Flight compensation: the basics
What is flight compensation? It’s money that an air carrier has to pay an air passenger for the moral damages incurred due to a disrupted flight. This is not the same as a refund: whereas a refund involves returning the money you paid, compensation is an airline taking money out of its pockets and giving them to you as a sort of impactful apology for messing up your flight. Saying “we’re sorry” on email costs nothing – and thus doesn’t incentivize the airline not to mess up in the future.
But just how much does an airline have to pay an air customer that has experienced a flight disruption? It depends solely on the flight distance:
- If your flight distance was up to 1500km, the compensation is set at €250.
- If the flight distance is between 1500km and 3500km, the compensation is €400. This is also the maximum compensation amount for flights taking place entirely within the EU, no matter the distance.
- All other flights over 3500km are worth €600 in compensation.
Not sure about the distance of your flight? Check how much you can get for your disrupted flight in our flight compensation calculator.
Air travelers who faced disruptions on connecting flights: you can claim compensation if the disruption on one leg of the flight caused you to miss the flight on the next. However, this only works if your tickets fall under a single reservation number: that is, they were bought from the same single airline/by the same bank account.
Generally, it doesn’t matter who bought the ticket for you: as long as your name is on the ticket, you’re entitled to compensation.
How to claim flight compensation
An air passenger can claim compensation individually. However, doing that via Skycop makes it easy to benefit from our experience in handling these matters. First, you can check if your flight is at least somewhat claimable on the website. If it is, you can file a full claim. You will be asked to provide the details of the flight and disruption. For that, you’ll need to have a copy of your tickets, boarding passes, as well as your personal documents. Technically, it is possible to make do with just providing a flight reservation number, departure/arrival airports, and the exact date of the flight. However, not all airlines accept claims without a copy of the ticket.
Once you entrust your claim to Skycop, your active involvement in the process ends. You will receive updates on the process via email. If we fail to win the claim, you don’t have to pay anything, so you’re risking nothing. If we win, our remuneration is set at a percentage of the compensation amount – you can see the price list here.
Where does flight compensation come from?
Do airlines pay compensation voluntarily? Not really – and that’s why the EU established Regulation (EC) 261/2004. This law mandates air carriers to pay flight compensation to the passengers they have wronged. It also describes what exactly is a disrupted flight, when an airline is considered to be responsible for the disruption of flight, how much money has to be paid out as well as other rights that an air passenger has when they encounter a disrupted flight. Over the years, it has been expanded and added to via various court decisions. It is the most far-reaching of such laws, though some countries – like Ukraine and Israel – have their own laws that can differ in some major ways.
So, then, does Regulation (EC) 261/2004 cover flights everywhere in the world? No, it doesn’t. It applies to three kinds of flights.
- The first category is intra-EU flights: if the plane takes off in an EU country and lands somewhere else in the EU territory (even in the same country, if that’s no clear), it’s considered covered.
- The second category is flights leaving the EU: if your flight started in an EU country and landed somewhere else, then it’s covered.
- The third category is a bit tricky: flights that enter the EU on an EU-registered carrier.
Sometimes, it’s not clear where your carrier is registered and you may not know, at a glance, whether the flight falls under the Regulation.
By the way, as far as the Regulation is concerned, it applies to the 28 EU Member States and Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Reunion, Mayotte, Saint Martin (French Antilles), the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.
What exactly is a disrupted flight?
Now that we know what the law is where it applies, we should talk about disrupted flights. They are broken down into three categories: delayed flights, canceled flights and overbooked flights. However, not every flight that is late to leave is considered to be a delayed flight under the law – and other qualifications exist.
- Delayed flight: late to land by 3 or more hours
- Canceled flight: flight is canceled less than 14 days prior to departure.
- Overbooked flight: you were made to leave the flight because the airline sold more tickets than there were seats.
For a flight to be considered delayed, it has to be late by 3 or more hours. The thing to note here is that it doesn’t matter how late the flight was to leave. It is only considered delayed if it was late to land by 3 hours or more. Since planes can make up for some of the lost time in the air, a flight that was late to depart by somewhat more than 3 hours can still arrive less than 3 hours late and be considered not delayed.
