EU Regulation 261/2004

EU Regulation 261/2004 - commonly known as EU261 - is a law designed to protect air passenger rights for cases of denied boarding, extended flight delays, and flight cancellations.

Our guide below explains what rights the regulation provides

Published on August 1st, 2018

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EU 261 was introduced in 2005 to stop airlines overbooking flights and denying boarding to passengers when there were too many people for the flight.

One of the key features of Regulation 261 is the provision of compensation to passengers during delays or cancellations. Passengers can claim up to 600 Euros as far back as six years for delays over three hours.

When Does EU Regulation 261 Apply?

EU Regulation 261/2004 applies to any flight departing from the EU or any flight arriving into the EU on an EU airline.

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This means any flight from London to New York is covered, but flying in to London from New York would only be covered on an EU based airline such as British Airways or Virgin.

All flights between EU countries are eligible, regardless of which airline passengers travel on – even if the airline is not based in the EU.

Examples Of Flights Covered By EU Reg 261

Departing FromArriving ToCan I Claim?
Airport inside EUAirport inside EUYes (Claimable for any airline)
Airport inside EUAirport outside EUYes (Claimable for any airline)
Airport outside EUAirport inside EUYes (If on an EU based airline)
Airport outside EUAirport outside EUNo

EU Regulations On Delayed Flights

EU regulations on delayed flights cover delays of at least 3 hours on arrival at the final destination airport.

You must be delayed by more than 3 hours when arriving, rather than being 3 hours late setting off. So, if your flight departs 3 hours and 10 minutes late but the pilot is able to make up the time during the flight and you only arrive 2 hours 50 minutes late then you would not be eligible for compensation.

All flights between EU countries are eligible, regardless of which airline passengers travel on – even if the airline is not based in the EU.

The arrival delay ends when the cabin doors open, not when the plane touches down. This means if you did touch down 2 hours 50 minutes late and then it took 15 minutes to taxi and reach your arrival gate before the doors were opened, you would then have a valid claim.

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Flights can be delayed for a wide range of reasons but some of the most common are:

  • Technical problems
  • Crew or staff sickness
  • Bad weather
  • Crew going over their hours
  • Problems affecting a previous flight

EU 261 Rules On Flight Cancellations

EU 261 passenger rights allow for compensation to be claimed when flights are cancelled less than 14 days before the intended departure date.

EU261/2004 compensation amounts vary from 125 Euros to 600 Euros depending on whether you had between 7-14 days’ notice, or less than 7 days’ notice, the distance travelled, and what time your replacement flight arrives at the final destination.

How much flight cancellation compensation depends on the following criteria:

  • How many days’ notice of flight cancellation
  • The length of the flight
  • Whether you are offered a replacement flight
  • What time that replacement flight arrives

If the flight is cancelled more than 14 days before the intended departure date, then you are entitled to a refund of the ticket price or a replacement flight.

EU261 Rules On Denied Boarding

EU denied boarding regulation 261/2004 rules mean if you have been denied boarding, then you are entitled to claim compensation of up to 600 Euros depending on the distance of the flight and the delay time.

EU261 compensation for denied boarding only applies in instances where no one volunteers or there aren’t enough volunteers and the airline has to pick someone to miss out.

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If you volunteer to take a later flight, then you aren’t entitled to claim compensation under EC 261/2004. You should, however, negotiate some compensation directly with the airline as a condition for volunteering.

If you volunteer, the airline still has to provide care and assistance while you wait for your next flight. This means food and drink in relation to the waiting time and hotel accommodation if required overnight.

EU Regulation 261 For Re-Routing

When airlines reroute passengers due to a cancellation or denied boarding, EU261 rules state this must be on the next available flight, or at the passenger’s leisure – and the choice is with the passenger.

The airline cannot force you to wait for their next available flight if there is an earlier flight with a rival airline.

If the rerouted flight takes you to a different airport then the airline must pay for your travel to the original airport destination.

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While you are waiting for your rerouted flight EU 261 passenger rights mean you are entitled to care and assistance. This includes food and drink in relation to the waiting time, hotel accommodation where necessary, and two emails, calls, or fax messages.

EU261 And Connecting Flights

Passengers who miss connecting flights, resulting in delays of more than three hours to reach their final destination, are entitled to claim up to 600 Euros in compensation under EU delay claim regulations.

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To qualify, the entire journey must be a single booking, rather than multiple bookings for each leg of the journey.

Even if the first flight is only 1 hour late, if that delay means the connecting flight is missed and the delay in reaching the final destination is greater than three hours, then compensation is due.

