the earliest opportunity. 

What is considered a flight cancellation under EU261?

For the purposes of EU261 compensation, a cancellation means one of the following:

  • Your original flight is canceled, and you are moved to another scheduled flight.
  • Your aircraft took off but was forced to return to the departing airport, and the airline transferred you to another flight.
  • Your flight arrived at an airport that is not the final destination indicated on your itinerary (unless you accepted rerouting or the airport of arrival and the airport of the original itinerary service the same town, city or region. In this case, the disruption is considered a delay).

What should I expect if my flight is canceled?


When a flight covered by EU261 is canceled, you have the right to reimbursement, rerouting, assistance from the airline and compensation if the airline fails to inform you of the cancellation at least 14 days before takeoff.

Related: Passengers must now be compensated when a flight in Europe leaves early due to a schedule change

Airlines are also obligated to prove they properly notified you of the cancellation. But again, compensation is not owed in cases of flights canceled due to extraordinary circumstances.

If your flight is canceled, the airline must offer you three choices:

  • Ticket reimbursement plus a return flight to the airport of departure if you have a connecting flight
  • Rerouting to your final destination at the earliest opportunity
  • Rerouting at a later date at your convenience under comparable conditions, subject to seat availability

Additionally, you are entitled to compensation depending on the distance of your flight and the length of the delay past your originally planned arrival.

The airline must offer assistance, including food, refreshments, accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day), transport to and from the hotel and two free phone calls, faxes or emails.

Related: Credit cards that provide trip delay coverage

What should I expect if my flight is rescheduled for an earlier time?

On Dec. 21, 2021, the EU’s Court of Justice ruled that passengers on flights departing more than an hour earlier than the original departure time are owed compensation under EU261. When that happens within 14 days of departure, the flight is considered canceled under the rules.

How much compensation will I get for a delay or flight cancellation?

If you meet the eligibility requirements discussed above for either a delay or cancellation, you’ll receive compensation accordingly:

Compensation Distance
250 euros (about $274) per passenger 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) or less
400 euros (about $438) per passenger More than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) within the EU and all other flights between 1,500-3,500 kilometers (932-1,864 miles)
600 euros (about $658) per passenger 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) or more

Any compensation may be reduced by half if you accept a reroute from the airline to your final destination, with delays of two to four hours.

How does EU261 affect US-based passengers?

Silhouette of woman at airport window

Suppose you live in the U.S., and while flying from New York to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, you encounter a three-hour delay at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). If the pilot is unable to make up the time in the air and you arrive three hours later than your scheduled arrival time in Frankfurt, you are entitled to meals and refreshments along with additional compensation, thanks to EU261. U.S.-based flyers can claim compensation since the flight is operated by an EU carrier.

In the same scenario as above but flying United Airlines back to the U.S. from Europe, a passenger would also be eligible for compensation under EU261 as they are departing from an EU country.

Because of a recent addition to the rule, passengers on any flight originating in Europe, even if they’re ticketed on a different airline for a connecting flight, are eligible to get money back.

And, as you might have gathered by now, you don’t need to be a citizen of the EU to qualify for compensation as long as you meet the aforementioned requirements. U.S.-based passengers can also make compensation claims.

Related: Even more reasons to download your airline’s mobile app — summer flight delays and cancellations

How to claim compensation

In order to receive compensation, passengers must file a claim in a timely manner based on specific deadlines set forth by each country.

The deadline to file a claim is not based on your citizenship, where you live or your destination but instead the location of the headquarters of the airline you flew. For example, if you flew Air France, you’ll want to check the rules in France. If you flew Brussels Airlines, you’ll need to consult Belgian law.

In any case, we recommend filing as soon as possible after your flight goes awry.

Airlines typically allow passengers to file an EU261 claim in a few different ways. Some ask you to fill out a form electronically, while others may provide instructions on how to file a claim via email or by mail.

Regardless of the method, you’ll need to provide pertinent documentation (boarding pass, a letter stating what went wrong with your flight, how much you are claiming while referencing EU261 terms and conditions) to the airline in question.

Related: How I finally got my money from AirHelp for a delayed flight in Europe

You can generally find instructions on how to submit a claim on a carrier’s website. However, if you have trouble finding that information, you can also print and complete the Air Passenger Rights EU Complaint Form and submit it to the airline directly.

Because airlines deal with a lot of claims, expect to wait as little as a few weeks or as much as a few months for the airline to respond to your claim in question.

Additionally, there are other third-party companies, like EUclaim and Flightright, that will handle your claim application while also taking a percentage of the amount owed (15%-25%) for themselves.

Bottom line

Planes lined up on runway

Under EU law, the consumer-friendly EU261 regulation supports passengers who encounter delays or cancellations. It requires airlines to pay compensation in certain circumstances.

U.S.-based passengers can file an EU261 claim under eligible conditions when on a flight departing the EU or when flying with an EU-based carrier en route to the EU.

While delays and cancellations are part of commercial aviation, it pays to know your rights — literally.

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