Delayed or cancelled flight – know your rights

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Ostatnia aktualizacja: 2020-04-22. Autor: Milena

Compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight, denied boarding, class change – but what’s the point?

When I was flying to Liverpool during my studies, I didn’t know I was entitled to compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight. My friend and I sat for several hours at the airport hungry and looked at the prices of airport sandwiches in disbelief. We kept telling ourselves: „A delicious dinner is waiting for us.” It is as if we would get satisfied with the supper eaten at about 1 a.m. when it was still 6 p.m.

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When two years ago my flight was delayed by almost a day, I knew that I deserved a meal and an accommodation. And even compensation. But I didn’t know the details. I didn’t know exactly how it would all look, I could not refer to the relevant legislation. It was midnight, my plane from Lisbon to Terceira flew away. It flew away while I was waiting at the airport for the door of my delayed plane from Porto to Lisbon to open. Fortunately, a friend who had a similar situation explained to me on the phone what to do. And luckily at the airport I met people who helped me a lot. In the end, instead of looking for accommodation in Lisbon so late at night, I ended up in… Sheraton in Cascais.

I admit that when I saw my bed, I stopped complaining. I haven’t slept in such a cool place earlier. Food also first class. Later, transport to the airport and a peaceful flight to the „purple island„.

I did not complain about my extended stay in Portugal, but the money for damages – still hide nor hair.

I had already submitted a complaint about a delayed flight at the airport, but nothing happened. After some time I submitted a reminder via the complaint form on the carrier’s website. When, after almost a year, I still had no compensation, I asked my cousin who is a lawyer for help. With her help, I sent a letter to the airlines, which mentioned, among other, Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004. When I called the carrier after two weeks, I heard a warm apology. I had the money on my bank account the same week.


Delayed or canceled flight – legal basis

In this article, I want to present to you your rights and options in the event of a delayed or canceled flight, as well as in the case of denied boarding or change of your flight class. (Flights are for the EU – see below for details). I would like to remind you that I am not a lawyer. However, I know the subject from my own experience, and I also studied the legislation carefully and want to help you in this topic. At any time, you can check all the information I provide in EU legislation:


What flights are covered by European aviation law?

The above provisions apply to EU countries. What does it mean? EU means 27 EU countries. These include: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Reunion, Mayotte, Saint-Martin (French Antilles), Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands. This legislation also applies to countries such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The following are excluded from it: Faroe Islands, Isle of Man and Channel Islands.

What about flights outside the EU and non-EU carriers? Check the table of flights for which the law applies.

TripEU carrierNon-EU carrier
Departure: EU country
Destination: EU country
applicableapplicable
Departure: EU country
Destination: non-EU country
applicableapplicable
Departure: non-EU country
Destination: EU country
applicablenon applicable
Departure: non-EU country
Destination: non-EU country
non applicablenon applicable


It is important that these legal bases don’t apply if you travel for free, i.e. it doesn’t apply, for example, to free inter-island flights in the Azores. Also, if you have a discount that is not publicly available, you can’t benefit from the provisions of these EU laws. But if your tickets have been issued as part of a loyalty program, you can enforce your rights.

Okay, that was the general introduction. Let’s now move on to cases that may interest us.


Denied boarding

A friend from my studies came to me some time ago. We used to joke that you had to plan a meeting with him for an hour before a real meeting because he would always show up late. This time he planned to be on time. But his first flight was delayed, and his second flight was overbooked. They boarded other passengers who had arrived at the gate earlier. My friend broke his record. He was late for Terceira a day.

Overbooking

If you are denied boarding because of overbooking (and not because you don’t have the appropriate documents with you or the queue to the security check was too long), the carrier must check if there are volunteers who will give up their place for you. If so – the further procedure applies to them (and maybe you, if you ever become such a volunteer). If not – the carrier must guarantee you:

  • compensation paid immediately:
    • 250 EUR for flights up to 1500 km (125 EUR, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 2h later than the original flight),
    • 400 EUR for flights in the EU above 1500 km and flights outside the EU with a length of 1500-3500 km (200 EUR, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 3h later than the original flight),
    • 600 EUR for other flights (EUR 300, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 4h later than the original flight);
  • choice between the following three options:
    • reimbursement of ticket costs within 7 days (if necessary, also a free flight to the place where you started the journey),
    • to change your itinerary to your destination in the closest possible time, on as similar conditions as possible,
    • to change your itinerary to your destination at a later date that is convenient for you, depending on the availability of seats;
  • care:
    • food and drinks in adequate amounts for the time you have to wait for the next flight,
    • the possibility of making 2 phone calls and sending 2 e-mails or 2 faxes.
    • if your flight is delayed for at least one day, you also qualify for the following:
      • accommodation,
      • transport between the airport and place of accommodation.

