When your flight is delayed, do you simply accept it, or do you seek compensation?
If you're after compensations for flight delays, you're going to love this guide. After reading it, claiming a compensation for delayed flight will have no secret for you.
(We also have a complete guide on cancelled flight compensations if your flight was cancelled.)
Imagine this scenario which is, unfortunately, likely to happen to you one day:
You show up at the airport on time, ready to take you flight for your holidays or your business trip. You left a little early to make sure that you arrive early enough at the airport.
None of that matters, because your flight is delayed and won't depart on time.
Like millions of air passengers, I've been there. I know how powerless you feel and how unfair it is. Chances are, thousands of passengers worldwide are stuck with a disturbed flight just like you that very same day.
Your flight is already a bad experience - but it could get better:
The EU Regulation 261/2004 is here to defend EU air passenger rights. Even though airlines don't advertise it, you can claim up to 600€ for your cancelled or delayed flights.
Only 2% of air passengers that are eligible successfully claim their compensation every year. It means that 98% do not even claim it. Don't be one of them. Know your rights, and how to claim what is owed to you by the airline.
If you want to know how to claim compensation for a delayed flight, read on!
With Service, claiming compensation when your flight is delayed is as simple as:
- downloading the app
- connecting your inbox
- that's it!
Note: Check out this guide If your flight was delayed or canceled due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
You already know what you're looking for? Here's a handy table of content to find the information faster:
- How to Claim Compensation for a Delayed Flight
- The Rules for Flight Delay Compensation
- What are your rights when your flight is delayed?
- Which flights are covered by the EC 261?
- How long after the disruption can I claim a flight compensation?
- Extraordinary circumstances: when the airline cannot be held responsible
- What if the airline only offers me vouchers for compensation?
- Upgrades and downgrades
- I was not flying alone
- Business trips: who gets the compensation?
- The airline wet bankrupt: can I still get compensated?
- What to Do When Your Flight is Delayed?
- Keep all your travel documents
- Inquire about the reason for the delay
- Ask the airline for a meal and refreshment
- Wait at the airport or require the airline to provide you with a hotel and taxi
- Keep your receipts
- Do not accept any offer
- Check out the time of arrival at your final destination
- Verify if you're eligible for a compensation for your delayed flight
- Turn your bad experience in something (a bit) better
You basically have 3 options - each of them has its pros and cons. The first one is to do it on your own. Alternatively, ask a lawyer to do it in your name.
Or you can let experts do all the work for you.
Let's review your options:
If you decide to take the matter into your own hands, arm yourself with patience and with a good understanding of your air passenger rights for delayed flights (the rest of this guide will help you with that).
As this poll from Martin Lewis on MoneySavingExpert.com illustrates, the claim of most passengers claiming on their own is still ungoing - many of them didn't manage to get their money. Some passengers did get it, although they often had to fight for it.
Still want to claim on your own? Here's what to do:
1. Get in touch with the airline
Don't forget that you should claim compensation to the airline which operated the flight, not the company that you booked with. For instance:
- you booked a ticket on Air France's website, but the flight was operated by Delta: your claim should be directed to Delta
- you booked a ticket via an online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia for a flight operated by British Airways: your claim should be directed to British Airways
Make sure that you contact them the appropriate way.
Some airline will have you fill in an online form instead. Others require you to contact them via postal address. The easiest way to do so is by email. Look up the email address on their website, on the "contact" or "support" page.
2. Describe what happened
Whichever option the airline offers for you to contact them, it will let you describe what happened. Your letter/form/email should include:
- a description of what went wrong with your flight experience
- how much money you claim for your flight disruption (more on that in this guide)
- the appropriate quote from the EU Regulation 261/2004 (or EC 261)
Remember: it's unlikely that the person who will receive your email, letter, or form, is responsible for your trouble. Don't be rude or aggressive, it would only be counter-productive.
If you receive a positive answer for your airline delay compensation: good for you, you've won! However, most passengers are (at least initially) denied compensation.
3. Escalate your claim to a National Enforcement Body (NEB) or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme
It doesn't have to be the end just because the airline said so. It's not uncommon for airlines to lie about the events or abuse their passenger's lack of knowledge about their rights to avoid paying compensation.
If you believe that you are entitled to compensation under EC 261, take your claim to the CAA, a regulator, or an adjudicator.
The advantage is that decisions made by ADRs schemes are binding.
