Delays, cancellations, missed connections, Rouge – there is a multitude of reasons that can hamper an otherwise seamless travel experience. When your plans go sideways, though, you may be eligible for monetary compensation, and so it is always good to be informed of your rights as an air passenger.
Further to my posts on Canada’s recently enacted Air Passenger Protection Regulations and an overview of delayed/lost baggage claims under the Montreal Convention, this post will outline EU Regulation 261/2004, commonly referred to as EU261, which offers you several rights and protections as an air passenger when travelling to, from, or within the European Union.
What Is EU261?
EU261 is legislation that was passed in 2004 that covers how airlines must compensate passengers for delays or cancellations for flights within, to, or from the European Union. It also outlines standards of treatment for anyone whose flight plans have been affected through no fault of their own.
You are covered by EU261 if you are travelling from a European Union airport, or if you are travelling to Europe on a European Union airline.
So, if you are travelling on an Air Canada flight from Paris to Toronto, you are covered by EU261. But, if you are travelling from Toronto to Paris on an Air Canada flight, you aren’t covered by EU261 (but you are covered by the APPR and the Montreal Convention), as Air Canada is not a European Union-based airline. Meanwhile, if you are travelling from Toronto to Lisbon on TAP Air Portugal, then you are covered by EU261, since TAP Air Portugal is a European Union-based carrier.
Further, in order to be eligible for any compensation, you must have a confirmed reservation, checked-in to your flight on time, and not be on any sort of airline employee discounts (e.g., stand-by travel). If you have met all of the eligibility requirements, you are eligible for compensation in the event of a delay or cancellation.
The amount of compensation depends on the actual distance of your flight and the length of the delay you face:
For short haul flights (between 0–1,500 kilometres in distance flown), you are entitled to €250 ($365) in compensation if you are delayed by more than two hours.
For medium-haul flights (1,500–3,500 kilometres in distance flown), you are entitled to €400 ($580) if you have been delayed by at least three hours.
For long-haul flights (3,500+ kilometres in distance flown), your delay must be greater than four hours, in which case you would be entitled to a whopping €600 ($870) for the inconvenience.
For any delays of greater than 5 hours, you are entitled to a full refund, should you wish to cancel your travel plans altogether.
The length of your delay is determined by the difference between your scheduled arrival time and the time the aircraft’s doors are opened at your final destination. So, even if you are sitting at the gate, you are still racking up delay minutes until the doors are opened. Or, if you experience a delay on a connecting flight that causes you to miss your next flight, the delay is calculated by the time the doors open at your final destination.
Finally, if you are notified of a flight cancellation within 14 days of departure, then you are also entitled to compensation if you are delayed in getting to your final destination as a result. The compensation amounts are the same as above – €250 for short-haul flights, €400 for medium-haul flights, and €600 for long-haul flights.
Similar to Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations, there is a laundry list of reasons that would exclude you from compensation.
Unsurprisingly, if the airline can prove that the cause of the delay or cancellation was an extraordinary circumstance (e.g., strikes, riots, inclement weather, political instability) or completely beyond their control (e.g., the arrival airport doesn’t have a gate available), then you won’t be eligible for compensation. If you are notified of a cancellation more than 14 days prior to departure, you are also not eligible for EU261 compensation.
From what I have read, though, extraordinary circumstances are a bit of a grey area. At what point does bad weather become extraordinary? Could the airline have better planned or prepared for this? Were other airlines better prepared to handle bad weather? I imagine that airlines use this grey area to their advantage, which is why you should be persistent in getting them to prove the reason for the delay or cancellation.
Duty of Care
In addition to cold hard cash, you are entitled to a standard of care under EU261 if you experience a delay or cancellation.
The airline must offer you food and drink (likely in the form of vouchers to redeem at the airport), accommodation (if you are subject to an overnight delay), transportation to/from your accommodation, and access to a telephone/fax machine/email (you can make up to two brief phone calls or send two faxes or emails). The Montreal Convention offers similar protections, so make sure to be familiar with both to maximize your compensation.
How to Claim Compensation
Most airlines have EU261 information on their websites, and a quick Google search of “<airline name> EU261” will likely take you where you want to go. Keep your boarding pass handy, as you’ll need to include the information from your ticket to your claim.
