Plane delay compensation

If you ever traveled by airplane, it could happen that your flight was delayed, canceled, rebooked, you missed connecting flight or you were denied boarding. Then you should know that there are laws which entitle you to remuneration, even after 3 years since it happened. This post is the first from the series of articles about applying for compensation for delayed or cancelled flight. The series will contain valuable information about flight delay compensation and how you should proceed to get what you need in simple steps.

As the article is quite long, you can use the table of content to jump to the part which is the most interesting for you:

Who has the right to compensation?

You can apply for compensation if the following conditions are met in regards to your flight:

  • Your flight is within the EU, arrives in the EU from outside the EU or  departs from the EU to a non-EU country
  • In case of arrival to the EU, it is important who is operating the flight – it has to be an EU airline, for the rest of the cases it doesn’t matter who is operating the flight
  • You did not receive any benefits for problems with your flight under the law of a non-EU country

you can check which countries belong to the EU in Wikipedia.

Next thing worth to know is that if you travel with connecting flights on one ticket, the whole journey counts as a single travel segment. This means for example that even if your domestic flight will delay and in the result, you will not catch the long-haul flight you can apply for remuneration for the long-haul flight as for canceled /delayed flight.

The legal basis

All you need to know is that you can apply for flight delay compensation base on:

The EU law called The Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004

The main messages for you out of this regulation are:

  • The airline has to pay the compensation of €250 to €600 depending on the flight distance and delay time
  • You will also get benefits in case of flight cancellation or you will be denied boarding from overbooking.
  • If the flight is expected to depart on the day after the originally scheduled departure time, you should get accommodation.

for those who like to read the full text of this regulation, you can find it here in any language you like.

Levels of flight delay compensation

Below you will find the table with different thresholds flight delay compensation levels:

Compensation levelFlight distancePassenger’s arrival time delay vs. arrival of originally booked flightsCash compensation levels for delayed arrivalRefund for being placed in a lower class than that for which a ticket was purchased
1less than 1500 kmthree hours€ 25030% of ticket purchase price
2within the EU and more than 1500 kmthree hours€ 40050% of ticket purchase price
from 1500 km to 3500 km
3Non-EU and more than 3500 kmfour hours€ 60070% of ticket purchase price

as you can see, the time of delay with reference to your planned arrival time is crucial. Remember, it can happen that even though your flight was canceled you will be rebooked and arrive more-less as it was scheduled – in this case, you will not get any benefits.

That’s why I recommend you to take a photo of the time at the gate when you are boarding – later on, you can use this as evidence when applying for remuneration. Remember also to record when the plane’s doors will open after landing. This is by definition the time which should be taken into account by the airline as arrival time.

Extraordinary circumstances

Your chances of getting paid are high unless the delay is caused by something called extraordinary circumstances. The definition is given in regulation itself:

extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. Such circumstances may, in particular, occur in cases of political instability, meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.

so, taking into account the above definition I can tell you that you will not get any benefits if your flight was canceled because of:

  • Weather: storms, tropical storms, typhoons, blizzards, volcano eruptions
  • Security check problems (for example additional checking of luggage) it also includes blockage of takeoff by the control tower
  • Any medical issues – sick, heart attacks and any other occurred to the crew or passengers
  • Political turmoil or terrorist attack
  • Crew or ground staff on strike. Unlike bankruptcies, airline strikes do not count as extraordinary circumstances. According to last year’s ruling of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, airlines are still held responsible when the personnel on strike are their own staff.

if your flight was canceled or delayed due to any other reasons then you should consider applying for flight delay compensation.

Do it on your own or leave it to professionals

Base on the above definition you should know if refund rules apply to your case. Now you need to apply for your flight delay compensation. The question is if you want to do it on your own, or you would like to leave it to professionals. If your decision is to go through the whole process, skip the next paragraph.

There are specialized companies focused on flight delay compensation winning for their customers. The main principle of passenger right claim companies is No win, no fee rule. It means – we take your case, check it, process it and in case we will win it – you will share with us a percentage of your benefit. It is the company’s risk if your case will be rejected by airline or court – they take all the costs of lost cases on them. You take no risk if you want to proceed this way. These guys are professionals and if your case matches the regulations, there is a high probability that they will win it for you.

You can use companies from the list below. These are the biggest players in this niche:

  • AirHelp – how much they charge you depends on your case. You can read their price list here. AirHelp charges Service fee 25% + Legal action fee 25% to present in court = 50% fees in total (these data are taken from Airhelp pricelist taken on 27th March 2018). AirHelp is the major player in the flight claim management market.
  • ClaimFlights – They will charge 25% of the fee which they are going to win for you. On their blog, you can find the post where they compare different air passenger right claim companies. The message is that they will charge you less than others.

if you are interested in this type of service you can read more about this in one of my articles about flight claim companies review.

flight delay compensation step by step

Ok, but let’s assume that this is not good enough. You think that your case fulfills all the conditions and you want to try to go through the process on your own. That’s the spirit! Come on, I will tell you how to proceed.