After a Court of Appeal decision late in 2017, the EU rules on connecting flights now also apply to missed connections outside of the EU.

This is most common on airlines such as Emirates, Qatar or Etihad when flying via Doha, Dubai or Abu Dhabi for example.

EU 261 And Extraordinary Circumstances

Extraordinary circumstances are defined in EU Regulation 261 2004 – the law surrounding delayed flights, denied boarding, and flight cancellations as the only defence for airlines not to pay out compensation to passengers.

Airlines don’t have to pay out compensation under EU 261 regulations if they can prove the delay or cancellation was a result of ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

The exact definitions have been debated in numerous court cases since EU261 was introduced. Following this the current list of extraordinary circumstances includes:

EventDetailsCompensation DueCare & Assistance Due
Terrorist attacksA flight delayed or cancelled because of terrorismNoYes
Political instability/civil unrestRiots, or civil uprisingsNoYes
Hidden Manufacturing DefectsOnly where a recall of a defective part by the manufacturer occursNoYes
Acts of sabotageIf someone deliberately attacks and damages an aircraftNoYes
Extreme Weather EventsSuch as Volcanic ash clouds or weather forcing an airport to closeNoYes

Under EU Regulation 261 bad weather is not usually considered an extraordinary circumstance unless it is ‘freak’ conditions, or if Air Traffic Control places restrictions on take-off and landing because of the weather.

Strikes by baggage handlers, ground crew, airport or airline staff (when it’s not part of an employment dispute) are likely to be considered extraordinary circumstances.

Technical faults with an aircraft are always claimable under EU261 rules as they are considered inherent in the running of an airline.  An exception however is a hidden manufacturing defect where all affected planes are grounded while parts are recalled and replaced.

Technical faults with an aircraft are always claimable under EU261 rules

EU 261 Passenger Rights

EU Regulation 261/2004 offers protection in a number of different ways. The exact rights you have will depend on a several key factors, including what happened to your original flight, how long you were delayed and the distance of your flight.

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The regulation was designed to compensate passengers for their time and inconvenience, and not the price of the flight ticket. This means that regardless of how much you paid to travel, and which class of travel you used, the compensation amounts are the same for all passengers.

In general, passengers’ rights under Regulation 261 fall into three main categories, each of which will be important to you at different points in your delay:

  • Right to compensation
  • Right to care and assistance
  • Right to reimbursement or rerouting

Right To Compensation

EU Regulation 261/2004 entitles you to financial compensation for delays over three hours, or cancellations as long as it is not caused by what the EU Regulations call an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.

EU261 compensation amounts are fixed and range from 125 Euros for a cancelled short flight to 600 Euros for a long delay or cancellation on a long-haul flight.

If the airline does not offer you information and advice on claiming flight compensation while you’re at the airport, you should contact them directly to request compensation.

Fight Delay Compensation Amounts

Flight DistanceLength Of DelayCompensation Amount
Up to 1,500km3 hours or more€250
1,500km-3,500km3 hours or more€400
Over 3,500km3 hours or more & between 2 EU Member States€400
Over 3,500km3-4 hours€300
Over 3,500km4 hours €600

Right To Care and Assistance

The right to care and assistance starts after two hours for short flights (up to 1,500km). But for longer flights of between 1,500-3,500km it kicks in after three hours and on long haul flights (over 3,500km) it’s four hours before you’re due care and assistance.

The care and assistance part of the flight cancellation regulations entitles you to:

  • Food and drink in reasonable relation to the waiting time
  • Hotel accommodation if you need to stay overnight
  • Transport between the airport and hotel (if necessary)
  • Two telephone calls/telex/fax messages/emails

Care and assistance rules under EU261 apply regardless of the reason for the delay. Even if there is an extraordinary circumstance, the airline has to provide care and assistance as part of the regulation.

EU Regulation 261 – Care And Assistance

Flight DistanceLength of Delay
Up to 1,500kmAfter 2 hours
1,500km-3,500kmAfter 3 hours
Over 1,500km and between two EU StatesAfter 3 hours
Over 3,500km After 4 hours

If you have had to pay your own costs and expenses when delayed, then you can claim these back from the airline directly. Or they can be included in any court proceedings as part of a claim.

Right To Reimbursement or Re-Routing

If the flight is cancelled more than 14 days before the departure date, then you are entitled to reimbursement of the ticket cost.

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If your flight is cancelled within 14 days of the date of travel, then the airline should try to reroute you on the next available flight – or at a later date convenient to you. They will also owe compensation if there were no extraordinary circumstances.