It is important in this case that compensation should be paid immediately, which means you can apply for it while still at the airport.


Flight delay

If you travel often, you’ve probably already spent many hours on extremely uncomfortable chairs at the airport. Or standing. Sometimes waiting time is prolonged and you need to look for a place to charge your phone. In Porto, such power points are „scattered”, in Lisbon there are several „shelves” full of electrical outlets. And on Terceira I admit that I didn’t check. Fortunately, I had no need.

If your flight is late, you also have many rights. The laws depend on the time of the delay and distance. Check the table below, from which moment you can expect support from the airlines.

Delay time Distance
Over 2 hoursFlights up to 1500 km
Over 3 hoursFlights in the EU above 1500 km and flights outside the EU with a length of 1500-3500 km
Over 4 hoursOther flights


If your flight suits the criteria that you see in the table, the carrier must guarantee you care:

  • food and drinks in quantities adequate to the time you have to wait for the next flight,
  • the ability to make 2 phone calls and send 2 e-mails or 2 faxes.

If your flight is delayed by at least one day, you also qualify for the following:

  • accommodation,
  • transport between the airport and place of accommodation.

If your flight is delayed by at least 5 hours, you are entitled to a reimbursement of ticket costs within 7 days. If necessary, you’ll also get a free flight to where you started your journey.

Flight delay – compensation

In addition, if your flight delay is bigger than 3 hours, you have the same right to compensation as for the cancelled flight. This means:

  • 250 EUR for flights up to 1500 km (125 EUR, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 2h later than the original flight),
  • 400 EUR for flights in the EU above 1500 km and flights outside the EU with a length of 1500-3500 km (200 EUR, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 3h later than the original flight),
  • 600 EUR for other flights (EUR 300, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 4h later than the original flight).

Note – the distance is measured as orthodromic distance.

What does it mean? Imagine you have a flight Warsaw-Lisbon-Terceira. In the event of a delay, you do not count the distance between individual points, but the shortest route on the surface of the globe between Warsaw and Terceira.

Flight delay – connecting flights

And one more remark regarding delayed flights. All the above information also applies to connecting flights, which are on one ticket. If you have two separate tickets for consecutive flights and the first flight is delayed, you do not have any rights related to the second flight.

Similarly, if you miss a train on a late flight, the airline is not required to pay compensation for your lost train ticket. (Although of course it stays responsible for the delay of the flight).

The delay is calculated on the basis of the time when you were about to arrive at your destination.

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Cancelled flight – passenger rights

Imagine that you have to go on your dream vacation to the Azores, and they cancel your flight. What do you have a right for in this situation?

  • Choice between the following three options:
    • reimbursement of ticket costs within 7 days (if necessary, also a free flight to the place where you started the journey),
    • to change your itinerary to your destination in the closest possible time, on as similar conditions as possible,
    • to change your itinerary to your destination at a later date that is convenient for you, depending on the availability of seats;
  • Care:
    • food and drinks in adequate amounts for the time you have to wait for the next flight,
    • the possibility of making 2 phone calls and sending 2 e-mails or 2 faxes.
    • if your flight is delayed for at least one day, you also qualify for the following:
      • accommodation,
      • transport between the airport and place of accommodation.
  • Compensation:
    • 250 EUR for flights up to 1500 km (125 EUR, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 2h later than the original flight),
    • 400 EUR for flights in the EU above 1500 km and flights outside the EU with a length of 1500-3500 km (200 EUR, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 3h later than the original flight),
    • 600 EUR for other flights (EUR 300, if you were offered an alternative flight and you can reach your destination max 4h later than the original flight);

Cancelled flight – NOTICE regarding compensation

In case of a cancelled flight, you are not entitled to compensation if the airline:

  • informed you that the flight was cancelled at least 2 weeks before the planned departure,
  • informed you that the flight was cancelled within 2 weeks to 7 days before the scheduled departure and proposed an alternative flight with max departure 2h before the scheduled departure and arrival max 4h after the planned arrival,
  • informed you that the flight was cancelled less than 7 days before the scheduled departure and proposed an alternative flight with a max departure of 1h before the scheduled departure and arrival max of 2h after the scheduled arrival.

The issue of choosing a solution and care from the airlines does not change in this situation.