Below I collected my experience on how I applied for flight delay compensation. It works – so feel free to  follow as it is in the instructions below:

Prepare your case:

  • Know if you are entitled to remuneration (read the paragraph Who has the right to compensation?)
  • Know the level of compensation you apply (read the paragraph Levels of flight delay compensation)

 Check if you already know the reason for the delay or cancellation:

  • Maybe it was announced by the crew, given by speaker or somebody better informed told you this. You can use Flight Stats to investigate for some clues if the delay was caused in the previous flight. I will show you how you can act as the detective on the flight which I know pretty well. It’s Lufthansa’s LH1357 From KTW to FRA. I know that this flight was delayed on 30-04-2018. Now let’s see why:
  • Looking into Flight Stats I see that the plane was delayed:
    Enter the flight number
    The plane’s delay is 36 minutes
  • But I know that this machine arrives an hour ago from Frankfurt. Let’s see if the delay of my flight comes from some problems in flight LH 1356 FRA – KTW:
    26 minutes of the delay comes from the previous flight
  • By clicking on “More Flight Details” you can see that:
    delayed plane
    LH1356’s delay at departure from Frankfurt causes the delay for LH1357
  • This is more-less how you can investigate on your delay reason for applying for flight delay compensation. Now you know that the delay comes from the previous flight and maybe it’s due to some operational issues not related to extraordinary circumstances – that’s your chance.

Check if the delay reason is not the extraordinary circumstances list:

  • Maybe you already know the reason of the delay. Then please check if it is included in extraordinary circumstances definition (read the paragraph Extraordinary circumstances)
  • If the reason of your flight cancellation or delay does not match to the definition of the extraordinary circumstances, collect the accurate data on your rebooked boarding time (time at the gate) and plane doors open time – this is to the record, you will need it later in your complain email. If you did not notice the departure and arrival time you can use again Flight Stats – Search Flight, scroll down and you will have the last flight’s arrival and departure time. Data from few days are available for free, for the rest you have to purchase paid access.

Write the complaint letter:

  • Find your air carrier customer relation contact. Just look in Google for the phrase: “customer relations your airline here email”.
  • Write your complaint giving all necessary data on your flight or flights (if it was connecting flight on one ticket), your personal details (with loyalty programme ID’s) and your bank account number for money transfer. Below you can see the example letter:

Dear XXXXXXX Team,

I would like to  place my complaint regarding flight AB1234 on DD.MM.YYYY, booking ref XYZF.

The flight AB1234 from Beijing to London was cancelled due to technical reasons (reason given by the crew at the airport). Because of this cancellation I have arrived to my destination one day later than expected.

Taking into account mentioned above situation and base on the European regulations, I’m entitled to receive remuneration of 600EUR.

Flight and passenger data:

Booking ref: XYZF

Complained flight: AB1234 on DD.MM.YYYY

Name & surname: Your Name

My Loyalty Programme number: 1234 5678 90

Bank details: 

Your bank account number

Postal adress:

Your postal adress

As a loyal XXXXX customer I’m looking forward to quick, professional and positive reaction of the airline.

above template should be really enough but if want to be rock formal download the official claim form.

Wait for the answer:

  • It will take some time to receive the answer – usually, it’s about 2 weeks time.

Airline response:

  • There are only two possible answers – they accept the complaint or not.
  • In case of acceptance – you are lucky. It means that your case was so obvious airline’s fault that they even have no arguments to discuss.
  • In case of rejection – and this happens in 90% of cases which I complaint, don’t give up. Take a closer look at their explanation and decide if it sticks to reality. Write back, that you do not agree with it because it doesn’t match the facts, probably you can add some additional arguments.
  • If they will still reject your complaint, maybe you can try with companies which I’ve mentioned above.
  • The last resort solution in court. The question is if you have enough time to go through it?

ok, that’s it. I hope you find the above useful and it will help you to get your flight delay compensation.

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  1. Hi

    Thank you for your effort and it is much appreciated.

    My flight from BUD to FCO was delayed 2h 51 min, and thus the claim companies say they can n’t handle my claim.

    But my flight distance of ~800 km should satisfy compensation level 1 according to your table above. Is this not correct?

    Would appreciate some clarification.


    • Hi Kun, thanks for your comment. In fact, that was a typo. Sorry about that. Claim companies are right. Take care.

  2. Usefull info, especially for my recent flight cancellations with Aeroflot – from Bucharest to Bangkok, on the way to and on the way back! It’s just that Flight Stats doesn’t provide flight history longer than 7 days 🙁 the horror happened in february. Ever since I’m trying to find a suitable claim company to make justice, none of the top 3 didn’t make it further (contradictory reasons). Bottom of line, NEVER FLY WITH AEROFLOT!

    • Hi Laura, thanks for the comment. Wish you more luck in the future when dealing with flight compensation.

  3. Hi there, thanks so much for the info, it has been very helpful!
    Can I please ask you to share more specific information about the issue that “airline strikes do not count as extraordinary circumstances. According to last year’s ruling of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, airlines are still held responsible when the personnel on strike are their own staff.”
    Do you have details on the ruling? When, what, some number? I’d really appreciate it!

  4. I took an Air Canada flight from Vienna to Toronto back in the summer. At check-in we were told that our departure would be delayed by over two hours, because our plane was late arriving to Vienna from Canada. As a result of the delay, we missed our connection and arrived over three hours late at our destination.

    So far, so good. However when I made a claim to Air Canada, they rejected it and stated the reason for the delay was “air traffic control.” This doesn’t make much sense since our flight was clearly delayed by the lateness of the incoming plane (weather was great in both locations and no other flights from Vienna were delayed). I asked for more details from AC but they just replied “Our internal reports are not released to the public.” What obligation does the airline have to provide a detailed explanation when they reject your claim? Thanks!

    • Hi Jan, I never heard about any paragraphs which force airlines to provide you detailed information about causes of flight delays.

      I remember one Lufthansa flight, where captain told us that the flight was cancelled due to technical issue but when I claimed they said that its operational reason. Once I claimed again, they admitted that I will receive the compensation.

      Try again with the arguments you provided, maybe this will help. If not, I would suggest you to let the no win no fee flight claims management companies represent you. If they will not succeed, then no one can help.

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