EU Flight Compensation Rules Simplified

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by Anisa // 22 Comments

Having a flight unexpectedly canceled can be a nightmare especially if you have somewhere to be – like work!  But when you travel a lot these things are bound to happen.  Sometimes it’s outside the airline’s control, like when it snows, but there are also times when flights get canceled because of aircraft maintenance.  

That is what happened to me when I was supposed to fly back to NYC from London after the Christmas holidays.  What could have been a nightmare ended up not being so bad thanks to the EU flight compensation rules

Let me explain so that you will know what to do if you are in a similar situation.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure below for more information.

EC Regulation 261

EC Regulation 261 covers compensation for both cancellations and delays but it is complicated and the airlines don’t make it easy.  Some airlines try to offer miles in lieu of monetary compensation and if you accept it you can no longer make a claim.  

Unfortunately, many passengers never get the compensation that is rightfully theirs because they don’t understand the EU flight compensation rules.  Please don’t let that happen to you.  If you have had a flight cancellation or significant delay in the last six years, you may still be able to claim the compensation.

You can find out if you are owed compensation here.

Note: I am not a legal expert, I am just passing along my experience in order to help readers better understand the EU flight compensation rules for cancellations.  If you are not sure how this applies to your specific situation, I would encourage you to speak to a lawyer or contact a flight compensation company – more on that below.

United planes through a rainy window. Unfortunately you cannot get compensation if the cause is weather. - "EU Flight Compensation Rules Simplified" - Two Traveling Texans
United planes through a rainy window. Unfortunately, you cannot get compensation if the cause is the weather.

European Union Flight Compensation Rules and Brexit

While the UK is no longer part of the EU because of Brexit, similar rules are in place for the foreseeable future.  When the transitional period ended, EU legislation became incorporated into UK law as a a new type of UK legislation known as “retained EU law”.

The main difference when you are dealing with a UK airline or a flight to or from the UK is that the compensation amounts will be paid in Sterling instead of Euros.  You can get more details about it here

The Flight Cancellation Story

My lovely Christmas trip to England was coming to a close. I had booked a flight leaving Heathrow at 4 pm, so we planned to have a relaxed morning before heading to London.  Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

Christmas Day is always quiet in England. Here is a shot of one of the main streets in Halesworth. - "EU Flight Compensation Rules Simplified" - Two Traveling Texans
Christmas Day is always quiet in England. Here is a shot of one of the main streets in Halesworth.

Russell accidentally forgot to turn off his alarm so it went off at 6 am. Out of habit, I checked my phone.  I immediately panicked when I saw a text message from United saying my flight had been canceled due to aircraft maintenance and I was rebooked on a flight at noon that had a layover in Washington DC.

Russell lives in Saxmundham, a small town in Suffolk northeast of London. I normally take the train to Heathrow. It can take 3 1/2 hours. But this was a bank holiday so who knew how often the trains would be running.

To make matters worse, I hadn’t packed. I wasn’t ready to head back home.  I had no choice, I had to get to Heathrow as quickly as possible. Russell, the sweetheart that he is, offered to drive me.  I took a quick shower and threw my stuff into my suitcase and we headed out.  I did forget stuff but that was the least of my worries!

Luckily the roads were empty and we made good time.  I headed straight to the customer service desk and explained the situation.  Luckily, I was able to get another direct flight home so that I could be back at work the next day.  However, I basically lost the last day of my trip.  I felt a little better when I learned I would be eligible for compensation under EC Regulation 261.

EU Flight Compensation Rules

Lucky for me, you do not have to be an EU citizen (or resident) to be entitled to compensation.  The rules cover both cancellations and delays over 3 hours if the cause is within the airline’s control.  

Extraordinary circumstances like extreme weather conditions, political unrest, and employee strikes are not covered.  Drones disrupting travel at Gatwick airport was ruled to be an extraordinary circumstance as it was not the airline’s fault.  Use the infographic below to figure out if you are eligible for flight compensation.

"EU Flight Compensation Rules Simplified" - Two Traveling Texans

All passengers on all flights originating from the EU are eligible.  The EU flight compensation rules also apply to flights arriving in the EU if it is on an EU carrier (including low-cost carriers like Ryanair).  If you are notified of the cancellation more than 14 days before the flight or the cancellation is due to the extraordinary circumstances, you will not be eligible for compensation.  

The length of the flight and whether or not it is within the EU only affect the amount of compensation.  The flight compensation amounts can range from €125 to €600.  You can also be compensated for meals and hotel costs during the time you are delayed.

A European Court of Justice ruling on October 24, 2019 confirmed that boarding passes should not be needed to file a claim. It overruled a previous decision in France that stipulated that passengers had to provide their boarding passes to receive compensation to prove that they were actually present at the airport on the day of departure. The new decision makes it much easier to file a claim for disrupted flight compensation.

My EU Cancelled Flight Compensation Claim

I was instructed to complete the flight compensation form on the United website.  I searched and could not find a page that addressed this, so I decided I would call and ask.  The agent told me to submit the details in the general feedback form.  I completed the online form and waited.

After I didn’t hear anything back, I decided to call.  They told me that because my ticket was a codeshare I needed to claim my compensation through Austrian Airlines.  I completed the flight compensation form on the Austrian airline’s website.  A few days later I received a call from Austrian Airlines and telling me that it was a United Flight and I needed to talk to them.

Ok, this had come full circle.  They do no make it easy to get compensation.  I took another look at my reservation and noticed that my outbound flight (from NYC to London) was a codeshare, but my return flight to Newark was not.  I called up United again and worked with the agent to make sure I had the correct ticket number and completed the form.

About a week later I got an email from United telling me they would be mailing me a check.  It would take 7-10 days, but I was excited to be getting the compensation finally!

Flight Compensation Companies

If you are feeling unsure of how to claim flight compensation or rather have someone else handle your flight compensation claim, there are companies that will do that.  Flightright is the leader in the industry. 

They will do a quick check for free to see if you qualify for EU261 compensation.  If you do, they handle everything.   You don’t have to stress, they will do whatever chasing is necessary.

Once you get your flight compensation, they do take out a fee.  If they are not successful, it doesn’t cost you anything.    They will even help you go back and claim compensation for flights up to six years ago.  You have nothing to lose, click here to do their free check to see if you are eligible.

If only we had the same protections in the US.  Have you had a flight significantly delayed or canceled from the EU? Did you claim your compensation?


Pin for Later

airplane through rainy window with text eu flight compensation rules simplified

Expert Tips for Getting EU Flight Compensation

  • Know when you are due compensation from the airlines under the EU flight compensation rules (EC Regulation 261).  Use this decision tree above to help understand if you have a claim for flight cancellations.  If you have further questions about your circumstances, please contact a lawyer.
  • Different rules apply in the US, you don’t get compensation for flight cancellations in most cases.  However, you can get compensation if you are involuntarily bumped from a flight.  Read more about Katherine’s experience with oversold flights.

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Last Updated on January 28, 2023

About the Author

Anisa is an experienced international traveler with extra pages in her passport and stamps from 41 different countries across 5 continents (and counting). She was born and raised in Texas. After a 13 year stint in NYC, she moved to England to live with her husband.