The canceled flight category is likely the easiest to describe. You brought a ticket and found out, late on, that your flight wouldn’t happen. As long as the airline informed the passengers of the cancellation less than 14 days prior to the date of the flight, it is considered cancelled in the eyes of the Regulation. The reasoning here is that passengers need to have ample time to source an alternative way to reach their destination.
Now then, overbooking. This describes the situation when there are more passengers than there are seats in the plane and someone is forced off the flight. This happens because the airlines want to maximize the use of every flight, filling as many seats as possible. However, not every passenger shows up to every flight, so the airline sells more tickets than there are seats with hopes that the extra passengers will fill the seats of absentees. That’s doesn’t always work and sometimes people are asked to give up their seats. If you were forced to give up your seat due to overbooking (and not, say, drunkenness), then you have experienced overbooking.
When is the airline responsible for the flight disruption?
But that’s not all. For an airline to be lawfully required to pay out compensation, the airline has to be considered to be responsible for the flight disruption. There are three major causes when that’s the case:
- Plane scheduling issues
- Pilot and cabin crew scheduling issues
- Plane maintenance issues
Since airlines try to keep each plane maximally utilized, they’re sent on all flights they can fly – and that schedule is messed up from time to time. So if your flight was delayed or canceled because the plane was not there due to scheduling, you can ask for compensation.
However, planes don’t fly without the people staffing them. And people have to sleep, rest and so on. All of this has to be scheduled. And just like with the planes, sometimes the scheduling goes wrong. That’s why when you can’t fly because the plane doesn’t have the full complement of crew, you can claim flight compensation.
The last major cause of claimable flight disruptions is plane maintenance issues. There’s a lot of work that goes into keeping a plane not only flyable but also pleasant (or at least bearable to be in). The responsibility for that rests with the airline personnel carrying out maintenance. So if your plane was late to take off because something broke or the plane had to turn around because one of the engines started acting funny, you can claim compensation.
When is the airline NOT responsible for the flight disruption?
However, there is a multitude of circumstances under which the airline is not considered to be responsible. That means the conditions that cause the disturbance are out of the air carrier’s control and thus you can’t claim compensation:
- Bad weather
- Airport operation disruptions
- Military actions and terrorism
- Airline staff strike
- Plane manufacturing defects
- Airline bankruptcy
Probably the most usual cause of such disruptions is inclement weather. If the weather conditions at either the airport where you have to take off or land are bad, the flight can be delayed or canceled without paying compensation.
Airport operation disruptions are also considered outside of the airline’s control. This means if the airport is shut down because the security staff is on strike or if another plane causes a jam on the tarmac, you can’t claim compensation. The airline is not considered responsible if the flight is delayed or canceled due to military actions or terrorism.
And while it may seem counterintuitive, disruptions due to strikes by the airline staff are considered to be exceptions. Sometimes, a court may rule that the airline has to pay compensation due to strike, but it’s not standard practice (though we believe it should be).
The last category is plane manufacturing defects. If they are the cause behind your disrupted flight, you can’t claim compensation. It is assumed that the airline didn’t know about such issues when buying the plane. Probably the clearest example of this is the Boeing 737 MAX grounding.
Do note that airline bankruptcy makes it nearly impossible to claim flight compensation.
On smaller compensations and care
Now, even when you’re awarded compensation, you may not always be awarded the entire sum. In some cases, accepting any sort of recompense from the airline – be it gift coupons or flight discounts or similar – may lead to your compensation being reduced. There’s also the special situation where, in the case of a canceled flight, a passenger chooses another flight: if the difference between the time when the original (now canceled) flight was supposed to reach the destination and the time the new flight does it is less than 3 hours, the airline may reduce the compensation by up to 50%.
However, Regulation (EC) 261/2004 ensures more rights than just flight compensation. It also outlines what care the airlines should provide in case of lengthy waiting times. When your flight is delayed by more than 2 hours, canceled or overbooked, the airline should provide the following: two free phone calls, email or free fax; free meals & drinks; accommodation at a hotel; transportation to/from the airport. In case the airline fails to do this, you can do it yourself – save the check to get a refund from the airline. Do note that the airline is only obligated to cover rational expenses, so don’t expect to ride a limousine and stay at a first-class hotel.
So that’s flight compensation! If you experienced some of these difficulties yourself, claim compensation now!