How Does Travel Compensation Work in the EU?

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We’ve had a couple of bad experiences in the past when flying on budget carriers in Europe.

The first was on Ryanair when our flight was cancelled due to weather.

The second was on easyJet when our flight was delayed by several hours because their entire system crashed that day.

In recent years when flying in Europe everyone is quick to mention that if your flight is cancelled or delayed by three hours (or you’re denied boarding) you may be entitled to compensation per Regulation (EC) No 261/2004.

Ryanair’s website states:

“Ryanair does not provide monetary compensation, pursuant under Article 7 of EU Regulation 261/2004 for flights that are delayed or cancelled for reasons beyond Ryanair’s control (extraordinary circumstances). As per the regulation 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 problems and strikes that affect the operation of an operating air carrier.”

I love the “meteorological conditions” line; what they’re saying is if your flight’s canceled due to weather you’re out of luck.

Other websites explain that’s not exactly how the regulation is written.

“While the regulation states that airlines are not obliged to pay compensation where they can prove that the flight cancellation is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’, such as bad weather, the passenger’s right to care under Article 9 of Regulation 261 still applies. Article 9 details the airline’s duty of care and states that airlines must provide passengers with accommodation, meals and refreshments and transport between the airport and accommodation.”

The airline isn’t required to pay compensation for the flight when it’s cancelled for weather. However, they still must provide passengers with “accommodation, meals, and refreshments and transport between the airport and accommodation”.

For flights that canceled or delayed that are the airline’s fault, how strict is the 3-hour delay rule?

“Crucially, this is a straight rule. It’s about when you arrive, not when you leave. So if you’re on a flight that takes off 4 hours late but lands 2 hours 55 minutes late, you’re not over the 3-hour delay needed to be eligible for compensation.”

Another important thing to understand is that the delay is in regards to your final destination only if you have multiple delays on a flight. From The Telegraph:

“For flights with connections, what counts is how late you arrive at the final destination. If you fly to Cape Town via Johannesburg and the first leg arrives two hours late so that you miss the on-time connecting flight – arriving four hours late at your final destination – that counts. However, if you booked those two flights separately, then as the first flight wasn’t more than three hours delayed, and your second flight wasn’t delayed at all, you’re not entitled to anything.”

How do you figure out if your flight was officially over three hours delayed or not? Luckily there’s a website, Flight Stats, that you can sign up (for free) to find out. You will need to know the airline you flew on, your flight number, and the day of the flight.

I went ahead and double-checked our easyJet flight from last October; it was less than a three-hour delay.

Have you ever encountered over a 3-hour delay in the EU that was the airline’s fault? Did you get compensated for it? How easy (or difficult) as it to go through the process? Was it worth it in the end? Or next time would you not bother?


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Tiff's first big vacation was a Caribbean cruise when she was six. She first started getting interested in deals when her husband showed her the tricks to getting bought off your flights back in the late 90s. She started flying nonrev when they got married; the first unusual nonrev she did was in '05 when her family flew through San Juan to get to Dallas from Philly. They have two boys, ages 11 and 7, who she usually drags along on their travels and hopes they will grow up to love traveling as much as she does.

1 Comment

  1. Jeremy Curle

    October 29, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Basic passenger rights are well defined and clear, but in my experience it still isn’t easy to get airlines to pay compensation. In my case the airline in question hid behind the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ excuse you mention here and with their word against mine we didn’t get anywhere. Nor did we get far with the UK CAA. In the end we had to turn to an intermediary ( to help us claim, which got us our money but also took a commission (which isn’t ideal).

    I’d imagine that if you conducted a poll of all the people who have filed claims for compensation after delays it would show the majority to have been messed about. Fact is that even though rights might be there on paper actually getting compensation is a whole different thing!

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