If you are being rerouted, the airline must also cover any additional travel costs in reaching your intended final destination.

How To Claim Flight Compensation Under EU261/2004

If you want to claim flight compensation the first thing to do is to check whether the circumstances of your delay/cancellation is claimable. For this is should meet the following criteria:

  • Delayed more than three hours on arrival
  • Within the last 6 years
  • Departed from the EU or arrives into the EU on an EU airline
  • Was not a result of extraordinary circumstances

You can try writing to the airline directly, setting out exactly what happened with your flight, why you believe you are entitled to compensation, and the amount you wish to claim as per your rights under Regulation EU 261/2004.

There is no set timeframe in which the airline must respond to you, but you should usually receive a response within 30 days, even if it is simply to say they are looking into the matter for you.

If you don’t receive a response, or you don’t agree with the response then you may wish to complain to the Civil Aviation Authority or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) provider. More information on the complaints procedure can be found on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website

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If you find that you are still getting nowhere, even after consulting the CAA or an ADR provider, your only remaining option is to issue court proceedings.

Issuing court proceedings can often be a complicated and length process. We would recommend that you seek legal advice before doing so and, for a lot of people, this would be the stage where they decide to get a solicitor to take over their claim.

If you choose a solicitor make sure it is a reputable and experienced law firm offering a no-win no-fee service.

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Claiming directly can be time consuming and stressful. Airlines may choose to ignore your claims or say you don’t have a eligible claim when you do.

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EU261 Claim Form

To make a flight compensation claim you can use an EU261 Claim Form or download our free template claim letter to send to the airline.

If you want to use the claim form, you will only need your flight number and date of travel to determine if you have a valid claim for compensation.

EU261 Important Court Cases

Regulation 261/2004 was first introduced in 2005 and has been tested by airlines and law firms at the highest courts in the UK and Europe under different points within the regulation.

The overwhelming majority of high profile cases have gone in the favour of passengers including the cases below that have shaped how EU261 is applied in practice.

Wallentin-Hermann v Alitalia

The first major case on Regulation EU261/2004 this dealt with the argument from airlines that a technical problem that caused the flight to be cancelled should be considered an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ and therefore not eligible for compensation.

The airline refused to pay the passenger and so legal proceedings were started and the case was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) who found in the passenger’s favour.

The court ruled that technical faults that come to light during maintenance of aircraft as a result of not carrying out such maintenance, do not constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

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  • The length of your delay
  • The cause of your delay
  • Legal validity of claim
  • How much you could claim

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Sturgeon v Condor

This case dealt with the fact the Regulation initially only provided for compensation on cancelled flights and overbooking and not to long delays.

This loophole gave airlines the opportunity to say a flight was just delayed rather than cancelled – even when the delay was as much as 24 hours, as it did in the case of Sturgeon v Condor.

The court found in the passenger’s favour and ruled that a delay in excess of three hours on arrival at the final destination airport should be given the same rights as those passengers whose flight was cancelled.

This was a major decision for passengers as it meant that long delays over three hours were also eligible for compensation under the Regulation.

Huzar v Jet2

This case ended up at the Supreme Court in the UK and was a landmark victory for UK passengers.

The 27-hour delay on a Jet2 flight from Malaga to Manchester was a result of a wiring defect that couldn’t be fixed right away and resulted in an overnight delay.

The Spanish National Enforcement Body (AESA) ruled the flight delay was eligible for compensation but the airline refused to pay so a court case was filed by the passenger.

Stockport County Court found in favour of the airline saying that the technical defect was an extraordinary circumstance.

The judgment was appealed and was heard at Manchester County Court in August 2013 where the passenger won the case, but this time the airline appealed the decision.

The passenger won the case at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court ultimately refused permission for Jet2 to appeal, thereby ending the legal process.

This meant that ordinary technical faults were eligible for compensation and this represented a win of several billion pounds for air passengers.

Dawson v Thomson Airways

This was a landmark UK case on limitation which created binding case law for all future flight delay compensation claims in England and Wales.

The airline initially argued the delay was due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ but later changed to a limitation argument saying that the claim needed to have been brought within two years under the Montreal Convention.

The law states claims must be brought within the limitation period of the relevant member state – which in England and Wales is six years under the Limitation Act 1980.

The judge found in favour of the passenger but gave permission for the airline to appeal.

The airline lost the appeal case and were refused permission to appeal that decision by the Supreme Court.

This landmark ruling allowed compensation claims for delays to go back as far as six years in England and Wales.