You will need to do some research in order to know which adjudicator to contact. It will depend on your itinerary and the "nationality" of the airline. Your flight needs to be in the jurisdiction of the ADR scheme that you escalate your complaint to.
Should your airline not be signed up to an adjudicator, your best hope is to reach out to a National Enforcement Body (NEB). Note however that the latter's decision are not binding.
The NEB to contact will also depend on your itinerary as well as the country where the airline is based. Based on that, you will have to contact the Regulator of the country of departure or arrival.
Two last things to keep in mind:
- you can try contacting a NEB in English, but some will only accept complaints in their own language. Also, some of them will only reply to you in their language.
- the procedure for adjudicators and regulators usually take up to 12 weeks.
Got your compensation? Great!
The airline still refuses to pay up?! Get back to work...
4. Your last resort: small claims courts
Whether you're unhappy with the decision of the ADR scheme, the airline refuses to pay compensation despite the decision of the NEB, or the airline states that your claim is "still being processed" (they put it on hold), you have one last option.
Take your complaint to the small claims court. You might want to take legal advice if you go down this path. Which brings us to your second option...
If you don't feel like claiming on your own, you can ask a lawyer to do it for you. This is however not the option that we recommend, since a lawyer will ask you to pay up their fees upfront, no matter whether your case is successful or not.
Resorting to the services of a lawyer is also time-consuming, since you need to meet, explain them the circumstances of the disruption, do the paperwork, maybe spend some more time on the phone, etc.
Not to mention that your lawyer might not specialize in air passenger rights for delayed flights and compensation claims under EC 261. You may be entitled to compensation and not secure it in the end.
So this leaves you with the third option.
Some companies like Service by ClaimCompass specialize in helping air passengers get their due compensation from the airline. We use our expertise in International Air Passenger Laws, European Aviation Law and experience with the EU Regulation 261/2004 to enforce your rights as a passenger.
- We prepare and file the claim in your name by representing you in front of the airline.
- After checking the details and circumstances of your flight delay or cancellation, we get in touch with the airline and take care of the whole process.
- Should your case require that we escalate the complaint to a NEB, ADR scheme or small court, our team of lawyers also take care of everything for you.
The best part? Plans start at $0/year: we only get paid if YOU get compensation. And if you'd rather keep all the money to yourself, consider our Frequent Flyer plan.
The average traveler saves $300 per year with Service - you can get as much as $700 for a single delayed or canceled flight!
Now, let's dig deeper into your right to compensation for delayed flights.
Those rights apply for flights eligible under the EU Regulation EC261, the reference for EU passenger rights. The characteristics of these flights are described in a section below.
Note that the airline has the obligation to display relevant information regarding your passenger rights at the check-in counter.
Flights delayed for 2 or more hours
When take-off is delayed by at least two hours, the airline is compelled to take care of you. Your "right to care" is an obligation for the airline to provide:
- food and drink, proportionally to the length of the delay (it can be in the form of meal vouchers)
- access to phone calls and/or emails, so you can make arrangements (warns relatives supposed to pick you up, cancel a rental car etc.)
- accommodation and journey between the airport and the hotel, should you be delayed overnight
Now, it's possible that the airline staff doesn't, in fact, take care of you. If you ask for their assistance but the staff refuses to cooperate, feel free to make arrangements yourself: buy a meal and refreshment, and if necessary, a hotel. Just don't forget to keep the receipts: you can ask the airline to refund you afterwards.
Do keep in mind, however, that the airline will only refund "reasonable expenses": don't expect them to pay for your time at the airport spa or the bill at an expensive restaurant!
Flights delayed for 3 or more hours
When your plane is late at take-off by more than 3 hours, you are also entitled to all of the above.
In addition, and more interestingly, if your plane arrives at your final destination 3 hours or more after the initially scheduled arrival time, you can claim an airline delay compensation. The amount will vary based on:
- the total distance of the journey - Webflyer to calculate the flight distance
- the length of the delay - at your destination, not at departure
You may be entitled to compensation up to 600€. Here is, in principle, how much you're entitled to for your flight delay:
- 250€ for flights less than 1,500 km
- 400€ for flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km and intra-community flights over 1,500km
- 600€ for flight more than 3,500 km
However, as mentioned above, the length of the delay also impacts the airline compensation amount, for one specific case. In cases of flights longer than 3,500km but delayed by less than 4 hours, you are entitled to only 50% of the amount.
Flights within the EU are also called "intra-community" flights. For those, even if the distance of the flight is longer than 3,500km, you are only eligible to a maximum of 400€.