You will have to fill out a form and submit it to the airline for processing. They may approve your claim right away, or they may refuse it. I imagine that airlines aren’t exactly enthusiastic about handing over a bunch of cash, and from what I’ve read online, many airlines will outright deny your claim unless you keep pressing for proof.
If you are not satisfied with the airline’s response, you can escalate your claim for compensation to a third-party organization, who will seek a resolution with the airline on your behalf.
Each country has its own body, so you’ll have to submit your claim to the body of the country where the airline is based. For example, if you want to escalate a claim with Lufthansa, you will have to contact Schlichtungsstelle für den öffentlichen Personenverkehr e.V., Germany’s arbitration board for matters on public transportation, and they will argue on your behalf.
If your claim is approved, the money must be paid by cheque or bank transfer. It can take a few days for the wire to go through, and you may need to contact your bank for some information that the airline needs for the transfer.
The amount of effort needed to make a claim is pretty minimal. You may have seen ads for services who will file the claim for you – if you don’t get compensation, then neither do they. But, if you do, prepare to say au revoir to a good chunk of your cash. So, I would strongly recommend pursuing your own claim, especially since there are third-party organizations that will argue on your behalf for free.
A Personal Example
Last September, on the way back from a friend’s wedding in Croatia, I flew to London for a 24-hour layover and then onward to Frankfurt for Lufthansa First Class. When I arrived at Heathrow, I found out that my flight to Frankfurt had been cancelled, and I was moved to the next available flight.
My interest was immediately piqued, as I had been reading up on EU261 and I wanted to try it out for myself. As I spent the next few hours lounge hopping, I read up on the eligibility criteria and how to make a claim.
I arrived in Frankfurt around three hours after my originally scheduled time. Since this was a short-haul flight, I put in a claim for €250 in compensation. It was raining in London that day, but I didn’t think it was extraordinarily bad, as other flights left from Frankfurt and arrived in London around that time.
Lufthansa responded three days later, acknowledging but politely declining my claim, due to reasons outside of their control. I followed up with information about other flights around the same time that departed from Frankfurt or arrived in London, in an attempt to call their bluff.
Lufthansa, however, didn’t budge, instead only offering me $90 as a “dinner invitation” for the inconvenience that the cancelled flight had caused me.
After a few more rounds of emails, I wasn’t satisfied that Lufthansa had proved their point, so I submitted a claim with Schlichtungsstelle für den öffentlichen Personenverkehr e.V., Germany’s arbitration board. Two months later, I received an e-mail with an attached court decision.
The file outlined my claim, my correspondence with Lufthansa, and went into detail about the actual cause of the delay. It turns out that Heathrow Airport had denied Lufthansa a gate for the flight, which was why it was cancelled.
The judgment clearly explained that it was outside of Lufthansa’s control, and my claim was subsequently rejected.
A Lufthansa representative followed up with me, and I was shocked to read that I was still being offered $90 as a dinner invitation. I sent over my banking information, and the money appeared in my account around a week later. A dinner reservation was made shortly thereafter. 😉
Honestly, I had thought it would be an “all or nothing” situation, whereby I’d either get €250 or nothing at all. It was an interesting process to go through, and for the relatively minor amount of work that I put in, it paid off.
If I was on a long-haul flight, it could be even more worthwhile, so I would encourage you to file a EU261 claim if you ever incur a delay or cancellation on an eligible flight, as the worst thing that can happen is nothing at all.
While flight delays and cancellations are at best mildly frustrating and at worst devastating to travel plans, there are thankfully several protections in place that favour us as passengers. If you are flying to or from Europe, be sure to become familiar with what is covered under EU261, as you could wind up with a nice chunk of change for relatively little effort if you happen to be delayed along the way.
In comparison to Canada’s Airline Passenger Protection Regulations, Europe’s EU261 seems to be much more liberal with reasons that warrant compensation. Anecdotally, I have heard that Canadian airlines are flatly rejecting the vast majority of claims that they receive. While any protection is better than nothing, it remains to be seen how the APPRs will compare to legislation in other countries.
Have you filed a claim under EU261? How was your experience? And how do you think Canada’s APPR compares with EU261? Feel free to leave a comment below.