Frequently Asked Questions - Airlines And EU Regulation 261/2004

We provide answers to the most common questions we hear for passengers about how the airlines process EU Regulation 261 compensation claims

Updated on December 13th, 2018


What is EU 261?

EU Regulation 261/2004 or EU261 is a European law that was created to protect air passenger rights and make airlines responsible for passengers during long delays, cancelled flights or in cases of overbooking and denied boarding.

The regulation sets out levels of financial compensation for passengers and obliges the airlines to provide ‘care and assistance’ while experiencing a long delay.

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What airlines can I claim flight delay compensation against?

All airlines are obligated under the regulation depending on the departure and arrival locations.

For flights departing from the EU then all worldwide airlines have to abide by the Regulation and would be liable for compensation, regardless of where they were flying to or where the airline was based.

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For flights arriving into the EU from a non EU country then only European-based airlines come under the EU261 laws.

So, a flight from London to Dubai on Emirates would be covered as it departs from the EU. A flight from Dubai to London on Emirates would not be covered but the same flight on British Airways would be as it is an EU airline.

Our legal team has claimed from over 100 different airlines across the world since establishing flight delay law in the UK and we can claim against any airline that has an English address where we can serve court proceedings.

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Why aren’t airlines paying out flight delay compensation?

While the Regulation is clear about compensation for delays, it doesn’t mean airlines are automatically or easily paying out to passengers.

You have to approach the airline, and possibly even issue court proceedings, in order to make them settle a claim.

Airlines will not automatically pay out because the Regulation gives them a valid defence of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and this is still a grey area in parts.

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It means that airlines can look at each claim individually and then decide whether to pay out or defend the claim on the grounds of extraordinary circumstances.

In many cases airlines will ignore letters of claim from passengers or respond with an extraordinary circumstances defence in the hope passengers drop the complaint.

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What if the airline offers me reduced compensation?

Regulation 261/2004 provides fixed sums of compensation depending on the distance of the flight, the length of the delay, and whether the flight was within the EU.

These amounts are non-negotiable, and you are entitled to the full amount, based on the criteria your delay fits in to.

If the airline offers you less than you think you are owed, then you should refuse the offer and request the full amount.

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What if the airline offers me vouchers as compensation?

Compensation claims under EU261 must be paid either in cash, by bank transfer, or by cheque – unless you agree to accept vouchers or some other service instead.

If you agree to payment of vouchers over the EU261 compensation, then the airline will not have to pay out the cash amount owed under the Regulation.

You must decide for yourself whether you want vouchers over cash but be aware that the airlines may offer less value of vouchers than what is due under EU261 and there may be terms and conditions around the use of the vouchers.

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What are extraordinary circumstances in flight delay claims?

Within the regulations, airlines only have one defence for not paying out compensation – that is when the flight delay or flight cancellation is due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

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This term applies to a limited number of scenarios including terrorist attacks, industrial strike action, sabotage, and freak weather conditions.

Only a minority of flight delays are down to extraordinary circumstances, and in those cases an airline would not owe compensation.

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What is the Huzar vs Jet2 flight delay case?

Huzar v Jet2 is the key landmark case on flight delay compensation in the UK that went all the way to the Supreme Court and set a binding precedent for technical defect delays.

Mr Huzar was delayed for 27 hours due to some faulty wiring that the airline tried to argue was an extraordinary circumstance because it wasn’t discovered during routine maintenance.

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Judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that unexpected ordinary technical problems are not an extraordinary circumstance and the airline was refused permission to appeal that decision by the Supreme Court.

With an estimated 80% of all flight delay claims a result of technical problems, this ruling opened up billions of pounds in flight delay compensation for air passengers.

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How does the Huzar V ruling affect claims for technical problems?

Following the Huzar case, ordinary technical problems are eligible for flight delay compensation so all airlines meeting the criteria under EU Regulation 261, would have to pay out.

An example of technical issues that still aren’t claimable are hidden manufacturing defects where an entire fleet of aircraft suffer an issue that requires a part recall by the manufacturer. These situations are incredibly rare.

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What is the Dawson vs Thomson flight delay case?

The case of Dawson v Thomson was a landmark claim in the UK that saw the Court of Appeal rule flight delay compensation claims can go back as far as six years in England and Wales.

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The airline had argued that claims should be brought within two years under the Montreal Convention, but the judges agreed with the passenger that EU Regulation 261 clearly stated the time period should be based on each country’s own limitation. In England and Wales that means six years for this type of claim.

The airline asked the Supreme Court for permission to make a further appeal, but were refused, thereby setting a binding precedent on all future claims and opening up older claims as far back as six years.

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What is the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention 1999 sets out rules around the rights of passengers when travelling internationally, among other things.

More specifically for air travel, it covers lost or damaged baggage and injuries on an aircraft or while boarding and disembarking.

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