If you decide to claim on your own, make sure to ask for the right amount, or the airline will know that you don't have a full understanding of EC 261. You may be entitled to compensation, don't let the airline deny your rights!
Or just let us claim your flight delay compensation for you.
Flights delayed for 5 or more hours: flight delay refund or re-routing
When your plane is delayed by 5 hours or more, you don't have to take it. No matter whether the airline is responsible for the delay or not, you can get a flight delay refund or an alternate flight.
The airline must give you the choice between waiting for your plane to depart or not taking it and get:
- a full refund of your flight, and
- a full refund of flights operated by this airline under the same booking (e.g. return or onward flights)
- a flight back to your airport of departure, free of charge (if you're already part-way through your journey)
If you decide to wait it out and take the plane anyway instead of getting a flight delay reimbursement, you can be entitled to up to 600€, following the same reasoning as in the previous section ("flight delayed for 3 hours or more").
In addition, the airline must also respect your right to care, as described before.
We talk about a diverted flight when the plane doesn't land where it was supposed to, as a precaution taken by either the pilot or the air traffic controllers (ATC). It's different from an emergency landing, which occurs when the security of the cabin is at risk.
In most cases, when your flight is diverted, you are not entiled to compensation; that's because the reason for the diversion is usually an "extraordinary" event (read more on extraordinary circumstances below): adverse weather conditions, problem with the aircraft, medical emergency, etc.).
But should your flight be diverted for non-extraordinary circumstances, such as a technical problem, then you are indeed entitled to compensation. If you miss your connecting flight because your initial flight was diverted because of non-extraordinary circumstances, you are also entitled to compensation for missed connection.
Read more about your right to compensation when your plane is diverted.
EC261 describes in which cases you can claim compensation for a delayed flight.
To put it simply, whenever the airline can be held accountable for the delay and you arrive at your final destination at least 3 hours after the scheduled time, you are eligible for a compensation. However, you also have to take into account whether the journey involves an EU airport or not.
But even then, not all delayed flights make you eligible for compensation.
The flight must match one of the following scenarios:
- It departed from a country within the EU and arrived within the EU no matter which airline operated the flight (EU or non-EU)
- It departed from a country within the EU and arrived out of the EU no matter which airline operated the flight (EU or non-EU)
- It departed from a country out of the EU, arrived within the EU and was operated by an EU airline
By EU, the Regulation means the 28 EU countries, with Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion Island, Mayotte, Saint-Martin, the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands along with Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.
- Paris - London with Ryanair: Eligible because it's an EU flight
- London - New York with Thomas Cook: Eligible
- London - New York with American Airlines: Eligible
- New York - London with British Airways: Eligible
- New York - London with American Airlines: Not eligible
- Moscow - Beijing: Not eligible
This means that, for instance, you could get a delayed flight compensation from American Airlines if your flight from the European Union was delayed.
(Note: American Airlines is NOT one of the most delayed airlines)
To be eligible,
- the delay at destination must be at least 3 hours, and
- all flights must have been made under the same booking number.
For example, let's imagine a flight from London (LHR) to San Francisco (SFO) with a connection in New York (JFK).
If the flight LHR - JFK was delayed, causing you to miss your connection to SFO, you are entitled to compensation only if both flights had the same booking number (if you didn't buy two separate tickets).
Note that the amount of compensation is calculated based on the total distance of your flight between your point of departure and the final destination.
However, there are a few tricky cases. When your point of connection is out of the EU, the Regulation is unclear: some courts consider that the flight is eligible to compensation, while others rule that this is out the EC 261's jurisdiction.
As detailed above, the airline's nationality might determine whether you're entitled to compensation or not. Codeshares are flights operated by an airline in the name of another. You can usually see it on your booking reservation or boarding pass.
It is always the operating airline that matters: for example if your New York-London codeshare flight with a British Airways flight number (BAxxxx) was actually operated by American Airlines, you are not entitled to compensation.
Flight delays in the US
Unfortunately, according to the US Department of Transportation (DOT), airlines do not guarantee their schedules and as such, no flight delay compensations are due in the US. Thankfully, not all is lost.
While EC261 doesn't apply to domestic flights in the United States, a delayed flight from the North America to Europe operated by an EU airline is under the jurisdiction of the EU law.
In addition, US air passengers have rights in cases of long tarmac delays. If your flight is grounded for at least 2 hours, the airline must provide access to the toilets, food, water, and if necessary, medical attention. For long tarmac delays on domestic flights, they must let passengers off the plane if the delay reaches 3 hours, and 4 hours for international flights.