Sometimes the carrier does not leave you the option of choosing an alternative flight, but unilaterally decides to reimburse you for travel. In this situation, you can buy a new ticket on comparable terms and expect the carrier to refund the price difference. However, if the carrier has contacted you and offered solutions, and you decided to look for other solutions on your own, the carrier is not obliged to refund you additional costs.


What if the carrier does not offer help?

If the carrier does not offer the necessary assistance, i.e. meals, drinks, accommodation, transport between the airport and place of accommodation, telecommunications services – you can take care of your needs on your own. The carrier will be obliged to pay you a refund. Remember, however, that these costs must be: necessary, appropriate and reasonable.

Restrictions on providing assistance

It is also worth knowing that the provision of the above assistance occurs when it does not delay the procedures involved in arriving for a delayed or alternative flight. For example, if it’s night and your flight is delayed, but there is a good chance that it will depart in a few hours, you can pre-prepare yourself for the night at the airport. The airlines will not risk even greater delay due to transporting and accommodating passengers in the hotel. These are exceptional and rare cases, but it’s worth remembering about this possibility. For your own health – not to stress unnecessarily. After all, it’s about getting to the destination you want, isn’t it?


Placement in a higher or lower class

There is another element worth mentioning – placing you in a higher or lower class. And while hardly anyone complains about placement in the upper class, placement in the lower class can cause dissatisfaction. What about these situations?

If the airline places you in a higher class than the one that matches your ticket, you can enjoy it. The airline cannot charge you additional costs, but you can enjoy additional privileges.

If the airline places you in a class lower than that of your ticket, it must return to you within 7 days:

  • 30% of the ticket price for flights up to 1500 km,
  • 50% of the ticket price for flights in the EU over 1500 km (except flights between the European territory of the EU and the French overseas departments) and flights outside the EU with a length of 1500-3500 km,
  • 75% of the ticket price for other flights (including flights between European Union territory and the French overseas departments).

Obligation to inform passengers about their rights

Remember that airlines are obliged to inform you about your rights to the full extent. There are often information brochures at airports, and if your flight is delayed for at least 2 hours, cancelled or you’re denied boarding, you can request such brochure at check-in or boarding gate. If you need to, you can also take screenshots or print this article and the legal documents I mentioned.


Extraordinary circumstances

Airlines often refer to extraordinary circumstances of delay or cancellation of a flight. Extraordinary circumstances mean circumstances that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

Fog, wind, strike of airport employees, unstable political situation or decision of flight management count in extraordinary circumstances. Importantly, however, extraordinary circumstances do not include aircraft technical defects. Unless this is a structural fault identified by the aircraft manufacturer.

Extraordinary circumstances exempt the carrier from paying you compensation, but not from providing you with care in line with the situation and finding an alternative solution or refund (also depending on the situation, all described above).

If you are denied boarding, airlines cannot argue their decision in extraordinary circumstances.


Where and how to place a complaint?

The first instance is the carrier. You can file a complaint directly at the carrier’s post at the airport, on the carrier’s website, by post or email. Remember to keep confirmation of receipt of such a complaint. Each carrier may require slightly different data to accept a complaint, but these are usually:

  • your first and last name,
  • your birthdate,
  • your ID number,
  • your address and contact details,
  • booking and / or ticket number,
  • passenger number (if you have one),
  • scan / copy of your boarding pass, if one has already been issued to you,
  • description of the situation, including – information about the flight route and flight numbers as well as planned and actual hours,
  • your expectations (e.g. payment of compensation in the amount of X),
  • your complete bank account details (some carriers may ask you to provide confirmation of your account number).

Remember to refer to the EU provisions indicated at the beginning.

Make a complaint as soon as possible. Each country has its own legislation in this area, but you act in your interest, so it’s best to file a complaint the same day.

If 30 days have passed and your complaint has still not been processed, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Civil Aviation Office in your country.

Of course, you can also go to court, although it can be time-consuming and expensive.

There are companies that deal with the whole process on your behalf, for a successful win. Personally, I’ve never used their help, but I know people who used it and were satisfied with the result.


Take care of your passenger rights and… have fun

Finally, a bit of philosophy of life, it must be! Take care of yourself and your rights. But at the same time also remember to stay calm and… have fun. I know that a delayed or cancelled flight can cost you a lot of stress. But it is worth realizing that this is a situation outside of our control zone. We have an impact on how we take care of our rights, but we don’t have an impact on whether the plane leaves on time or not. So maybe it is worth to quiet down in such a situation, sleep well in a hotel and take advantage of the time that was suddenly given to us. Who knows, maybe we will still be grateful to the airlines for the delay?

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No, it’s not my taxi to the airport 😉 but a great adventure while I was waiting for a flight delayed for almost one day 😉

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