Knowing your flight rights: Passengers can be entitled to compensation when planes are delayed, cancelled or overbooked

Annabelle Williams
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The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano caused chaos for airline passengers in 2010
With the holiday season now in full swing, many people will have to face the inevitable: delays at airports and disappointment with hotels.
Europe’s skies are more crowded than ever before. During July an average of 30,000 flights cross European airspace daily, and delays to one have a knock-on effect for other scheduled flights.
There are rules governing airline behaviour, though. European Union regulation EC 261/04 lays out airlines’ duties towards passengers and circumstances in which people can be eligible for compensation.
Research suggests over 11m people annually are eligible for compensation following delayed flights, and earlier this year figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority showed that on-time performance for all scheduled flights operating from the UK’s ten main airports during 2014 fell to just 79 per cent.
Few people know they are even eligible for compensation. Only 2 per cent of people delayed by airlines go on to claim, according to research by, a legal firm which goes through the claims process on behalf of clients, charging 25 per cent commission on successful claims to do so.
“Many UK passengers travelling in the summer peak travel season of mid-June through August are likely to experience sub-standard on time performance.
Unfortunately many consumers are unaware of their rights to compensation. Across Europe alone passengers are entitled to an estimated £665m – which largely remains unclaimed,” says Eve Büchner of
For anyone taking a flight this summer, here is a short checklist of things to remember.


The European Union has some regulation which covers air passenger rights in case of delays, cancellations and overbooking which prevents a ticketholder from boarding their scheduled flight.
Overbooking flights is a common practice now and exceedingly irksome. Passengers struggle to understand why an airline would sell more seats than it has, but airlines argue that there are some routes which have a consistently high number of no shows.


On arriving at the airport recently for a flight to Nice, France, I was told the flight was overbooked and there was no seat for me unless a passenger who had already checked in online failed to turn up. Not very likely, I thought.
But after waiting at the gate for everyone to board, staff told me that no less than eight people hadn’t arrived for the flight.
The idea of checking in online and then missing the flight seems absurd to me, but apparently it is common and this is the reason for overbooking.
If you cannot board the flight due to overbooking, the airline either has to provide transport to the intended destination via comparable alternative means, or they must refund the ticket and return the passenger to their initial departure point free of charge.


In case of serious delays – which are considered delays of more than three hours – passengers can be entitled to between €200-€600 per person.
This time period is calculated from the planned arrival time stated on the ticket.
So if the plane takes off late but makes up this time in the air and lands within the three-hour window, the airline is not liable.
However, the airline is exempt from paying this if there were extraordinary circumstances beyond its control. This would include bad weather and strike action. Nor will the airline be held liable if they offered an alternative flight with a similar schedule.


The potential compensation on offer for major delays depends on the distance of the flight. The rates are:

Within the EU

1,500 km or less - €250
over 1,500 km - €400

Beyond the EU

1,500 km or less - €250
1,500 - 3,500 km - €400
over 3,500 km - €600
These distances are calculated between two airports – rather than the distance from your home to the destination.


The above compensation framework also applies to cancelled flights. But the airline does not have to compensate if the cancellation was outside their control, if they gave two weeks’ notice of the cancellation, or if an alternative, similar flight was offered.
Although passengers are not entitled to compensation in these circumstances, airlines still have some obligations. Even in extraordinary circumstances, airlines must provide either a refund for the price of the ticket, or alternative transport, or rebooking at a later date of your choice.


To claim, there is an official air passenger rights complaint form on the EU website This needs to be completed and sent to the airline. If this does not work, passengers can also complain to the national enforcement body of the country where the incident took place or where the airline is based. Details are on the europa website.
There are several legal firms which will advocate on the passenger’s behalf on a no-win, no-fee basis and take a chunk of any compensation received. These include EUclaim, and Bott and Co solicitors.
Given the compensation on offer is only between €200-€600, think very carefully about whether having a third party to advocate is really necessary.
The sacrifice for help can be up to 25 per cent of the compensation.
Their websites have historic databases of flight times, however, making them a handy tool for checking the exact recorded landing time of your flight.

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