The only time you can get a compensation in the US is when the airline overbooked the flight. If you're denied boarding against your will, you can get an overbooking compensation.
You just learned that you have rights when your flight was delayed and missed the opportunity to claim a few years ago? No worries, the EU law is retroactive, which means that you may still be eligible to compensation for flight delay.
The amount of time after which you can still claim varies from one country to another. It's called the statute of limitations. Here are a few examples:
- Italy, Iceland, Croatia: 2 years
- Germany, Austria, Finland: 3 years
- France, Spain, Bulgaria: 5 years
- UK: 6 years
Click here to learn how far back you can claim compensation for your delayed flight.
Start saving money on travel now with the Service app:
- On average, travelers who use Service get $300 per year in cash, voucher, or miles
- Automatically file a claim when your flight is delayed or canceled
- Automatically get rebooked at the lowest rate when the price of your hotel room drops
However, it is true that the airline cannot always be held accountable. In such cases, although you suffered from the disturbance of your flight, the airline is not obliged to pay you anything. Extraordinary circumstances include:
- Bad weather: When meteorological conditions prevent the operation of the flight.
Now, there is bad weather and bad weather. Our experts at decode weather reports (called METAR) to make sure that when the airline justifies the delay or cancellation with this excuse, it's actually a valid excuse. And airlines use bad weather as an excuse not to pay compensation too easily.
- Air Traffic Control restrictions: Sometimes, the runway is too busy, or another flight is delayed, affecting the other flights. The air traffic controllers therefore order the airline to delay or cancel their flight. When they do, you can't get a compensation for flight delays.
Note however that the decision HAS TO come from the air traffic controllers, and not be arbitrarily made by the airline. If the airline tells you that the delay is due to the late arrival of the aircraft's previous flight, you can still be entitled to compensation. This situation is called "knock-on effect" and it's not an extraordinary circumstance.
- Strike: When the airport or air control staff goes on strike, the airline cannot be held responsible. However, a recent ruling from the European Court of Justice states that wildcat strikes from the airline staff give you right to compensation because they are no longer regarded as extraordinary circumstances.
Read this post to learn more about wildcat airline strikes and your right to compensation.
However, if the airline was advised of its staff's strike action beforehand, The Civil Aviation Authority states that "strikes by airline staff do not count as an extraordinary circumstance".
Medical emergency: When a passenger or a crew member gets sick on board and the plane has to be diverted, the delay doesn't entitle you to compensation.
Bird strike: In the case of a collision between a bird and the aircraft resulting in damages on the latter, the airline is exempt from responsibility.
Keep in mind that the airline bears what is called the "burden of proof". It means that when they want to discharge themselves of all responsibility, they have to provide a proof of extraordinary circumstances.
Hidden manufacturing defect: It's very rare, but manufacturing issues with the aircraft sometimes happen and are out of the airline's control. It means that there is a defect with the plane. However, a problem the "blue hydraulic pump" of the aircraft's toilets isn't considered as such, although an airline tried to convince us it was...
Security risk: Unfortunately, airports are sometimes the targets of security threats, disturbing the normal operations of activities. These include fire at the airport and terror attack for instance.
Click here to learn more about extraordinary circumstances.
Note that some travel insurances can issue a refund for your flight delayed by extraordinary circumstances. Check their policy to see if you qualify for a refund.
It's up to you to accept them or not, but know that the Regulation states that the compensation should be paid in cash. If you choose to accept the vouchers, make sure that the amount is at least equal to the cash amount you are legally entitled to.
Read more on why you shouldn't accept vouchers as compensation for your delayed or cancelled flight.
When the airline re-routes you, it's possible that you won't get a seat in the same class as on your original flights. EC 261 is very clear on the topic:
"If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class higher than that for which the ticket was purchased, it may not request any supplementary payment."
To be clear: the airline can't ask you to pay for your upgrade to Business class even if you were supposed to fly Coach.
As for downgrades, the EU Regulation is once again on passengers' side. If the airline places you on a lower class, it must refund you, within 7 days:
(a) 30% of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1500km or less, or
(b) 50% of the price of the ticket for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500km, except flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500km, or
(c) 75% of the price of the ticket for all other flights (long-haul, including flights between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments).
