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Updated: 10th December 2018
You’re waiting in the terminal, excited to finally take the trip and get on your flight when the red ticker of doom appears on the departure board. Whether it’s a flight delay or a flight cancellation, there is perhaps nothing more annoying that can happen in an airport than being held back from getting on your next adventure. Luckily, for many of us whose journey starts in the EU, or arrives in the EU on an EU airline, patience while annoying can provide some financial reward.
But shockingly to me, most people still don’t know this.
In the latest in my serious of flight posts, which has covered using email flight clubs to get bargain return flights or the Skyscanner Everywhere feature for discount adventures, I’m turning my attention to something I have personally had happen to me in the past few years: long delays and getting your compensation.
I’ve been through this process twice myself, once on my own and again using an agent to help get the refund back and I can promise you this, the percentage fee I paid to use an agent was well worth my sanity.
A little backstory: it was my birthday, I was stood at the gate waiting to board my flight from London to Oman (an amazing place), and suddenly we are told the plane isn’t working, but it will be fixed soon. Six hours later, and a few solo birthday beers down, we’re packed up in a hotel for the night before getting our flight to Muscat the next day. Over 24 hours late I arrive, my luggage doesn’t, and I’ve vowed never to fly Etihad again.
Knowing full well I’m in for €600 of compensation; a two-month email chain follows to try and get it paid back. Eventually, it was, but it dragged on so long it felt like I had wasted so much of my time.
After the shit show that was the first attempt on my own, with months of emails and chasing up, I decided the second time to let someone else do the hard graft, and I’m so pleased I did.
Firstly, everyone who travels should know their rights when it comes to compensation, and I’ll detail some more information below on who is entitled. A quick and easy way to check though is by using a flight delay compensation calculator for your claim, as this will also give you an idea of how much you are entitled to.
While it’s frustrating and annoying for everyone involved, this also consists of the crew, so here is the regular reminder for all people in airports: don’t be a dick, stay calm, and please, no screaming and swearing at cabin or service crew who likely are equally as annoyed about the situation.
When can you make a claim under EU261?
While you should always be handed a document about your rights at the airport when these occur, in reality, that doesn’t always happen, so here I’ll detail a little more information about when you can make a claim under EU261 legislation.
Firstly, if there are ‘extraordinary circumstance’ the chances are your airline won’t have to pay up. These could include an airport runway being closed due to extreme weather, not being able to fly the plane due to storms safely, or because crew have gone on strike.
While this used to include technical problems with the plane, in a landmark ruling in 2014 this was overturned meaning technical problems on board no longer count as extraordinary circumstances. Technical issues on the ground do though, for example, once I flew out of Gatwick and all their luggage belts were broken meaning every flight was severely delayed, thus no compensation.
So, here are the general rules when it comes to flight delay compensation:
The maximum you can claim for a delayed flight in or out of EU (and some other Europe countries) is €600 in compensation
The right to flight delay compensation starts if you ARRIVE at your destination three or more hours after scheduled, this is important as it’s based on arrival time, not a final departure time, and many airlines have a buffer in their arrival window. The time is when the flight arrives, and one of its doors is open. So being stuck on the tarmac in theory still counts as a delay.
Food and refreshment obligations are separate from these financial ones.
The amount of compensation depends both on how long the delay is, but also the distance of the flight. It can range from €250 – €600.
What if the delay is really long or the flight is cancelled?
Compensation above does not limit your other rights. So if you are delayed more than five hours you also have some rights to claim a refund of a percentage, or full payment of your flight, as well as being re-routed on the next available flight.
Sometimes, this could be with another airline. This is really important to know, as if your airline offers limited flight connections, you should be asking them to rebook you on with one of their alliance members, or competitors, to get you there.
It’s essential to be aware if at any time you volunteer to give up your seat, or change flight, which can sometimes be a more lucrative option depending on the airline, the rules above will likely no longer be legally binding. The same can go for accepting flight vouchers or deals at the desk; it’s worth confirming if by agreeing to this contract’ you are giving up your rights to make a financial claim. The more informed you are, the better decision you can make.
And lastly, DO make sure you have travel insurance, as ultimately this is the crux of your protection for anything else going wrong on flights, as well as if your claim turns out to be ‘extraordinary circumstances’.
The bonus of using an agent to make your flight delay claim
But why use an agent if it will lose you some cash? To be honest, like any businesses airlines will try and hold out on paying compensation if they can, and this can lead to a lot of time and energy being invested into making your claim.
As I said, having done it both ways, I would personally instead hand it off to someone else to deal with and just wait for the cash to hit my bank account. There were countless emails, which became very time-consuming in my first complaint and although the EU law is strict on how quickly the payout should be, don’t expect this ride always to be smooth.
The best thing is you can back claim for some years, currently up to three years, depending on local laws. Websites like AirHelp will show you what they think the claim will be before even submitting it. There are also no charges should the airline never cough up, which can sometimes happen as certain technical factors can mean compensation isn’t due.
What about flight delay claims in other countries?
While this post focuses entirely on EU261 claims, as I’m an EU citizen, the rest of the world also has their own rules and pacts.
Currently, around 120 countries are part of The Montreal Convention which covers flight rights in their respective countries. You can read more about that here.