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.
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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.
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.
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.
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
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
Oh my goodness I would have gone into meltdown if I received that text! I’m not great with sudden rush packing/travelling. You did well to catch the rescheduled flight. Thanks for sharing your experiences of the compensation process, I hope I’ll never need to refer to it but bookmarked in case! Thanks for hosting #TheWeeklyPostcard
Thanks Jo. Yes it was stressful but luckily it all worked out ok.
Really useful article. Thank you. I was vaguely aware of the rules, so it’s really good to hear it from someone who’s actually been through the process. I hope you had a nice holiday in England, despite the rushed ending! #theweeklypostcard
Upeksha – So glad you found it helpful, but hope you never end up needing the advice. And yes thanks, the holiday was really nice.
Hi Anisa, Yes, Ethan & I once spent most of day in an airport in Genoa, Italy as our flight kept getting delayed and then eventually cancelled (I can’t remember the reason). Someone at the airport came and passed out these brochures that explained our rights as the airline itself was not really coming forth with anything other than rebooking. We ended up getting a hotel, free dinner, and transport, but we may have been eligible for more, I am not sure. It is often just so tiring to have to go through this process, I wish it was easier that you don’t have to fight for these things. Good for you for pursuing it! ~ Jessica
Jessica – Wow that is terrible! If its happened within the last 6 years, you may still be able to claim compensation. I would recommend calling the airline and telling them you want to make a claim under EU 261 and ask how to do it. They should be able to look up all the details you need. Good luck and let me know how it goes.
We had a four hour delay from Copenhagen to Gatwick. It meant we landed at 3am at Gatwick and didn’t get home until 4:30am. Claiming compensation took many phone calls and noone wanted to help us on the day. We also had a flight leave over 3 hours going Rome, but because they landed a few minutes earlier than the 3hr delay we couldn’t claim. That made for a 4am landing, a taxi instead of a booked car to our hotel and two zombies staggering around the Vatican the next day!
Wow Laura that is the worst! I have heard many night stories on claiming compensation. And then a terrible delay that just miss the 3 hour window. Sorry you had to deal with all that!
Oh gosh, what panic you must have felt! I (thankfully) have never had a flight cancelled, but I must confess that I wouldn’t know what to do if it did happen… until now! It’s really useful to hear firsthand from someone who has had to figure out the compensation rules, just in case I do need to know what to do, eek!
Justine – Yes it was stressful and those rules are so complicated. I thought after all the time I spent researching it, I should share it with others. Hope it comes in handy if you need it.
I wish the same applied to flight to and in the US, but unfortauntely, its not the same. We had a flight delayed 5 hours before it was finally cancelled bc out pilots were MIA due to a winter storm somewhere else. We were put up in a raunchy hotel for a few hours, the airline crew were complete assholes and we we rebooked on a flight to Nasvhille, a 2 hour drive one way away from where we had originally planned to go. We tried to no avail to get compensated for this hassle, and we NEVER heard a word from the airline! #TheWeeklyPostcard
Lolo – What a nightmare! That actually might not have been covered under the EU rules either because it was due to weather which is outside the airlines control. I do think we need better rules in the US for cancellations though.
I hate the delayed flights, but thanks to EU it can turn in very profitable trouble. I have already known about this compensation rules, but you diagram sum it perfectly.
Tomas – Thank you. Glad to hear the diagram is helpful.
I hate when that happens, compensation or not. Leave alone the fact that their compensation is never enough to cover for the mess they create in your life when your flight gets cancelled. It happened to us a few times and the trouble was that my husband lost work over their cancellation. No airline will compensate you for that. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Anda – Yes that is very true. I was lucky I was able to get on another flight so I could make it back in time for work.
This happened to me in Kansas City, I wish similar rules would apply to US too! Thanks for the info and your story, I will save it hoping I will never have to use it 😀
Veronika – Sorry to here you had a cancellation too. I agree, the US should have something similar.
Oh my gosh! While it is great that you were finally compensated, it’s such a bummer that the last day of your vacation was so hectic, instead of the leisurely day you had planned. Thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes when dealing with the airlines it’s a like David and Goliath and it’s nice to see that you were compensated for your troubles.
Hilary – Yes it was stressful but it all ended up ok. Hope you don’t have to deal with something like this.
Informative read but a pity that you lost that last day to all that hassle. For Europe, strikes not being covered is likely because they happen so #$%^ often. I’ve yet to use this to claim compensation but did use my travel insurance a few years ago when a strike meant I missed the ample connection I had planned between two seperately bought flights. I wander what the overlap is like between this compensation and travel insurance?
David – It is an interesting topic. From what I read, strikes are not considered within an airlines control, so you wouldn’t be eligible for compensation if that was the reason for the cancellation or delay. This compensation would be in addition to anything that you would get from travel insurance. In my case, I didn’t have any claim with travel insurance because it ended up not being a significant delay, but the airline did not ask anything about if I had insurance or not. The overlap would be in the area of meals and accommodations. If an airline paid, then you probably wouldn’t be able to claim it from your travel insurance.