Flying with a baby
Cases of passengers flying with a baby are complicated, because the Regulation isn't explicit about compensations for flight delays for babies. Rulings vary from one case to the next, but the minimum requirements to get a compensation for your baby are the following:
- your baby must have had a seat of their own: if your infant was supposed to travel on your lap, you will be denied compensation
- you must have paid a fee for your baby's ticket: the closer to the price of an adult's ticket this fee is, the more likely you are to get a compensation for him or her as well
Flying as a group
The airline compensation is an amount per passenger. This means that even if only one person booked the tickets for several people, each passenger is entitled to compensation. Even everyone travels under the same booking number.
For example, if 5 people traveling from London to New York with British Airways arrive more than 3 hours late, each passenger is entitled to 600€. So the airline owes the group 3000€ (600€ for 5 passengers).
If your plane was delayed in the context of a business trip, who gets the money? The passenger who was taking the plane, or the company, which paid for the ticket?
Who paid the ticket is irrelevant: the compensation goes to the passenger.
(However, in cases of cancelled flights, if the passenger doesn't accept the re-routing and chooses the refund instead, then this refund should go to the company.)
There might be specific cases depending on the employee's contract.
Unfortunately, no, you won't receive an airline delay compensation if the airline goes bankrupt. For example, Air Berlin and Monarch Airlines went bankrupt and their passengers couldn't get compensated.
Another more recent case of airline bankruptcy is WOW Air. The passengers eligible under EC 261 for their delayed or canceled flight did not receive compensation.
Because when an airline goes bust, it still owes money to a lot of people - but passengers are at the bottom of the airline's list of priorities in this situation.
Was your flight delayed? Claim compensation now: it takes only 3 minutes to know if you're entitled to up to 600€!
Check out this video for a quick summary of how fast and easy it is to claim compensation for your delayed or cancelled flight with ClaimCompass.
Even if you choose to claim on your own, here exactly what you should do:
(You can also read the detailed guide on what to do when your flight is delayed)
Keep your boarding pass and e-ticket safe. You don't want to throw them away in an excess of rage! These documents are often required by the airline at the moment of your claim, along with a copy of your ID or passport.
At the very least, providing them along with your claim will speed up the process. Even though airlines already have all your information in their systems, they ask for proof that you were indeed booked on the flight which was disrupted.
As detailed above, the cause of the delay is critical: while some will guarantee your right to compensation, others will unfortunately not grant you this privilege (remember those extraordinary circumstances?).
Write down what the airline's staff tells you, and if possible, get a written statement from them.
However, even if the airline would have you believe that you are not eligible to compensation, make sure to double-check whether the reason they give you waives their responsibility or not.
We always make sure that airlines tell the truth - we helped many passengers who were lied to by the airline get their compensation.
In cases of a flight cancellations or long delays of more than 2h, the airline must enforce your right to care. They are supposed to offer you a meal and a refreshment (usually in the form of a meal voucher).
In addition, they have to give you access to a phone call or reimburse you the cost if you have to call by your own means.
Depending on the length of the delay, you may choose to stay at the airport or not. The airline is required to provide you with hotel accommodation and a taxi to go there and come back to the airport for long delays.
If they are too busy to make the booking, do it yourself and make sure to follow the next point.
Although they have to provide you with a hotel and taxi, airlines are allowed to ask for your receipts as proof before refunding you for the extra cost of your trip. Make sure to keep everything and don't throw them away.
Pro Tip: Make a digital copy in case you lose them. You can use apps such as CamScanner. This great app lets you transform your receipts into PDFs simply by taking a picture of them.
I repeat: do not accept any offer from the airline. Or, more precisely, any offer that doesn't match what the EU Regulation 261/2004 prescribes. Refer to the sections above to check how much money you are legally entitled to.
If you do accept an offer from the airline, you surrender your right to compensation under EC 261, so make sure it's worth it!
That is a first step to determine whether you are eligible for a compensation or not and which amount you can claim. Write it down and if possible, get a note from the airline acknowledging the long delay or cancellation.
The easiest and fastest way for you to do so is to use the Service app. If you have an eligible flight among your travel reservations, we'll automatically submit a claim for you.
As a frequent flyer, I've already had my fair share or delayed and cancelled flight. Getting a compensation does help to sweeten to pill, so feel free to reach out if you need help!
See you around traveler!
The average traveler saves $300 per year with Service:
- Get compensation for your past flight delays and cancellations
- Automatically file claims when your flights get disrupted in the future
- Automatically get rebooked at the lowest rate when the price of your hotel room drops
Looking for info on travel during COVID? We've got you covered: